For the past few years leading into spring training we’ve attempted managerial rankings. They are based on my opinions and the opinions of the many people around baseball I speak with during the course of the week.
The rankings factor in recent performance and track record. Obviously, a manager’s performance is tied into the talent on his roster and his ability to push that talent to positive results.
How many games can a manager win or lose for a team? Who really knows, especially now that front offices are making managers factor in analytics?
As always, we put first-time managers at the bottom of the list:
1. Bruce Bochy, Giants — This one wasn’t hard. Three out of five championships, great player/manager communication, great use of his bullpen, just a great feel for the personnel on his team. The fact he gets the most out of good but not great talent speaks volumes.
2. Buck Showalter, Orioles — Showalter seems to be one of those guys who can win games for his team. Tremendously organized, aware of the limitations or abilities of his personnel, and a good in-game manager who sets a professional tone for his team.
3. Joe Maddon, Cubs — Consistently near the top of these rankings. Innovative, fun, smart. Don’t like that he reintroduced defensive shifts to the game. New challenge with the Cubs, but similar to the Rays in that he’ll be managing young players and trying to elevate the organization. He can do that.
4. Terry Francona, Indians — Can’t argue with his record, methods, and track record for getting optimum performance out of his players. He had super talent in Boston and managed big egos. He’s now taken a small-market team and made it relevant. Great use of the bullpen and resting players at the right time.
5. Bob Melvin, Athletics — So consistent in his approach and methods, the way he communicates with players. He can be tough and emotional, and also a good teacher. He has to deal with a lot of front-office intervention but keeps his identity as a manager and stays true to who he is. There’s a reason he’s a two-time Manager of the Year.
6. Clint Hurdle, Pirates — He may not be the renaissance man Maddon is, but he is one of the top motivators in the game. Nobody uplifts his players more than Hurdle.
7. Mike Scioscia, Angels — He’s got nothing left to prove. He loves a roster that stresses defense, running, and pitching, and when he has that he flourishes. He’s opening himself up to analytics, while still emphasizing his tremendous instincts.
8. Joe Girardi, Yankees — Anyone in this seat would have his hair on fire most of the time, but Girardi manages to hold himself together under the toughest of circumstances and usually makes the most out of a difficult situation. Girardi’s teams have been killed by injuries the last couple of years, but he’s managed to keep the Yankees in the playoff hunt. He does things his way. Sometimes pigheaded, but that’s OK. He leads.
9. Mike Matheny, Cardinals — Matheny inherited a great roster and hasn’t messed it up. Are there moves along the way, in-game especially, that raise an eyebrow or two? Certainly, as some of our baseball people pointed out. But as time goes by Matheny, who had no managerial experience when he took the job, continues to grow.
10. John Farrell, Red Sox — He’s experienced severe ups and downs in Toronto and Boston, but he’s managed to stay even-keeled, has stuck to his message, and created an atmosphere where players can excel. Does he need more fire? That’s been a complaint, but intensity can’t be contrived. His personality is his personality. He’s one of the smartest managers during games and likely has a future as a general manager.
11. Bud Black, Padres — A personal favorite, Black has had little to work with but he stands out as a guy who gets it, seeking solutions for problems that at times are unsolvable because of a lack of personnel. He won’t have that issue this year with a revamped lineup and pitching staff. Maybe now the rest of the baseball will see how good he is.
12. Lloyd McClendon, Mariners — Do you learn after your first managerial stint and then years of coaching? Of course. McClendon’s fire and leadership are starting to seep into his team. He also has some talent now, which should begin to get him more notice as a top motivator and manager.
13. Mike Redmond, Marlins — Before he took the job, he was consistently one of the names mentioned as a possible good manager. After wading through growing pains and a poor roster, Redmond is establishing himself as that guy. Enhancements to the roster make him better able to turn that acumen into wins, and we’ll see if the Marlins stay in contention in the National League East.
14. Ned Yost, Royals — Other than the hiccup in the playoffs when he took out James Shields and went with rookie Yordano Ventura, who gave up a home run to Brandon Moss, Yost managed very well in the postseason. He’s not liked by the analytics folks because he bunts too much, but oh well. The Royals performed well.
15. Brad Ausmus, Tigers — Went through all of the first-time manager woes. While the game was too fast at times, he caught up. One of the smartest people in the game, Ausmus will rise to the top of this list soon.
16. John Gibbons, Blue Jays — Your record (462-472) is what you are, but this is a guy who has searched deep inside to come up with the right tone and perspective. He’s been tough, soft, and maybe now he is a guy who can manage people, tries to get his personnel to play the game the right way, and has found himself.
17. Don Mattingly, Dodgers — Kudos for being able to handle such a complicated roster. Mattingly had to deal with Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier, Yasiel Puig, etc. Mattingly had smoke coming out of his head at times, but he survived. He now has a team with fewer headaches, but one that perhaps isn’t as talented. New management stuck with him.
18. Ron Roenicke, Brewers — It is said that Roenicke is under fire after a late-season collapse (9-17) and could be one of the first fired if the Brewers don’t get off to a good start. Roenicke is a cerebral guy who loves the game and knows it inside and out. It would be a shame to blame some of the Brewers’ woes strictly on him.
19. Terry Collins, Mets — Baseball knowledge? It’s hard to find someone with more street smarts about baseball. The results haven’t been there, and to its credit management has never sought to make Collins the scapegoat. He’s got a developing roster and pitching staff that should make the Mets a compelling team to watch in 2015.
20. Robin Ventura, White Sox — Ventura would be the first to tell you that it hasn’t been easy going from the street to managing a major league team. He’s had to deal with a substandard roster and all kinds of changes, but now the White Sox have given him the riches of a viable pitching staff, which should bode well for his bottom line.
21. Bryan Price, Reds — A solid manager who has made the Black/Farrell transition to the bench. The Reds are a challenge given their limited resources. Price isn’t a miracle worker and it looks as if he’d have to be that for the Reds to be relevant in 2015. We know he’s an excellent pitching coach. Now he must show he’s just as good of a manager.
22. Fredi Gonzalez, Braves — Gonzalez had a bad roster last season and had no chance to turn around the Braves. New team president John Hart acknowledged that and kept Gonzalez as the manager. He’s overcome his bullpen management issues, but now the Braves won’t be relevant until 2017 with a rebuild going on. The experienced Gonzalez needs to produce a team that plays hard even if it doesn’t win.
23. Matt Williams, Nationals — We remember the yanking of Jordan Zimmermann in that playoff game with the Giants as a brain cramp that probably cost the Nationals a chance to go far. But there’s a more extensive body of work than that one move. The rookie manager made some rookie mistakes.
24. Ryne Sandberg, Phillies — Love Sandberg’s fire and him wanting to be tough on players who need it. He has no fear that way. Obviously, he’s presiding over a team that won’t be viable for at least a couple of years. We’ll see if he survives it.
25. Walt Weiss, Rockies — Another manager who is hard to judge given the obstacles he faces with a substandard pitching staff and two superstars, Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, who can’t stay on the field at the same time. Those who watch Weiss consistently see a competent manager who finds himself in an unmanageable situation.
26. A.J. Hinch, Astros — Hinch was way ahead of his time when he was hired in Arizona in 2009. He was one of the first analytical managers, but it was too soon, and the 1½ years with the Diamondbacks weren’t pretty. Having spent his time since in player development and perhaps now knowing how to use the numbers and being in the most analytical organization of all, he should be a good fit for the Astros.
27. Kevin Cash, Rays — Indications are he’ll have a competitive team because of the pitching, which he can handle. He’s been in the Tampa Bay market as a player, so he understands all of it. He’s in that “you knew he was going to be a manager” camp from his days with the Red Sox.
28. Jeff Banister, Rangers — Worked under Hurdle in Pittsburgh, and the Rangers won’t be horrible. With Prince Fielder and other injured players back, he should have a good first season.
29. Chip Hale, Diamondbacks — A former bench and third base coach in two stints with Melvin, Hale has learned something and now he’ll put it to good use with the Diamondbacks, who are looking for a new purpose under Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart.
30. Paul Molitor, Twins — The second Hall of Famer to take a crack at managing, he joins Sandberg in trying to apply the things that made him great to players who will likely be inferior. This is not easy. Ted Williams also struggled as a manager because players couldn’t live up to what he expected. Molitor has been around the Twins as a coach so the transition shouldn’t be severe.
Updates on nine
1. Cole Hamels, LHP, Phillies — General manager Ruben Amaro said last week that four teams had made offers for Hamels. One of them, according to a major league source, was the Red Sox. But what we’ve been able to piece together through various sources is that the package Boston offered was heavy on the major league side, trying to avoid giving up any of their top prospects. Suffice it to say, that won’t get you Hamels. The Phillies are insistent on prospects, and if they don’t get them now they’ll wait until the trade deadline when there might be more desperation by teams seeking to win.
2. Johnny Cueto, RHP, Reds — GM Walt Jocketty is sincere when he says the Reds are trying to tie Cueto up on a long-term deal. And he has a track record of doing that with Joey Votto and Homer Bailey. But if it can’t get done, look for a trade deadline deal, and there will be lots of takers.
3. Jonathan Papelbon, RHP, Phillies — The Phillies feel there’s still an opportunity to deal Papelbon, even though the Brewers scenario hasn’t unfolded as they thought. The Phillies want the Brewers to take care of the option year but still want a top prospect in return. But there may be a mystery team out there kicking the tires. Papelbon can still get people out even with a diminished fastball.
4. Andre Ethier, OF, Dodgers — Will they or won’t they deal him? The $53.5 million remaining on his deal is problematic, so now the trick becomes trying to get Ethier at-bats as the fourth outfielder behind Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, and Joc Pederson. As one of Ethier’s former coaches told me recently, “He’s a guy who has to play a lot to get into a rhythm. If he doesn’t, like last season, he’s not going to produce. The more he hits against lefties, the more comfortable he gets against them. He needs to be an everyday player.” Ethier would be a nice fit for the Orioles, but not sure the money could ever be worked out.
5. Alex Guerrero, INF, Dodgers — Here’s an intriguing guy. The Cuban infielder signed a four-year, $28 million deal and is likely better suited for the American League. He can really hit but has no position, and he has to give his permission to be sent to the minors. He was signed as a shortstop, but some believe as long as he’s in the National League he may have to pull a Hanley Ramirez and convert to left field.
6. Chad Billingsley, RHP, Phillies — Billingsley has had a lot of injuries, but the feeling by a couple of scouts is that he can still be an effective 150-160-inning guy at the back end of a rotation, and that’s where the Phillies have him placed. After Tommy John and flexor tendon surgeries, he’s likely not going to be the ace he was destined to be when he won 16 games for the Dodgers in 2008, but serviceable nonetheless. He could also be trade bait if he gets off to a good start. The Phillies already have Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Papelbon to trade, but Billingsley could be part of that group.
7. Rob Manfred, commissioner — Got to like his early going in the big chair. He’s not afraid to explore or converse about tough topics, such as the elimination of defensive shifts, adding the designated hitter to the NL, the possible reinstatement of Pete Rose, creating bids for future All-Star Games, trying to make the game better visually, and improving pace of play by perhaps cutting down the time between innings. Manfred won’t be afraid to make changes, popular or unpopular.
8. B.J. Upton, CF, Braves — The Braves have no choice but to see if Upton can regain the form from his Tampa Bay days. He has three years remaining on the five-year, $75 million deal ex-Braves GM Frank Wrenn signed him to. But Upton, who was benched last season, could see a similar fate if he continues to be a .200 hitter. Many attempts to deal him have been fruitless.
9. Allen Craig, 1B/OF, Red Sox — The Twins and Indians are looking for a righthanded bat. The Sox also have Shane Victorino, with Bryce Brentz in the minors. You wonder at what point the Sox try to eliminate the logjam in the outfield.
From the Bill Chuck files — “In John Farrell’s four years of managing, his staff has had a lower ERA than the league only once. In 2014, AL pitchers had a 3.82 ERA and the Sox were 4.01. In 2013, the AL was 3.99 and the Sox were 3.79. In 2012, the AL was 4.09 and Farrell’s Blue Jays were 4.64. In 2011, the AL was 4.08 and the Jays were 4.32 . . . Also, “Lucas Duda, Anthony Rizzo, and David Ortiz were baseball’s only lefthanded 30-plus-homer hitters last season, the fewest for a full season since 1992, when it was just Barry Bonds and Fred McGriff.” . . . Happy birthday, Alex Gonzalez (38) and Joe Hesketh (56).