Over the past few spring trainings, we’ve dabbled in ranking the managers as they are about to enter the season. We take into consideration past performances, plus struggles, rosters, communication, tactical ability, longevity etc. It’s all subjective.
The first-timers we place at the bottom of the food chain. I’ve always said, if you’re one of 30 major league managers, you’re doing something right, so you won’t see any negativity in the comments.
1. Bruce Bochy, Giants — Granted, in winning championships two of the last three years, he has had superb pitching. But he doesn’t always have the best lineups, yet he performs little miracles.
2. Joe Maddon, Rays — There isn’t a more innovative manager in the game. He combines psychology, communication, data, and common sense to form the epitome of the modern-day manager.
3. Buck Showalter, Orioles — A complete manager who sets the tone with his personality and knowledge. Very good in-game manager.
4. Jim Leyland, Tigers — Like Bochy, more old-school, and it still works. Universally respected.
5. Terry Francona, Indians — Two rings in eight years with the talent-laden Red Sox. We’ll see how he handles the challenges with this pitching staff and a less talented roster.
6. Bob Melvin, Athletics — Quickly becoming one of the elite, with two Manager of the Year awards. Nicely molded a young pitching staff and got optimum performance out of his lineup.
7. Mike Scioscia, Angels — Always high on this list. Very consistent approach that works.
8. Joe Girardi, Yankees — Has one championship under his belt and amazingly won 95 games last year with Mariano Rivera missing most of the season. Knows pitching as well as any manager in the game and has the ability, like Francona, to handle big stars.
9. Davey Johnson, Nationals — His roster talent is undeniable, but his father-figure presence on a fairly young team has worked marvelously.
10. Charlie Manuel, Phillies — Always a favorite here, Manuel is another old-school guy, managing by what his eyes tell him. Players have always responded to his charisma and street smarts.
11. Ron Washington, Rangers — Has overseen a perennial contender and has been able to really manage playing time in the Texas heat. This year could be challenging without Josh Hamilton.
12. Dusty Baker, Reds — Vast experience managing high-profile players, with the ability to pat a guy on the back and get him to play. His detractors have never liked his bullpen management, but he did just fine with that last season.
13. Fredi Gonzalez, Braves — Made a huge improvement in his bullpen management last season and now oversees a very talented lineup and pitching staff.
14. Clint Hurdle, Pirates — He has really grown. He can be tough but fair, and brings an enthusiasm to the job despite working in a market that hasn’t had a .500 team in 20 years.
15. Eric Wedge, Mariners
16. Ron Roenicke, Brewers — From the Scioscia tree, Roenicke has an even keel about him that seems to bring a comfort zone to players, and he seems more flexible than his mentor.
17. Kirk Gibson, Diamondbacks — Has been able to step back from his natural fiery side and be more understanding of the modern-day athlete, realizing that not everyone plays the way he did.
18. Ron Gardenhire, Twins — Solid veteran manager, but lately the Twins have fallen on hard times and Gardenhire, in the final year of his contract, could take the fall.
19. Bud Black, Padres — Forget the “pitching coach trying to be a manager.” Now he’s simply a manager who used to be a pitching coach. Black has roster challenges that simply may not be overcome, but the reviews on him from opposing scouts are very favorable.
20. Robin Ventura, White Sox — Positive returns after one year for the anti-Ozzie Guillen. He has one of the best pitching coaches in baseball in Don Cooper, which certainly helps.
21. Mike Matheny, Cardinals — Has been able to fill Tony La Russa’s big shoes with a team that always seems to be in the hunt. Articulate, and communicates very well.
22. Ned Yost, Royals — Plenty of experience, and may finally have a roster he can contend with. A solid baseball man who has earned his stripes.
23. John Farrell, Red Sox — He’ll have to prove himself in Boston and, like Black, shed the pitching coach-turned-manager label. While some Toronto players were critical of him during a woeful 73-win 2012 season, he has won over his current Red Sox team. He’s smart and has a presence.
24. John Gibbons, Blue Jays — He had a .500 record in Toronto the first time around (2004-08) and in an unusual situation, the fiery Gibbons is back managing the same team.
25. Don Mattingly, Dodgers — He knows about high expectations, having been a Yankee for so long. These Dodgers have the highest expectations of just about any team in baseball. Mattingly has improved quite a bit from his first year.
26. Terry Collins, Mets — Another solid baseball man, who has had an unfortunate roster situation the past few years. With an infusion of younger talent, Collins should do well in grooming players.
27. Dale Sveum, Cubs — Management feels he’s done a great job. He lost 101 games in his rookie season, but there was little he could do about it. A baseball lifer, Sveum lives and breathes baseball.
28. Bo Porter, Astros — Energetic and tough. Good traits to lead a young team.
29. Mike Redmond, Marlins — Excellent track record in Jays minor league system.
30. Walt Weiss, Rockies — After several years as a special assistant in Colorado, Weiss took some time away from the game but was lured back to take the managing job.
Apropos of something
Manny Acta hopes to follow Buck Showalter, Bobby Valentine, and Terry Francona by reentering the managerial ranks after working as an ESPN analyst. Acta, only 44 years old, has been fired in two difficult settings — Washington (before it got good) and Cleveland (last season).
He took on the broadcast role because, he said, “I felt I needed to step back from it after six years and see it from a different vantage point. Six years of being with rebuilding teams takes its toll. My goal is to manage again, but in the right situation where the team has a chance to be a contender.”
Acta has another full-time job: general manager of the Licey team in the Dominican winter league. Licey is a proud franchise with a rich history (22 Dominican titles, 10 Caribbean World Series titles) but has fallen on hard times, and Acta has been hired to rebuild the franchise with high-quality players. He is touring spring training sites trying to solidify commitments from players for next season, and will soon be in Red Sox camp to take Rubby De La Rosa out for dinner.
Asked about being a GM in the majors someday, Acta said, “I don’t think so. I’m a manager. That’s what I want to do.
“I could be the batboy as long as I’m around the game, but managing is something I hope to be able to continue at some point. I’m still relatively young and have learned from the two experiences in the major leagues.
“I think this job with ESPN could definitely help me with the exposure of keeping my name out there. It worked well for Buck and Bobby and Tito, and if that happens for me, I’d be thrilled.”
Apropos of nothing
1. All spring training games should start at 11 a.m. No need for afternoon or night games in this setting.
2. Too many major league teams are setting the agenda for World Baseball Classic participation. It’s once every four years, so designate two or three top players from each team to play (unless there are injury issues). That way, every team bears the same burden and takes the same risk.
3. San Francisco-based Bill Arnold compiled a list of home run leaders during each Pope’s reign: Pius IX (1846-76), Charley Jones, 6; Leo XIII (1878-1903), Roger Connor, 138; Pius X (1903-14), Frank Schulte (73); Benedict XV (1914-22), Babe Ruth, 162; Pius XI (1922-39), Ruth, 552; Pius XII (1939-58), Ted Williams, 482; John XXIII (1958-63), Hank Aaron and Harmon Killebrew, 174; Paul VI (1963-78), Aaron, 437; John Paul I (1978), Jim Rice, 13; John Paul II (1978-2005), Barry Bonds, 703; Benedict XVI (2005-13), Albert Pujols, 312.
4. While the Dodgers recently signed a 25-year, $7 billion TV deal and other teams are cashing in on massive broadcast contracts, the Marlins are earning only $16 million-$18 million on a deal that doesn’t expire for three more years. Couple that with what is expected to be sagging attendance (a result of fan anger and apathy), and owner Jeffrey Loria can’t be very happy. Question is, will he sell?
5. Will the Pirates break their 20-year losing drought? They were 79-83 last season, so it could happen, right? But consider that they were 12-5 against the hapless Astros in the same division. The Astros are gone. They were also 4-11 against the Brewers. With Houston gone, the Pirates are scheduled to play Milwaukee 19 times this season.
6. Interesting opt-out dates for the Red Sox: Mitch Maier, March 29; Lyle Overbay, March 26; Ryan Sweeney, March 28. Others around the league: Brandon Inge (Pirates), March 24; Daisuke Matsuzaka (Indians), March 24; Scott Kazmir (Indians), April 2; Rick Ankiel (Astros), March 31; Erik Bedard (Astros), March 31; Austin Kearns (Marlins), March 26; Chone Figgins (Marlins), March 26; Marlon Byrd (Mets), March 27; Endy Chavez (Dodgers), March 24; Jeff Baker (Rangers), March 31, Ramon Ramirez (Giants), April 1; Kevin Slowey (Marlins), March 30; Cory Wade (White Sox), March 30; Brent Lillibridge (White Sox), March 28.
Updates on 9
1. Christian Yelich, OF, Marlins — Florida has another stud outfielder. Yelich, who hit a walkoff homer vs. Boston last Monday, doesn’t appear far away from the majors, even if he only played A ball last season. The first-round pick from 2010 had former Red Sox infielder Nick Green asking reporters after the walkoff, “Waiting for ‘the Natural?’ ” A Giancarlo Stanton-Yelich 1-2 punch could reinvigorate the angry Marlins fan base.
2. Victor Martinez, DH, Tigers — Jim Leyland is not ruling out Martinez catching at some point, especially with year-long interleague play, but he wants him to stay healthy because his presence in the lineup could be huge.
3. Rick Porcello, RHP, Tigers — There’s an obvious trade to be made: Porcello to Boston for Andrew Bailey (perhaps with another player or two going one way or the other). But the Red Sox rotation is full right now, and Allen Webster is knocking at the door. The Tigers would love an experienced closer like Bailey. It’ll be interesting to see if the Red Sox consider this.
4. Kyle Lohse, RHP, free agent — This situation is a perfect example of the stubbornness of major league GMs. They all know Lohse is an experienced No. 3 or 4 starter. Yes, you have to relinquish a draft pick to sign him (a No. 1 or No. 2 depending on order of finish last season). But once a team grabs him, the ones who lost out will be scratching their heads, wondering, “Why didn’t we act sooner?” “That’s the way it’s going to go,” said a National League GM, “but you also don’t want to overpay for a pitcher who has been hanging around that long. If you can’t get him at your price, then you look foolish paying what he was asking two months ago.” Texas still makes the most sense when the negotiation games are over.
5. Joba Chamberlain, RHP, Yankees — Word that Texas has scouted him and that he would be available doesn’t come as a surprise to those in the Yankee organization who feel they’ve gone about as far as they can with him. “They would deal him in a heartbeat and then fill in with one of their starters in the bullpen,” said an AL scout. “If Texas would give up [Mike] Olt, a deal could get done there.”
6. Steve Cishek, RHP, Marlins — The side-arming sinker-baller, who played for Team USA, is drawing considerable interest from teams looking for a reliever. Cishek, who attended Falmouth High School, is 6 feet 6 inches, 215 pounds. In 2012, he took over as closer from Heath Bell for a spell and had 15 saves. One scout projects that Cishek “probably appears on the most wish lists around baseball.”
7. Yuniesky Betancourt, SS, Phillies — He has improved his visibility, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see a team deal for him before the season. The best thing that happened for Betancourt is Jimmy Rollins playing in the WBC. Betancourt is also in good shape, which has been a challenge for him in the past. With a March 24 opt-out in his minor league deal, he’s on the Cardinals’ list as they attempt to replace Rafael Furcal.
8. David Segui, former major leaguer — Who got Manny Ramirez back on track with his hitting? That’s right, Segui. He was a teammate of Ramirez’s with the Indians. “I just had to get him back hitting the way he used to,” said Segui, who has a private hitting school in Kansas City. “He had bought into the new style of hitting — hitting off your back leg and starting your hands back. I got him back to where he used to be — out front. Manny could help any major league team right now. He had to take the Taiwan job because it was a job. He’s a completely different person than what he was. He’s very religious. Lives his life completely different. He can still hit. I don’t care how old he is.”
9. Bruce Chen, LHP, Royals — With Luke Hochevar demoted to the bullpen, Chen is likely safe as the fifth starter, but the Royals appear to be open to deals for both pitchers. Chen would garner more interest; there have been plenty of scouts watching his every start in Surprise, Ariz. The additions of James Shields, Wade Davis, Jeremy Guthrie, and Ervin Santana have suddenly given the now-relevant Royals depth.
From the Bill Chuck files: “Over the two seasons since John Farrell left the Red Sox, their team ERA was 4.45, 26th best in the majors. Then again, the Farrell-managed Blue Jays had an ERA of 4.48, 27th best.” Also: “.357, .327, .312, .299, .287: Albert Pujols’s batting averages over the last five seasons.” . . . Happy birthday, Bill Mueller (42) and Tim Lollar (57).