Not long ago, John Gibbons was one of the managers on the hot seat. My, how things have changed. Now he may be a candidate for Manager of the Year, especially if he leads his Blue Jays to the playoffs and perhaps even the American League East title.
This season, Milwaukee fired Ron Roenicke. Miami fired Mike Redmond. San Diego fired Bud Black. Ryne Sandberg walked away from the Phillies.
The firing of three managers did not give their former teams much of a boost. Sandberg's resignation did spark enthusiasm under interim manager Pete Mackanin.
In this age of analytics in baseball, you'd think that teams could pretty much predict their outcomes. But human beings still play the game, and because of that the numbers don't always add up. Managers can be put in tough situations when their teams' performance doesn't live up to the projections.
Here are the managers who will be the focus of attention this offseason:
1. John Farrell, Red Sox — You have to feel for Farrell, who has had two terrible seasons on the field and a horrible one off it. He was diagnosed with lymphoma last week and he will miss the remainder of the season while undergoing chemotherapy. Torey Lovullo was given the interim manager's job and the organization will monitor Farrell's recovery to determine when he can get back in the dugout. But it won't be this season. Farrell, and everyone who knows him, hopes he's back next season.
2. Matt Williams, Nationals — Complaints about Williams's in-game managerial decisions are a common refrain in the D.C. area. Williams also has had to deal with poor performances by players who were depended on to produce, including shortstop Ian Desmond and right fielder Jayson Werth. Williams has had to deal with injuries. The much-ballyhooed starting rotation never was as good as billed. Team president and general manager Mike Rizzo isn't going anywhere, so he may have to make a tough decision on Williams, whom he hired and believed in.
3. Brad Ausmus, Tigers — There are no guarantees that Ausmus returns. With a new GM (Al Avila) and an owner eager to win it all, Ausmus is somewhat at risk. Tigers owner Mike Ilitch has already let GM Dave Dombrowski go, so it's reasonable to question Ausmus's job security. Who would the Tigers turn to? There's been some speculation already about former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.
4. Lloyd McClendon, Mariners — He's managed an underperforming team. The Mariners were mentioned before the season as a team that could make it to the World Series. Far from it, as it turned out. McClendon has been under fire for the poor performances of the lineup, bullpen, and injury-plagued starting rotation.
5. Dan Jennings, Marlins — Hold your horses on Jennings returning to his GM role after managing for most of the season. Once the Marlins rid themselves of a couple of bad apples (they traded Mat Latos, Michael Morse, and Dan Haren) the clubhouse became calm again. As for returning to the GM role, Jennings said, "I'd like to see what September will be like when we get Giancarlo [Stanton] and Jose [Fernandez] back. I'd like to see what our team looks like." Jennings said he's enjoyed being a manager. "I know there's been a lot of speculation about what we're going to do, but I'd like to see our full team together, just to see what it looks like on the field." If Jennings decides to step down, he will likely pick the successor. It could be anyone from Alex Cora to Mike Lowell to Rick Renteria to Brett Butler.
6. Bryan Price, Reds — Price's roster was stripped at the deadline, so the Reds' performance since then shouldn't be tied to him. But they got off to a bad start. There was the ugly incident in which Price lashed out at the media for not being supportive of the team. Not a good look. Price has one year remaining on his contract and if the decision were made now, it appears he would return. But his return could also be tied into GM and president of baseball operations Walt Jocketty's future with the team.
7. Pete Mackanin, Phillies — Since he took over for Sandberg the Phillies have thrived despite being in a complete rebuilding mode. What is unknown is whether new team president Andy MacPhail has his own manager in mind for the rebuild. Regardless, MacPhail would have to look very closely at the job Mackanin has done.
8. Pat Murphy, Padres — The players like Murphy but the Padres haven't shown great progression during his time as interim manager. His return as the permanent manager is very much in question. The Padres may go for a bigger name — someone to excite the fan base. Team president Mike Dee, recently asked about Murphy, indicated his evaluation was incomplete.
9. Robin Ventura, White Sox — The White Sox became relevant again around the All-Star break, and that took some pressure off Ventura. The general feeling is the team would have to go into a complete tailspin, and Ventura to lose control of his players, for him to get fired. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf brought Ventura in off the street and would likely not fire him.
Yankees and Jays will battle it out
When Yankees GM Brian Cashman was asked this past week about his team having to play the Blue Jays 10 more times in the hotly contested AL East race, he didn't flinch.
"The Blue Jays have to play us 10 times also," shot back Cashman.
Indeed. The Yankees beat the red-hot Jays, 4-3, Friday. The Jays lost a game in which David Price pitched, and that was significant for the Yankees, who had their six-game lead (after games of Aug. 2) over the Jays dissolve as a result of the kick Toronto got with its deadline blockbusters.
This is now a genuine race between two very talented teams.
The Yankees are older, perhaps wiser. Wear and tear and/or the performance of their rotation could be responsible for their recent swoon, but age and the rotation were major reasons they had a comfortable lead.
Professional hitters such as Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Chase Headley can be dangerous. Even Stephen Drew has stroked 15 homers, many well-timed.
The Jays have done it with a lineup that can win a game on one mistake pitch. Troy Tulowitzki has added a spark. Price has elongated the rotation with an ace, while veterans R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle have shown they aren't done. Marco Estrada has given them quality from the fourth spot and Drew Hutchison, the pitcher the Jays want to use the least down the stretch, gave them a quality performance in his last start against the Yankees.
The Jays are relevant perhaps for the first time since their last playoff appearance in 1993. The Rogers Centre is the most exciting venue in baseball right now, and the long-suffering fan base believes the Jays are for real.
It gives the Jays some hope that sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion could be re-signed when their contracts expire following the 2016 season.
For the Yankees, it's now a matter of holding on. A-Rod and Teixeira have come too far to not finish strong. CC Sabathia wants to prove he's not done. Beltran, who hit a pinch homer on Friday, believes he can be one of the game's best clutch hitters through the playoffs.
It's going to be fun to watch the remaining two series between the teams. Great for baseball. Great for the Blue Jays, who went for it. Great for the Yankees, who need to get back to the postseason.
Apropos of nothing
1. It was Theo Epstein who hired current Red Sox adviser Jerry Dipoto as a pro scout in 2003 for Boston at the urging of then-assistant GM Josh Byrnes. Byrnes then hired Dipoto as his assistant in Arizona. Byrnes and Dipoto are very close. During his time in Boston, Dipoto also bonded with Ben Cherington, which is how their current relationship developed. What's interesting is that Dipoto is an analytics guy and he's the type of "consultant" the Red Sox chose to bring in rather than a pure scout who evaluates with his eyes.
2. In finishing last two out of the last three years, the Red Sox have had two No. 7 picks, and they are in line for another such pick in 2016. Without trying, the Sox have put themselves in position to get the best amateur talent. The two seventh overall picks yielded lefthander Trey Ball (his first three years have been rough, though he showed signs of smoothing out this season: 8-10, a 4.68 ERA in 22 starts at Single A Salem) and outfielder Andrew Benintendi out of the University of Arkansas, who has gotten off to a good start — .278 with seven homers and 15 RBIs at short-season Single A Lowell. The Red Sox' first-round pick is protected, which means they won't have to give it up to sign a major free agent.
3. Interesting Braves numbers: They have used 27 relievers, 13 of which have ERAs over 5.00 and 10 have ERAs of 6.46 or higher. The Braves' bullpen ERA of 4.24 is tied with Detroit for 27th in the majors. Their 24 bullpen losses are second most in the majors behind Seattle (26). And how about Shelby Miller? He's gone winless for a franchise-record 15 straight starts, despite posting a 3.16 ERA over that span. The Braves scored only 30 runs in those 15 games, 14 while Miller was on the mound. According to Elias, the only other pitcher in the live ball era (since 1920) to go winless for 15 starts with an ERA as low as Miller's 3.16 was the Mets' Craig Swan, who had a 2.82 ERA over 15 winless starts in 1978. Miller's average run support of 2.54 is lowest in the majors among qualifying starting pitchers.
4. Brewers owner Mark Attanasio wants a young, analytical GM and has hired a firm to find Doug Melvin's replacement. We suspect the firm will come up with the same names mentioned for recent GM openings, including Tampa Bay vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom, Cleveland assistant GM Mike Chernoff, Atlanta assistant GM John Coppolella, Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler, Red Sox assistant GM Mike Hazen, Oakland assistant GM Dan Kantrovitz, Angels assistant GM Matt Klentak, and MLB executive Chris Marinak.
Updates on nine
1. Daniel Bard, RHP, Cubs — He is in Arizona at the Cubs' spring training facility, still trying to fix his control problems. The former Red Sox reliever has not pitched officially this season.
2. Mike Lowell, retired — The former All-Star third baseman was honored in Miami last week as one of the Franchise Four. Could Lowell be lured into managing the Marlins? He works for MLB Network, is hugely popular in that market, and may want it to stay that way. Lowell seems to be enjoying his family time as well as the network gig. It may be a conversation the Marlins have with Lowell at some point.
3. Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies — As of Friday, the Giants really had no idea how their pursuit of Utley would go. Utley wanted some playing-time guarantees, which the Giants could make but only until Joe Panik returned from the disabled list. The Giants always seem to have the knack of picking the right player at the right time, and they have identified Utley, who has struggled mightily this season. The Angels and Yankees also have some interest.
4. Trea Turner, SS, Nationals — The Nationals will luck out when it comes to replacing Ian Desmond at shortstop when he becomes a free agent next season. "He's a baseball player," one veteran AL scout said of Turner. "He's going to be an All-Star player in the big leagues. I don't see how he misses. He has great instincts for the position and the game in general. He's got those [Dustin] Pedroia qualities." Turner is hitting .321 in the minors this season, .312 at Triple A Syracuse.
5. Aroldis Chapman, LHP, Reds — When Arizona, among other teams, asked about Chapman at the deadline, it was "incredibly unrealistic" what the Reds asked for in return, according to one GM, who added, "I couldn't believe it." But Reds GM Walt Jocketty appears to have an interest in at least listening to offers for the coveted lefty in the offseason when the price might be more realistic. "I think teams would give up three very good prospects for him," said one AL GM, "but I think that's as far as it would go."
6. Doug Harris, director of player development, Nationals — He could emerge as the front-runner for the GM job in Milwaukee. Harris is a longtime scouting and development director who embraces both analytics and traditional scouting, seemingly striking a healthy balance between the two. Harris has worked for Doug Melvin in Texas so Melvin, who recently stepped down as Brewers president and GM and is now a team adviser, may have a comfort level with him.
7. Christian Vazquez, C, Red Sox — Sidelined this season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in early April, he has made solid strides with his offense, according to Red Sox hitting coach Chili Davis. Davis added that if Vazquez wasn't on the 60-day disabled list, he could probably help the team as a bat off the bench or as an occasional DH.
8. Executives — It's shaping up as a big year for those seeking employment with possible openings in Los Angeles (Angels), Boston, Toronto, Washington, and Seattle. Among those in play include Larry Lucchino, Dave Dombrowski, and Kenny Williams. Lucchino has been linked to Toronto and Washington. Dombrowski could go to Seattle, Washington, or Toronto. Williams remains viable in Toronto. Dan Duquette also is a candidate in Toronto. Reasons: Paul Beeston will likely step down as the Blue Jays' president; if the Nationals fail to make the playoffs, there could be a change; the Angels are going with interim GM Bill Stoneman; and the disappointing Mariners could change their management.
9. Theo Epstein, president, Cubs — His contract runs through 2016 at about $4 million per year. One would expect owner Tom Ricketts to re-up soon to avoid a lame-duck status given how Epstein has rebuilt the team to the point where it should contend for many years to come. Will Ricketts dangle enough salary to keep him there? Maybe make him as well-paid as Dodgers GM Andrew Friedman at $7 million per year? Or will Epstein look elsewhere? Like coming home?
From the Bill Chuck files — "Wade Miley's drop-off during a game is significant: The first time he faces a batter his BAA is .240, but the third time his BAA is .321." . . . Happy birthday Ryan Hanigan (35), Michael Coleman (40), Damian Jackson (42), and Terry Shumpert (49).
Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson and Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant are two of the top rookie hitters in baseball. Pederson has 22 while Bryant has clubbed 15. They also strik out a lot: Pederson has whiffed 137 times, Bryant 132. If they keep up this pace, they'll join some rare company. Here is a look at the 11 rookies who hit more than 20 homers and whiffed more than 150 times: