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Ranking the best MLB managers

The World Series-winning manager doesn’t always get top billing, but there was universal sentiment that Farrell did a near-perfect job.

Steven Senne/AP

The World Series-winning manager doesn’t always get top billing, but there was universal sentiment that Farrell did a near-perfect job.

Here’s our annual preseason ranking of managers. We discussed the attributes of all 30 major league managers with a number of baseball people, including managers, coaches, scouts, players, and front office executives, to formulate our rankings (first-time managers automatically appear at the bottom).

1. John Farrell, Red Sox — The World Series-winning manager doesn’t always get top billing, but there was universal sentiment that Farrell did a near-perfect job in his third year of major league managing and his first season with the Red Sox. Obviously, so much of managerial performance is related to talent. He had it, but Farrell pushed the right buttons. Communication skills and delegating to his coaches are big among his attributes.

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2. Bob Melvin, Athletics — The former Red Sox catcher is gaining a tremendous reputation around the game. Already a two-time Manager of the Year, Melvin has taken what many thought was a pedestrian squad and turned it into a perennial contender. Great knowledge of pitching has enabled his young staff to flourish under him. Uses platoons and analytical data as well as any manager in the game.

3. Terry Francona, Indians — A Red Sox collapse in September 2011 and a year off from baseball haven’t made Francona dumber. In fact, he won American League Manager of the Year honors over Farrell for his outstanding work in leading a lower-payroll team into contention. His ability to relate to players is among the best in the game. He also relies on and trusts his lieutenants.

4. Bruce Bochy, Giants — Always high on this list, Bochy, a two-time World Series champion, has vast experience. He’s considered one of the best in-game managers, gets the most out of his players, and really knows pitching. He manages firmly, but he’s a master motivator. His physical presence is undeniable.

5. Joe Maddon, Rays — He does the most with less. That’s the consensus about Maddon, who has proven over and over again that in any season he should be considered for Manager of the Year. Our panel feels his upbeat, irreverent, loosey-goosey style fits perfectly with the modern-day player.

6. Joe Girardi, Yankees — Amid all of the devastating injuries, Girardi kept the Yankees in contention last year until the final two weeks of the regular season. He was a magician at times, mixing and matching lineups and trying to keep his backup personnel sharp. He manages the New York limelight and the Bronx Zoo nicely.

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7. Bud Black, Padres — He’s grown from the pitching coach who became a manager to one of the best managers in baseball. Farrell learned a lot from his old Indians teammate. The fact that Black was once a pitching coach is now moot. He’s considered a strong NL tactician.

8. Buck Showalter, Orioles — Showalter has one of the great managerial minds, always a step ahead in his thought process. He is respected throughout the game for the firm nature in which he takes control and the discipline he preaches to his team about playing the game hard every night.

9. Clint Hurdle, Pirates — With a style that resonates with players, he’s taken a situation that was once helpless and turned it into one of hope. Hurdle’s energetic demeanor has aided that process greatly, according those we talked to.

10. Mike Matheny, Cardinals — Matheny inherited a very good team from Tony La Russa two years ago, and he’s maintained that level of excellence. He acknowledges he’s had to learn on the job, but his decision-making has been very good and enhanced the Cardinals’ position rather than diminished it.

11. Ron Washington, Rangers — Washington has been managing winning teams for a while now. There’s always been a rap on his in-game managing, but his motivational skills and ability to manage players on a daily basis serve him well. He’s also an excellent infield instructor. In the final year of his deal.

12. Mike Scioscia, Angels — Scioscia’s record has taken a hit in the last couple of years with an ever-changing team whose personnel no longer suits the aggressive, running style Scioscia was so good at, but he’s tried and true, with a championship on his résumé. Scioscia will not lose you any games. He’s well-respected by baseball people, who understand the Angels’ recent struggles are not of his doing.

13. Terry Collins, Mets — Extremely underrated, according to our panel. Collins hasn’t had much to work with in New York, but has maintained a very upbeat approach to the Mets’ rebuilding process that has resonated with his players. He was once a feisty type but has mellowed to adapt to the modern player.

14. Ned Yost, Royals — Management stuck with him through the tough times and Yost, with a ton of experience, is a stabilizing influence in the clubhouse. The Royals should be good for a while, and Yost is a solid choice to lead them.

15. Ron Gardenhire, Twins — A survivor, it was touch and go as to whether the Twins would go in a different direction to spearhead a transition to their tremendous positional prospects, but it appears Gardenhire, an old-school baseball lifer, will be the one to see that through.

16. Ron Roenicke, Brewers — It’s been up and down for Roenicke as the talent has fluctuated, and he’s had to deal with the Ryan Braun mess. Through it all, Roenicke has been able to maintain an even keel, a strong suit for any manager.

17. Fredi Gonzalez, Braves — After some bullpen management issues, Gonzalez has done a much better job managing his pen and communicating. Where there used to be doubts about Gonzalez’s methods there is now acceptance, and he’s been solid as the Braves have had some good years under him, minus the 2011 collapse.

18. Don Mattingly, Dodgers — He’s had a lot of growing pains, but now the game has slowed down for him in the dugout and Mattingly has developed his own style. He’s managing some big salaries and big egos but he was a Yankee, so he’s used to it. For that reason, he makes sense for the Dodgers.

19. Kirk Gibson, Diamondbacks — There were some rough edges that had to be smoothed out and that is still a work in progress, but Gibson now has the experience, as well as the toughness he had as a player, to get to the next level.

20. John Gibbons, Blue Jays — He had a .500 record in his first go-round with the Jays, and last season was a major disappointment. There’s a feeling Gibbons was too laid-back and he has vowed to be more assertive this season and hold his players accountable.

21. Walt Weiss, Rockies — Not many negatives, just needs better talent.

22. Mike Redmond, Marlins — First-year sentiments about him were very positive. Seems to relate to his young players.

23. Robin Ventura, White Sox — Tough job having to manage an ever-changing landscape.

24. Ryne Sandberg, Phillies — Always difficult to manage a transitioning team with older, broken players and a few newbies.

25. Lloyd McClendon, Mariners — A good man who deserved a second chance.

26. Bo Porter, Astros — Who can tell?

27. Bryan Price, Reds — The latest pitching coach-turned-manager.

28. Brad Ausmus, Tigers — All signs point to success.

29. Matt Williams, Nationals — After Davey Johnson, the younger Williams could motivate the players.

30. Rick Renteria, Cubs — Theo Epstein wanted a bilingual manager to get through to his growing Latin roster and tabbed Renteria.

Apropos of nothing

1. Fascinating survey on baseball conducted by Repucom, a sports marketing firm. Here are some of the findings: Major league baseball has the second-largest fan base of the major sports, behind only the NFL. It is second in the number of avid fans as well, with 47 percent of their overall fan base. This is higher than NBA and right behind the NFL . . . The top five teams in terms of fan base size are the Yankees (11.9 percent of baseball fans), Red Sox (6.8 percent), Braves (6.8 percent), Cubs (5.2 percent), and Tigers (4.9 percent) . . . Baseball fans love to attend games, with 21 percent saying they have attended at least one game in the last 12 months. This is more than both the NBA and NFL . . . Baseball fans are less active on social media than NBA or NFL fans.

2. In light of the great Derek Jeter’s retirement announcement, we give you the All-Classy team: 1B — Paul Konerko; 2B — Dustin Pedroia; SS — Jeter; 3B — Evan Longoria; C — David Ross; LF — Matt Holliday; CF — Adam Jones; RF — Torii Hunter; DH — David Ortiz; starting pitchers — CC Sabathia, Bronson Arroyo, Clayton Kershaw, Doug Fister, and Justin Masterson; relief pitchers — Koji Uehara, Joe Nathan, Grant Balfour, Dave Robertson; manager — Joe Maddon.

3. Got to give the Mariners credit. They realized they couldn’t stop at Robinson Cano, so they’re at least pursuing Nelson Cruz and either Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana to upgrade the pitching staff. If they land Cruz and another pitcher, they may have a contender.

4. It was sad to see Franklin Gutierrez, one of the game’s true gentlemen, re-sign with the Mariners but then realize he could no longer perform because of autoimmune problems. Gutierrez decided to give the guaranteed $1 million he signed for back to the Mariners, feeling it was the right thing to do. He’s now on the restricted list, but his chances of playing again appear slim.

5. Former Red Sox first baseman Cecil Cooper, who managed in Houston and was a longtime hitting coach, hasn’t received a sniff from any major league team to return to the game in any capacity. How can that be? Cooper is also a former player agent, in fact the first player-turned-agent-turned-manager in history.

6. Borderline Hall of Fame: The voters never named Jim Kaat to the Hall. Kaat won 283 games and 16 Gold Gloves. He was penalized for longevity (25 years).

7. Love the Matt Stairs/Jamie Moyer color duo on Phillies broadcasts on Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia. The pair of former Red Sox combined to play for 20 teams over 44 seasons. Stairs was recently a NESN analyst.

8. Speedy recoveries to former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling and Twins general manager Terry Ryan, both of whom underwent cancer surgery last week.

9. Jim Fregosi, originally signed by the Red Sox in 1960, was the favorite baseball man of so many, including yours truly. One of the best talent evaluators in the business, he died at the age of 71 last week.

Updates on nine

1. James Shields, RHP, Royals — Shields is entering the final season of his deal and will look for some of that Walmart money to stay a Royal for a long time. Though Shields denies he’s using Zack Greinke’s six-year, $147 million contract as a model for his next deal, his agents and likely the agents for Jon Lester must have that in mind when negotiating. The Greinke deal may not be realistic for the 32-year-old Shields, but it may make sense for Lester, who is two years younger.

2. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Dodgers — The Dodgers and Ramirez are privately into contract talks. It appears the majority of Ramirez’s next contract will be with him as a third baseman, likely moving from shortstop as early as 2015. Ramirez doesn’t mind moving to third, but doesn’t want to be moved back and forth. Ramirez, who hit .349 against lefties and .344 against righties last season, says he wants to be a Dodger for the remainder of his career, and it appears the feeling is mutual. The player both the Red Sox and Marlins felt was a bit too much to handle at times has seemed to mature and is taking his role seriously.

3. J.J. Hardy, SS, Orioles — Hardy is in the final season of his contract and the Orioles would like nothing better than to keep him. He’s won two Gold Gloves with the Orioles and has hit 77 homers with 224 RBIs in three seasons. A very productive player who should have no problem in the free agent market (hello, Yankees). Hardy could demand a deal of at least five years possibly in the $15 million-$17 million per year range.

4. Andre Ethier, OF, Dodgers — The Dodgers’ four-outfielder quandary should work out given the fact that Matt Kemp will need some time off to be eased back into the lineup; Carl Crawford has been injury-prone the past three seasons; and Ethier has never mastered hitting lefthanded pitching (.221 last season, .235 career). It doesn’t mean GM Ned Colletti won’t consider a move later in the season if he sees a pattern of health and proficiency. This take on Ethier from an NL special assistant: “He needs someone to kick him in the butt, that’s why he would be perfect in Boston with [Dustin] Pedroia. That’s his buddy, and Pedroia would get the most out of him. He doesn’t have anyone like that in LA.”

5. Ervin Santana, RHP, free agent — Santana seems to be at the plate now that the dust has settled and teams need to fill out rotation spots. The Mariners, Yankees, Blue Jays, and Orioles all have some degree of interest now that his salary demands have come down. The Jays need him the most, but the Yankees could really use one more solid starter to finish off their staff. Don’t be surprised if their efforts intensify.

6. Nelson Cruz, OF, free agent — The Mariners remain the best bet for Cruz’s services, but they have spent a couple of days exploring pitching depth on Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Chris Capuano. The Mariners seem to be the one team willing to extend to a multiyear deal, but are trying to keep the average annual value down to a much lower figure than the Cruz camp is asking. The Orioles and Rangers remain on the periphery.

7. Mark Mulder, LHP, Angels — On Friday, he texted that he was on schedule following a five-year layoff, throwing 92 miles per hour with good command. On Saturday, Mulder ruptured his left Achilles’ tendon during an agility drill, ending his comeback bid.

8. Alfredo Aceves, RHP, Orioles — If new Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace can keep Aceves’s head on straight, the Orioles might have a good, low-cost find. He could even be a candidate for the starting rotation if newly signed Suk-min Yoon fails to crack the rotation. Aceves has a 14-5 record and 2.82 ERA vs. the American League East, mostly in relief. He’s been superb against Tampa Bay (4-1, 2.22 in 48 innings) and Toronto (2-0, 1.41 in 38 innings). He’s struggled against the Yankees (1-2, 6.26 ERA in 23 innings).

9. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Indians — There have been no talks concerning a contract extension. Cabrera can become a free agent at the end of the season, but it appears the Indians want to see how he rebounds from a season in which he hit .242, about 30 points below his career average. Cabrera could be a target of the Yankees in the offseason.

Extra innings

From the Bill Chuck files: “Gaby Sanchez and Sam Fuld led the majors with 89 hitless games last season.” Also, “Yankees outfielder Alfonso Soriano is the Cubs’ highest-paid player, with Chicago paying $13 million of his $18 million salary.” And, “AL teams averaged 702 runs in 2013; the Red Sox scored 853.” . . . Happy birthday, Manny Delcarmen (32), Bob Didier (65), and Bobby Darwin (71).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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