The late Nick Cafardo made it a yearly offseason exercise to rank the 30 managers. Again this year, we’re bringing it back as a tribute to Nick.
Only three teams — the Tigers, Red Sox, and White Sox — made a change after a 60-game 2020 season and all three turned to former World Series winners.
Detroit hired A.J. Hinch shortly after his suspension ended. The Sox brought back Alex Cora following his suspension, and Chicago made a surprise decision to hire 76-year-old Tony La Russa.
The role of a manager became a bigger topic of conversation during the World Series when Kevin Cash of the Rays pulled Blake Snell in the sixth inning of Game 6, ending what had been a dominating performance.
Managers once ran games as they saw fit. Now most teams see their role as carrying out strategic decisions made collectively and being caretakers of team chemistry.
The best managers find a way to emerge and still leave their mark on a team. Here’s our list:
1. Dave Roberts (Dodgers): The question last year was if Roberts could guide Los Angeles to a championship. That has been taken care of. He has started his managerial career with five consecutive division titles and a .615 winning percentage. Few in the game, at any level, are better communicators.
2. Dusty Baker (Astros): Houston made a wise move, bringing in the unruffled Baker to bring order to their chaos. Sure, the unscrupulous Astros benefited from playing in empty ballparks on the road, but Baker held them together and got a game away from the World Series.
3. Terry Francona (Cleveland): Trading Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco may have shut Cleveland’s competitive window. But they still have a solid rotation and Francona will relish the challenge after missing much of last season for health reasons.
4. Bob Melvin (Athletics): As he enters his 11th season in Oakland, Melvin is the longest-tenured manager in the game with one team. The Athletics have six playoff appearances in that time and it’s a testament to his faith in young players and creativity.
5. Kevin Cash (Rays): Game 6 aside, Cash has faith in the process Tampa Bay uses and, more importantly, gets the players to believe. He has won 454 games in six years, only 26 fewer than the much better-funded Red Sox.
6. Alex Cora (Red Sox): As somebody who believes the Sox were smart to bring back Cora, it’s hard to overlook his role in the Houston scandal and how poorly prepared the 2019 team was out of spring training. But Cora has all the skills you want in a manager. How much he’s able to get out of what seems sure to be a flawed roster this season will be telling.
7. Rocco Baldelli (Twins): Minnesota has won 62 percent of its games under Baldelli and division titles in both seasons. The Twins are also 0-5 in the postseason and have been outscored by 21 runs.
8. Brian Snitker (Braves): Snitker seemed to be a temporary patch when he landed the job in 2016. The Braves are now looking to add to a run of three consecutive first-place finishes. At 65, Snitker has shown he knows how to manage young talent.
9. Aaron Boone (Yankees): It has only been three years on the bench for Boone. But the clock is ticking loudly in New York, which hasn’t won a title since 2009. Boone has the perfect temperament for his market, but the pressure is on.
10. A.J. Hinch (Tigers): Hinch was 34 games under .500 managing the Diamondbacks, then 152 games over — plus two pennants and a championship — in five years with the Astros. Houston had great talent, but how much of that was shenanigans? The Tigers need a lot of work and their manager needs redemption.
11. Joe Girardi (Phillies): A dreadful bullpen kept his Phillies out of the playoffs, something new baseball operations president Dave Dombrowski is addressing. There’s more to get from the Phillies, Bryce Harper in particular.
12. Craig Counsell (Brewers): Milwaukee doesn’t spend a lot, but it sure wins a lot with three consecutive playoff appearances. Counsell, in his seventh season, is underrated.
13. Joe Maddon (Angels): Is the shine off a little? The Cubs won it all in 2016 before a mutual breakup in 2019. Then Maddon didn’t do much to invigorate the Angels last season, albeit under difficult circumstances.
14. Don Mattingly (Marlins): The season will be his 11th in a row on the bench, the sixth with the Marlins. Miami made its first playoff appearance since 2003 last season and has the young talent that suggests more are coming.
15. David Ross (Cubs): Ross must feel like he spent a few nights in the Ritz, then was asked to move into the motel down the street. The Cubs were all-in last season and now are slashing payroll. But managers can make a difference in such moments.
16. Mike Shildt (Cardinals): St. Louis is 35 games over .500 in his two-plus seasons, but 4-8 in the postseason. The Cardinals could take advantage of the Cubs and Reds dialing back in the NL East.
17. Torey Lovullo (Diamondbacks): A 93-win rookie season in 2017 was promising, but Arizona hasn’t made the playoffs since. The Diamondbacks need to get their pitching fixed.
18. Tony La Russa (White Sox): This could be great. This could be a disaster. La Russa is a Hall of Famer with 2,728 wins and three rings. But the game — and the players — have changed a lot since 2011 when he last managed.
19. Jayce Tingler (Padres): San Diego made its first playoff appearance since 2006 in Tingler’s rookie season. GM A.J. Preller had a lot to do with that with a series of roster upgrades, but Tingler held it all together.
20. Dave Martinez (Nationals): Washington was 46-27 after the All-Star break in 2019. It is 155-156 otherwise under Martinez.
21. Gabe Kapler (Giants): Kapler is four games under .500 in three seasons as a manager. Yet there’s a sense he’s in the right spot to guide the Giants as they rebuild.
22. Bud Black (Rockies): Colorado has dropped off steadily since winning 91 games in 2018. That’s more on GM Jeff Bridich than Black. Black has had an impressive career, but the Rockies are running in place.
23. Mike Matheny (Royals): Matheny will have more to work with this season. That the pandemic hit during his first season in Kansas City makes him difficult to judge.
24. Charlie Montoyo (Blue Jays): Toronto invested heavily in its roster with the additions of George Springer, Kirby Yates, and Robbie Ray. The onus will be on Montoyo as they chase the Yankees.
25. Scott Servais (Mariners): Seattle was in contention in 2018 and is now back in a rebuild. Servais is somebody you’d like to see get a chance with a better team.
26. David Bell (Reds): Cincinnati loaded up last season and lost in the wild-card round, failing to score a run in two games. Now ace Trevor Bauer is a free agent and closer Raisel Iglesias has been traded. Bell will have a lot of tough decisions.
27. Derek Shelton (Pirates): As GM Ben Cherington strips down the roster, Shelton will pay the price. The Pirates were 19-41 in his rookie year and it will probably get worse after the trade of Josh Bell.
28. Chris Woodward (Rangers): Woodward looked like a good fit when he was hired but is 100-122 in two years since.
29. Luis Rojas (Mets): A new owner, a new GM, and high expectations make Rojas a leading candidate to be fired unless the Mets get off to a good start.
30. Brandon Hyde (Orioles): Judging Hyde is impossible with Baltimore tanking. But he did handle the bullpen well last season. Hopefully for his sake, Hyde will be around once the Orioles field a competitive team.
Padres still stocked with prospects
The Padres traded for Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, and Blake Snell this offseason but still have six players among Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list.
The only top-100 prospect they gave up was righthander Luis Patino, who went to the Rays in the Snell deal.
“Credit to [Padres GM] A.J. Preller for taking advantage of the market at a time teams were worried about payroll,” another general manager said.
▪ As a slow winter drags on, free agents are getting edgy. Alex Colome, Brad Hand, Marcell Ozuna, and Jonathan Villar are among the players who have switched agents since November.
▪ George Springer’s $150 million deal with the Blue Jays was the largest ever signed by a player with New England roots.
Springer is a native of New Britain, Conn., and played at New Britain High, Avon Old Farms, and UConn before being drafted.
That should help inspire all the players who rake mud off the field in April to get their game in.
PEOPLE ARE IN PLACE
For Bloom, advances could come internally
The fine folks at SoxProspects.com scored an interview with Chaim Bloom for their podcast. One comment that resonated was Bloom saying the Red Sox should better use their resources to improve the infrastructure, programs, and staffing at all levels.
“To me, that’s been some of the inefficiency that’s existed in this game,” Bloom said. “Teams have not necessarily been as purposeful in how they allocate resources to things that are not major league payroll.”
The Red Sox, as an example, have not drafted a pitcher who went on to even modest levels of success in the majors for any team as a starter since Justin Masterson in 2006.
All of their notable starters since have come via free agency and trade. A deeper investment in the scouting and development staff would pay for itself many times over if even two or three reliable starters were the result.
Bloom said on the podcast he believes the Sox have good people in place. But it’s clear they need to improve.
Check that podcast out, it’s worth your time.
A few other observations on the Sox:
▪ David Robertson, who missed most of the last two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery, could be a low-cost/high-upside bullpen possibility for the Sox.
He’s planning a showcase for scouts in February. Robertson has a home in Rhode Island and has said in the past he’d be interested in playing in Boston.
▪ Baseball America’s top 100 prospects included Triston Casas (47), Jeter Downs (71), and Bobby Dalbec (90). Jarren Duran joined Gilberto Jimenez and Bryan Mata in the also receiving votes category.
Aaron: What might have been in Boston
The late Hank Aaron signed with the Boston Braves in 1952 and was sent to play in Eau Claire, Wisc., in the Class C Northern League.
The Braves moved to Milwaukee for the 1953 season and Aaron didn’t play his first game in Boston until April 8, 1975, when he was with the Milwaukee Brewers near the end of his career.
Batting third in front of George Scott, Aaron was 0 for 3 with a walk on Opening Day against Luis Tiant, who went the distance in a 5-2 win for the Sox. Aaron played 12 games in all at Fenway.
Aaron was the 10th member of the Hall of Fame to die in a span of 10 months.
The Triple A Worcester Red Sox don’t have a schedule yet. But they do have a ballpark. The field is down at Polar Park along with the light standards, and the seats have been installed. There’s interior work being done on all three levels, but the expectation is everything will be ready for Opening Day. The park, which has a capacity of 10,000, will have the usual amenities for fans. From a baseball standpoint, the Sox players will have better training facilities and more indoor space for batting cages and the weight room than they did at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket … An incredible stat from the career of Hall of Famer Don Sutton, who died on Jan. 19: He never missed a start because of injury in 23 seasons and pitched at least 200 innings in 20 of his first 21 seasons, the exception being the strike-shortened 1981 season … Jon Lester had an unfortunate departure from the Red Sox, getting traded to the Athletics in 2014 after the team botched negotiations on his contract extension. Lester found a good landing spot with the Cubs in 2015 as a free agent and had six strong seasons. Lester hoped to retire in Chicago but instead took a one-year, $5 million deal with the Nationals that includes deferred payments. Lester, major league sources said, was willing to negotiate a similar deal with the Cubs but the interest wasn’t reciprocal … Giants owner Charles Johnson and his wife, Ann, requested a refund of their personal contributions to Colorado Representative Lauren Boebert. The Republican tweeted the location of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6. Pelosi’s daughter, Christine, is on the board of the Giants Community Fund. Johnson said he was “appalled” by the violence and would request refunds from any candidates he supported who engaged in similar actions … There was a memorial service for Tommy Lasorda on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium with his casket on the mound. His pallbearers included former Dodgers Eric Karros, Mickey Hatcher, Charlie Hough, Mike Scioscia, and Bobby Valentine along with former NBA coach Mike Fratello, who was a close friend … Raise a glass to The Baseball Tavern, which was torn down this past week to make room for new development on Boylston Street. The iconic four-story bar, now closed for more than a year, was a stalwart hangout for baseball fans and college students since the early 1960s … Happy birthday to Niuman Romero, who is 36. He played two games for the Red Sox in 2010, one that was particularly memorable. The rookie came off the bench at Tampa Bay on July 6 to replace an injured Kevin Youkilis and bat fourth behind David Ortiz. Rays manager Joe Maddon had Ortiz intentionally walked three times and Romero was 0 for 3, leaving three runners on base in a 3-2 loss. He grounded out with runners on first and third to end the game. “I think tomorrow’s going to be a new day,” Romero said after the game. Alas, he was designated for assignment the next day and never appeared in a major league game again. Tony Renda is 30. He appeared in one game for the Red Sox in 2018 as a pinch runner and that was memorable for better reasons. He ran with two outs in the bottom of the ninth on Aug. 5 and scored the winning run against the Yankees. Renda always will have a World Series ring to remember that.