Managers at the top of Major League Baseball
The 10 best performances by managers so far:
1. Don Mattingly, Dodgers - He has emerged as a good leader, one who has taken a bunch of Triple A players and made them winners. Mattingly has certainly taken advantage of the weak National League West, and perhaps the Dodgers aren’t as good as their record indicates. But their pitching has been good, and Mattingly has fostered a nice approach in the hitters, similar to what he did in New York; patience and getting deep into the count were trademarks of his Yankee teams.
2. Robin Ventura, White Sox - The Ozzie Guillen opposite, he has been refreshing for the players and calming at the same time. There’s an even keel on the White Sox, no train wrecks every other day. Sometimes that mentality worked for Guillen, but this team appears to be responding to Ventura’s calmer approach. It helps that he has Don Cooper handling most of the pitching decisions.
3. Terry Collins, Mets - The fact that a team with no business hanging around in the competitive NL East is right in the mix is a tribute to the veteran skipper, who has transformed himself through the years from a combative tough-guy type to one with a pretty steady hand handling players. Collins has been able to maneuver through six different shortstops and three left fielders. He has dealt with the loss of Jason Bay (who is now back), and has navigated through a pitching staff led by Johan Santana, who pitched a no-hitter, and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. The Mets are unlikely to be buyers because of their dire financial situation, but hanging in as they have is impressive.
4. Bobby Valentine, Red Sox - He has had about $80 million of payroll on the disabled list most of the season, losing two All-Star outfielders (Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury) and his closer (Andrew Bailey), but he has pieced together one of the majors’ best bullpens. Some believe he is overusing his bullpen. The proof will be whether the arms wear down. He also has put together a lineup that is somehow still producing runs. Valentine keeps emphasizing his type of baseball and is getting more involved in personnel preferences. He will rub some people the wrong way, especially veterans set in their ways. Oh well.
5. Buck Showalter, Orioles - Dead last, no questions asked, was the consensus on the Orioles before the season, but instead they have been in first place. Showalter’s steady hand and leadership have kept his promising pitching staff consistent. He, too, has managed injuries well, and has been able to survive with a lineup that hasn’t had All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts all season, and has also lost Nick Markakis and Mark Reynolds, among others, at times.
6. Davey Johnson, Nationals - He has been able to manage through substantial injuries to his 3-4-5 hitters, his fifth starter, and his closer, plugging in the Steve Lombardozzis of the world and receiving top production. He has pieced together the best starting rotation in the NL and has survived in the bullpen without Drew Storen. At the same time, he has introduced Bryce Harper to the majors and overseen Stephen Strasburg’s amazing comeback from Tommy John surgery.
7. Mike Scioscia, Angels - How hard can it be with Albert Pujols and a great starting rotation? Well, consider that with Pujols struggling, the Angels were declared DOA by many in April, seen as one of the biggest busts in baseball. Scioscia didn’t allow that to continue. He fired hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, released outfielder Bobby Abreu, and seemed to send a message to his players that complacency would not be tolerated. And they’ve responded. Pujols has picked up the pace, and the Angels now look every bit as strong as they were supposed to be.
8. Manny Acta, Indians - After lean years with the last-place Nationals, Acta is demonstrating that he is a top-notch manager. He has a tremendous way about him in handling players - firm but fair - and he is a good psychologist who seems to motivate players by using mind games. Acta has the Indians in the hunt in the AL Central.
9. Brad Mills, Astros - OK, hear me out. The Astros were playing .431 baseball through Friday, but that’s far better than anyone expected. Look at the lineup and tell me who half these guys are. They do have decent pitching, and Mills has gotten his players to buy into the idea that even though they’re building for the long haul, they can still compete now. Mills was always an extremely organized coach with the Red Sox and is the same way in Houston. He is executing the wishes of the new ownership, and it appears he will survive.
10. Clint Hurdle, Pirates - With that offense, this team has no business being three games over .500 (which it was through Friday). Hurdle seems to get the most out of his players, especially pitchers. He has found ways for his lineup to manufacture runs.
Apropos of nothing
1. WBZ-TV’s Dan Roche had an interesting idea: Get Daniel Bard straightened out, then deal him to the Cubs in a package for Matt Garza.
2. Our plea last week for a team to give Jamie Moyer another chance was answered. Dan Duquette signed him to a minor league deal with the Orioles. “We’d like to give Jamie a couple of minor league starts to see if he can find himself again,’’ Duquette said. When he was with the Red Sox, Duquette acquired Moyer and then dealt him at the trading deadline in 1996 to Seattle for Darren Bragg, which pretty much launched Moyer’s tremendous late-career run.
3. So Adrian Gonzalez can play right field? It’ll be fun watching Albert Pujols play third during the Angels’ six-game interleague road trip that starts in Colorado this weekend. Pujols has played third for the Cardinals, and this allows the Angels to keep Kendry Morales in the lineup, at first base.
4. The Red Sox really like Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler, but they don’t appear to be the front-runners for him.
5. Congratulations to Jacob Kapstein of Tiverton (R.I.) High, a catcher drafted by the Tigers in the 35th round. His brother Zach Kapstein is a first baseman/outfielder in the Red Sox organization, and their uncle Jeremy Kapstein is a senior adviser for the Red Sox.
6. When all the outfielders are healthy, the Red Sox will have Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross, Daniel Nava, Darnell McDonald, and Ryan Kalish available. I say Crawford, Ellsbury, Ross, Nava, and Sweeney will be the five who stay, with Kalish in Triple A until September unless there is an injury or the Sox deal Sweeney or Ross.
7. When Crawford returns, the Sox will hold their breath to see whether he can avoid Tommy John surgery. Rocco Baldelli, Crawford’s old Rays teammate, had a similar injury and rehab before he had to undergo the procedure.
8. I think Roger Clemens will be found not guilty.
9. What the Red Sox say is their sellout streak is due to reach 745 Sunday, which would break the record for such a streak in all sports.
10. Through Friday, the Twins had used at least four innings of relief pitching in 23 games this season.
Apropos of something
Dan Duquette’s recent completion of Adam Jones’s six-year, $85 million extension in Baltimore gives rise to speculation on how Boston will approach Jacoby Ellsbury, who can be a free agent after the 2013 season (as Jones was scheduled to be).
The Red Sox and Scott Boras have not had any discussions on this. While there is the perception that Boras always takes his prime players to free agency, that is not the case. But it appears the Sox will likely wait it out with Ellsbury the remainder of this year and all of next year.
There are reasons to wait, on both sides:
From Ellsbury’s point of view, he was the American League MVP runner-up a year ago and has elite talents that could land him a major contract.
But he must decide whether Boston is where he wants to be. As an Oregonian who shuns the spotlight, he may want a quieter market.
From the Sox’ point of view, they have been burned recently by long-term deals with John Lackey, Carl Crawford, and to some degree Daisuke Matsuzaka.
The Sox would want to see Ellsbury have a stretch of good health before committing 6-8 years to him.
The Sox also have young outfielders Ryan Kalish and Jackie Bradley waiting in the wings. Kalish, of course, has had his share of injuries, but he is held in high esteem in the Sox organization.
Ellsbury and Boras could easily make the claim that the popular outfielder be paid in line with the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp (eight years, $160 million). The difference is that Kemp has been a tremendously durable player, with the exception of a recent hamstring tear.
At the end of 2013, Ellsbury will be 30 years old.
“It’s always a great dilemma for a team, especially with a player who is injured a lot,’’ said a National League general manager. “Ellsbury is a great player, but if he’s getting hurt here in his prime, what’s he going to look like after 30?
“The Red Sox are seeing firsthand players like Carl Crawford and Kevin Youkilis as they get on the other side of 30.
“It’s one of those things, if you have someone in your system who you feel can reasonably replace the player, then you replace the player.’’
Updates on nine
1. Justin Upton, OF, Diamondbacks - Trying to get a consistent performance from Upton has been a real challenge for manager Kirk Gibson. Upton is obviously a tremendous talent, and the D-Backs need offense. Would Upton ever be available in a deal? Only Kevin Towers knows for sure, but a few baseball evaluators wouldn’t mind tempting him with a package. The D-Backs don’t need pitching, so you wouldn’t be able to dangle a Clay Buchholz.
2. Sean Rodriguez, INF, Rays - It’s not that he isn’t a useful player. He certainly is. But the Rays must improve their overall infield defense, especially in Evan Longoria’s absence. Currently, Carlos Pena is their best defensive infielder, and while Ben Zobrist is versatile, the defense suffers when he plays second base. The Rays have to be looking for a middle infielder, which are extremely hard to come by. “They can pitch,’’ said a National League scout assigned to the AL East, “but if they don’t improve their defense, it may get frustrating for them because their offense isn’t good enough to score a lot of runs.’’
3. Brandon League, RP, Mariners - Seattle has received some inquiries for League, who has a great arm but has been erratic. While the Mariners haven’t given indications that they will sell off veteran pieces, teams are targeting them as a seller.
4. Josh Willingham, OF, Twins - He remains one of the most sought-after righthanded hitters on the market. The Twins haven’t reached the point where they will sell off assets like Willingham and Justin Morneau (who is tougher to deal because of the emotional attachment with the organization). But there is a big buyers’ market out there, and this is a great chance for Terry Ryan to cash in and get the package of young players he’s looking for.
5. Mark Trumbo, INF-OF, Angels - He has become a jack-of-all-trades, playing 20 games in right, nine at DH, nine in left field, eight at third base, and four at first base. But his time at third may be limited from here on out. The Angels tried to make Trumbo their full-time third baseman, but he looked awkward at the position and hasn’t played there since May 2. His power bat - .330 average with 12 homers and 31 RBIs entering the weekend - will keep him in the lineup.
6. Stephen Drew, SS, Diamondbacks - It’s pretty bad when you’re taking so long to come back from an injury that the owner makes a critical remark, but that’s the case with the younger brother of J.D. Drew. Managing partner Ken Kendrick told Arizona reporters, “I think Stephen should have been out there playing by now. I, for one, am disappointed. I’m going to be real candid and say Stephen and his representatives are more focused on where he is going to be a year from now than going ahead and supporting the team that is paying his salary. All you can do is hope that the player is treating the situation with integrity. We have our concerns.’’ Kendrick merely said what others had been thinking. Drew’s representative is Scott Boras, who came to his client’s defense just as he did with Jacoby Ellsbury a couple of years back. “You never want to question a player’s integrity,’’ said Boras. Referring to the play on which Drew was hurt last July (a slide into home), Boras said, “Take a look at the film. You tell me what that kid has given to that franchise. That is giving your all for your team. The effort he showed in trying to score on that play is the same effort he is displaying to get back in to the lineup.’’ There is some disagreement over that.
7. Jim Thome, PH-DH, Phillies - Going 3 for 5 with an RBI as the DH Friday and hitting his first homer of the season Saturday were good signs as he tries to show he isn’t done after a terrible start and a stint on the disabled list. He was 2 for 18 with two singles and 10 strikeouts before going on the DL. He needs to produce in the DH slot during interleague play to get his timing back, because so far he is not succeeding as a National League pinch hitter.
8. Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers - Perhaps it was his current frame of mind that led him to turn down a spot in the Home Run Derby. Hamilton said it messed up his swing in 2008, but his swing has been messed up lately anyway. He has only four homers in his last 94 at-bats. He is 18 for his last 80 with only eight extra-base hits. The reasons? Hamilton seems to be facing more shifts and swinging at more first pitches. According to Stats Inc., he has swung at 50.2 percent of first pitches, second only to Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman (50.7 percent).
9. Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Red Sox - A major league source indicated that the Phillies, who have been watching the Red Sox a lot lately, may be more interested in Middlebrooks than Kevin Youkilis. The Phillies are looking to get younger, especially if they deem this season a washout at some point. It doesn’t appear the Red Sox would have interest in dealing Middlebrooks, though.
From the Bill Chuck files: “The Republicans have won six of the last 10 presidential elections while the AL has won six of the last 10 World Series held during election years.’’ Also, Ryan Sweeney had 160 plate appearances without a homer, miles away from the team record held by Bill Wambsganss, who went 724 without a homer in 1924. Sweeney won’t even approach the Rem Dawg, Jerry Remy, who went 716 homerless PAs in 1982.’’ And, “It just feels right: Derek Jeter’s .313 lifetime average is the same as Nomar Garciaparra’s.’’ . . . Happy 39th birthday, Pokey Reese.