‘It’s getting more and more ruthless’: The reality of managing in a big market
Orioles general manager Dan Duquette probably summed it up best: “It’s a tough league. You win over 90 games, win your division, get deep into the playoffs, and that’s not good enough. Every organization has their reasons so you’ll have to ask them.”
It seems being a major league manager in a big market is tougher than ever.
Dusty Baker with the Nationals and John Farrell with the Red Sox won their divisions with 97 and 93 wins, respectively, and both bowed out in the Division Series for the second straight year. They were fired.
Everyone knows the playoffs are a crapshoot. Your team is either hot or it isn’t. Even the Indians, who won 22 straight games from late August to mid-September and 102 overall, lost to the Yankees in the ALDS after blowing a 2-0 series lead.
Joe Girardi was let go by the Yankees after taking a team that wasn’t even supposed to make the playoffs, and was by all accounts a year ahead of schedule, within one win of the World Series. The best we’ve been able to discern about why Girardi was let go is that he and general manager Brian Cashman just didn’t work well together anymore. Cashman’s operation is moving toward analytics, while Girardi just wanted to manage his way. Both men had the right to feel the way they did, but Cashman being the boss had the right to do what he did.
“Everyone loves Joe, everyone respects Joe, he is a good manager, he is a good man,” former Yankee Mark Teixeira, who now works for ESPN, told the New York Post. “But with baseball the way it is played today and the need for a manager to be a better communicator and communicate with the front office, the reasoning for doing things and to be a little bit more relaxed — especially in a place like New York, where the pressure is everywhere. He just wasn’t the best man for the job anymore.”
Yankees fans and observers were shocked by the move.
“Good luck trying to find someone as good as Girardi,” said Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey on the “Morning Joe” show on MSNBC Friday.
In this player-oriented league, when do the players bear fault?
“The players really control whether a manager makes it or not,” said one major league coach connected with one of the managerial firings. “If a player doesn’t produce when it counts, the manager gets blamed or the coaches get blamed. They say why didn’t that coach or manager prepare that player for that situation?”
“It’s getting more and more ruthless,” said a recently fired manager. “But you go into it knowing you’re probably going to be fired at some point. You’re hired to be fired. If the slightest thing doesn’t go according to plan, you’re gone. It’s just the way it is.”
The people we spoke to said there are players who “get it” and rise to the occasion, and those who just don’t know how to win. Look at the players on the 2004, 2007, and 2013 Red Sox. They got it. Look at the players on the 2016 and 2017 Red Sox. They didn’t get it.
The Red Sox had a really outstanding coaching staff the last two years. In fact, other organizations commented on the great work done by Brian Butterfield, Torey Lovullo, Dana LeVangie, Carl Willis, etc. But the Red Sox couldn’t win when it counted most.
|John Farrell||Joe Girardi||Dusty Baker|
So why was Farrell fired?
To hear a source within the clubhouse tell it, “It wasn’t that John lost control of the clubhouse. I keep hearing that and I say to myself, that’s not the clubhouse I was in. I think John had pockets of discord, but every manager in baseball had that.
“I think the David Price situation was tough on John. He couldn’t stop Price from saying stuff. Price had a lot of influence with the players and John couldn’t change Price. John was never afraid to have a tough conversation with a player. He had no problem with that. But he had a tough time with Price.”
Farrell has certainly proven himself a good manager. He has a World Series ring and three division titles to prove it.
Another team source indicated that Farrell simply didn’t communicate with players the way the players wanted to be communicated with. Dave Dombrowski worked with the ultimate communicator in Jim Leyland in Detroit. So it was hard for Farrell to live up to Leyland.
New Red Sox manager Alex Cora should be better at communicating with players. But if Price was Farrell’s unraveling, then Cora should address that immediately, or he’ll become unraveled from the start.
Another sign that Farrell hadn’t lost the team was the Red Sox’ extraordinary record in extra-inning games (15-3), showing an ability to come back.
“When teams do what we did in that regard, you’re playing hard and that’s a tribute to the manager,” said a team source. “Were there things here and there that we disagreed with John? Of course. But that always happens. You don’t always agree.”
Farrell drew the ire of his coaching staff when he allowed Chris Sale to stay in the game for eight innings to get his 300th strikeout on Sept. 20, when the staff had already decided that Sale was going to be scaled back for the playoffs.
Baker had a talented roster with superstar players, but he couldn’t get them to perform at the biggest moments. Baker also seemed to suffer from players who didn’t know how to win the big one.
Nationals GM Mike Rizzo is as good as anyone in building a roster, but sometimes you don’t always measure heart, which is why analytics-oriented executives take heat. Great talent doesn’t always equal winning. And managers pay the price.
HE SAW IT COMING
Boras and Cora have a history
Scott Boras represented Alex Cora as a player and tells the story of how he knew Cora when the future Red Sox manager was 10 years old.
“I was sitting with his dad at a game in Caguas and I remember we were talking about how important it was that Alex, if he makes it in baseball, also pursue an education where he can be something after baseball is over,” recalled Boras.
“We kept in touch with Alex and his dad over the years and we made sure he went to the University of Miami and got an education. Alex did a great job going to college and making himself speak English and get ready for his baseball career. He did a great job. It was obvious to me from the start that Alex was going to be a special kid. He communicated with people so well.
“He just had that natural, conversational style about him. Very smart. A student of the game and he just soaked everything in and always tried to learn something. He learned a lot as a player and over time we discussed the need to coach and be a bench coach. I think when Houston needed to hire someone and they knew they had a number of Latin players, Alex really became a guy they looked at seriously and it’s proven to be a great resource for the Astros.”
So Boras wasn’t surprised to see Cora move rapidly toward a managing career. And he believes that Cora will be able to communicate with his players, some of whom are also Boras clients in Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Deven Marrero.
“It’s a natural skill for him,” said Boras of Cora’s communication level. “He talks to players all the time. He’ll be able to get through to them, let them know where they stand and how he expects things to be done. He’s going to be well received in Boston.”
Apropos of nothing
1. Eduardo Perez is pretty close with Alex Cora, the two having worked together at ESPN. Just wondering if Perez could land in Boston with Cora? Perez has been a bench coach (Houston) and hitting coach (Miami) in the big leagues. His dad, Hall of Famer Tony Perez, played for the Red Sox later in his career.
2. The feeling is Cora could bring aboard big brother Joey Cora as bench coach. Cora is currently the third base coach in Pittsburgh, therefore he could be granted the opportunity to leave for a promotion.
3. The Cubs did a great job pursuing Brian Butterfield and Chili Davis, who left the Red Sox for Chicago’s coaching staff. They enticed them with more money. The feeling was Cora would have loved to have kept Butterfield at minimum. Bullpen coach Dana LeVangie, assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez, first base coach Ruben Amaro Jr., and bench coach Gary DiSarcina still haven’t heard much about their fates with the Red Sox.
4. The Pawtucket Red Sox stadium project took a turn the other night when Rhode Island’s governor, Gina Raimondo, said she needed more detailed profit and loss statements than team owners, led by Larry Lucchino, are willing to provide. Raimondo said on WPRO radio that if the PawSox want upward of $38 million from city and state taxpayers to build a new ballpark, “they can’t hide anything from us . . . and if they don’t want to, then fine. Finance it on your own.”
5. From the desk of baseball writing great John Lowe: “What’s in a number? How about 55? The Astros began 55 years ago and are seeking their first world title. The Dodgers’ first world title, on their eighth trip to the World Series, came in 1955. Orel Hershiser wore No. 55 when he pitched the Dodgers to the ’88 world title.”
Updates on nine
1. Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals — Hosmer is starting to look like an ideal fit for the Red Sox. Seven of his 25 homers this year were hit the other way, which bodes well for the lefthanded batter’s ability to hit at Fenway. He’s also a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman. Scott Boras wouldn’t comment on what level of interest he sees the Red Sox having in his client, but he did comment on how rare it is for a player to go into free agency at age 27.
2. Jon Lester, LHP, Cubs — Lester ripped playoff managers for taking out their starting pitchers too quickly. “I hate it. I absolutely hate it,” said Lester on CBS Sports Radio last week. “You pay your starting pitchers to be starting pitchers. You pay your studs to be studs. I remember growing up and watching these big-time guys — Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, [John] Smoltz. ‘Here’s the ball. You guys go get it. We’re going to live or die by you.’ Obviously if that falters early, you need to make a decision. That’s different. But if they are cruising, [leave them in]. You’re stretching your bullpen to get 15 outs. That’s a lot of outs from your bullpen. That’s a lot of mixing and matching. That’s a lot of high-stress pitches on those guys. Now you’re bringing in Kenley Jansen to get six outs, which I’m fine with. I don’t mind using your closer for six outs. But for me, you go back to the Yankee days where you had Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, these guys going [for seven or eight innings] and then you give the ball to Mo [Mariano Rivera]. That’s the blueprint and that’s what you want every time.”
3. John Farrell, former Red Sox manager — Farrell interviewed with the Nationals and the Phillies for their managerial openings and did well, according to major league sources. In Washington, he may be seen as too similar to Dusty Baker’s situation in that he failed to get his team beyond the Division Series the last two seasons. The Nats also like Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez a great deal. The Phillies like the fact Farrell that could impact a young pitching staff.
4. Gabe Kapler, director of player development, Dodgers — Kapler has definitely put himself on the radar as a future major league manager and would fit the Yankees very well given his love of analytics, but he has no history with Yankees GM Brian Cashman. Kapler interviewed in Philadelphia and the Phillies really liked him.
5. Tim Naehring, VP of baseball operations, Yankees — As Cashman’s right-hand man, Naehring, 50, might make a good manager, but it doesn’t appear he would want a bench role because he’s raising a young family in Cincinnati and has resisted moving to New York. That scenario could always change.
6. Carlos Gonzalez, RF, Rockies — Gonzalez will become a free agent and the Rockies are trying to decide whether to make him a qualifying offer. They are certainly looking at a declining player, at least power-wise. In 2015, Gonzalez hit 40 homers; in 2016, he hit 25; and in 2017, he hit 14.
7. Steven Wright, RHP, Red Sox — Wright says he’s within four weeks of starting to throw again and he said he could be ready for spring training. Wright underwent cartilage reconstruction surgery on his left knee in April and missed the season. It’s the same surgery that Dustin Pedroia recently underwent. “It’s really gone according to plan,” Wright said. “It’s been about five months of rehab so far and they said it would take seven to nine months to get pitching again. I seem to be on schedule.” Wright will have to compete for a spot in the rotation if Eduardo Rodriguez is on schedule after his knee surgery. But that’s a long way away.
8. Ben Cherington, VP of baseball operations, Blue Jays — Cherington is getting a lot of attention as a possible GM candidate in Atlanta. Team president John Hart will make the call if he’s left standing after the international player scandal that cost John Coppolella his GM job. MLB could be done with its investigation soon and may hand out more sanctions or punishments.
9. J.D. Martinez, RF, Diamondbacks — Arizona will do everything within its means to re-sign Martinez and the feeling is he wants to stay there. Those who know him aren’t necessarily sold on Martinez going to a big-market team and being The Man, that he’d be more comfortable in a secondary market.
From the Bill Chuck files — “The last season both the Yankees and the Mets had new managers was 1996, when Joe Torre joined the Yankees and Bobby Valentine joined the Mets.” . . . Also, “In 2017, Aaron Judge (52), Gary Sanchez (33), Didi Gregorius (25), and Brett Gardner (21) combined for 131 regular-season home runs; in 2017, the San Francisco Giants hit 128 regular-season home runs.” . . . Happy birthday (Saturday) to Bob Melvin (56), Sammy Stewart (63), and Bob Veale (82).