In baseball, the message is clear: Win now or else
Are baseball franchises so valuable now that patience is wearing thin with the people who run them?
We get that some of this past week’s firings of managers and general managers seemed unfair, but when have they not been? It just appears that five-year plans are a thing of the past. Either turn things around soon or you’re gone. Or get us deep into the playoffs or you’re out of here. You could see this coming when the Red Sox fired manager John Farrell after two division titles were followed by early exits in the playoffs. You could see it when manager Joe Girardi took a young Yankees team to Game 7 of the ALCS last season and he was fired, or when Dusty Baker, like Farrell, won division titles in Washington but couldn’t get the Nationals deep into the postseason.
In Minnesota, we ask, “How can anyone fire Paul Molitor?” He was the American League Manager of the Year in 2017, leading the Twins to the playoffs as the front office was trading away veterans. Molitor still won under those circumstances. In 2018, the Twins were one of the worst teams in baseball, so Molitor, a Twin Cities native, was jettisoned in what had to be a tremendously difficult decision for chief of baseball Derek Falvey, who hails from Lynn.
Falvey comes from an Indians background, while general manager Thad Levine comes from the Rangers. It’ll be interesting to see who emerges as “their guy.” You can bet it will be someone who embraces analytics because these days that’s all anyone in front offices and ownership cares about.
You would think Indians bench coach Brad Mills would be in Falvey’s sights. He’s been Terry Francona’s top lieutenant and once managed the Astros.
And then you have the Orioles. My goodness. We outlined back in May that the Orioles have the most dysfunctional ownership situation in baseball. Why isn’t Major League Baseball encouraging the Angelos family to sell this franchise? We’re sorry that Peter Angelos is in failing health, and his sons, Lou and John, are running the team . . . into the ground.
They fired GM Dan Duquette after they mandated him to sell off more than $60 million of assets, including Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Kevin Gausman, and Zach Britton. After building a 69-win team into a 93-win team in one season, Duquette had an opportunity to be president of the Blue Jays, a job that ultimately went to Mark Shapiro after Duquette was denied the chance to leave by the Angelos family.
So given the results, why was the Angelos family discussing an extension with Duquette while intending to fire him? Baltimore had the smallest analytics staff (one full-timer, one part-timer); the smallest scouting staff (the Orioles barely had enough scouts to evaluate the players they were acquiring in deals); no money allotted for international scouting until this season; and generally the smallest administrative and baseball operations departments in baseball.
“We certainly did our best to put a competitive team out on the field and I thought we did a good job with that,” said Duquette, who will seek other opportunities in baseball and hopes to be considered for openings with the Mets and Giants. “The only way I can look at it is that one door has closed and hopefully another opens.”
Even one of the most stable franchises in recent memory had some disruption when Giants GM Bobby Evans was dismissed. Evans had been with the organization for 25 years in various roles. He was a big part of Brian Sabean’s front office for the three World Series championship teams. When Sabean stepped aside to concentrate more on scouting after the Giants won the Series in 2014, Evans took over the job at the start of the 2015 season. Three years in, team president Larry Baer decided to remove Evans. It took Evans, a Framingham native, by surprise.
“All I can say is, the Giants were fantastic to me for 25 years,” Evans said. “I think you’re always surprised when something like this happens because we’ve all worked so closely together for so long and we had three World Series championships together. I don’t think the Giants are that far away from the next three championships.”
It seemed as if Evans never got to implement his full remake of the Giants. As he pointed out when asked about regrets, “You always have some regrets if the player or players you acquire don’t work out or become injured.” The Giants have a rabid fan base and completely rebuilding is not something that is in anyone’s DNA in San Francisco.
Evans has 15 months remaining on his contract and said he’ll await what the new GM will ask him to do. If it means a specific project, he’ll do it. If it means he should leave completely, so be it. Evans also would like to be considered for the available GM jobs. Baer has publicly stated that he wants a more analytics-based organization to keep up with the top teams in terms of analytics — including the Red Sox, Astros, Yankees, Dodgers, and Cardinals — even though the Giants have done their winning the old-fashioned way, with great scouting.
Evans, however, said the Giants were already transitioning to more analytics, while trying to strike a healthy balance between the numbers and the scouts. Evans has one of the biggest scouting staffs in baseball, which has led to the perception that the Giants are still a scouting-based organization.
“Larry and Brian know exactly where we are with analytics,” Evans said. “I think it differs greatly from the public perception of our organization.”
You hear names such as Royals assistant GM Scott Sharp and Brewers assistant GM Matt Arnold associated with the Giants’ GM job. Another name that could be interesting is Athletics assistant GM David Forst, who has been Billy Beane’s top man for many years.
Another change was John Gibbons being removed from his second managerial stint in Toronto by Shapiro, who will likely replace him with someone with an Indians background. The Jays employ former Indians and Mariners manager Eric Wedge, who may get the call to return to managing. Shapiro also has two very good in-house candidates in major league coaches Luis Rivera and DeMarlo Hale.
In Cincinnati, there’s growing energy toward Farrell replacing Jim Riggleman as manager. Farrell worked for the Reds this season as a pitching adviser and it appears he has won over the brass. Farrell’s pedigree of a World Series championship and three division titles is obviously impressive and would be an easy sell to the fan base.
The Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister. The Angels are moving on from iconic manager Mike Scioscia.
It’s really a crazy time. Whoever shouts “analytics!” the loudest will get the job.
It truly is a copycat league. Teams have the same information. They might be utilizing it differently, but good old-fashioned baseball seems to be gone for good. Scouts are getting fired constantly, their services no longer needed, replaced by Ivy League brains. Managers rely more on the numbers than the instincts they used so well for so long.
The pressure is on. Win or else.
Apropos of nothing
1. The Orioles’ newfound international money will likely make them the front-runners for Cuban outfielder Victor Victor Mesa (yes, two first names), who tried out for teams Friday at Marlins Park in Miami. Once Dan Duquette got the word from ownership he could get back into the international market, he started squirreling international monies in the deals he was making for veterans, sometimes accepting a diminished package of prospects so he could save up to bid for Mesa. The Orioles have $2 million more than the Marlins and Rays, and normally Cuban players go to the highest bidder.
2. The Cubs have to improve their offense, so you wonder if Manny Machado will be in the picture in free agency with Addison Russell suspended for 40 games because of his domestic abuse violation.
3. Steven Wright said he’s preparing this offseason to be a starting pitcher again. Wright has no idea what the Red Sox have in mind for him next season, but he figures he’ll prepare as a starter and then make adjustments to the bullpen if he has to. The Red Sox will lose Drew Pomeranz and possibly Nathan Eovaldi in free agency. Wright hopes to have a normal offseason where he doesn’t have to worry about his surgically repaired knee. He said the day when he no longer thinks about the knee will be huge.
4. The qualifying offer is now set at $17.9 million. Nice change on a one-year deal.
5. The people I’d love to see get managerial jobs because of the time and work they’ve put into the game over the years: DeMarlo Hale, Ron Wotus, Brian Butterfield, Luis Rivera, Tim Wallach, Sandy Alomar Jr., Perry Hill, Glenn Hoffman, and Gene Glynn.
6. Remember the name Stubby Clapp. He’s the Cardinals’ Triple A manager who’s been getting rave reviews and is starting to appear on the radar of teams looking for a big league manager.
Updates on nine
1. Buster Posey, C, Giants — While there’s some concern that Posey’s hip surgery will curtail his catching career, the Giants believe Posey should be able to make it back at his familiar position next season. Posey is 31 and has caught a lot of games, but the expectation is he’ll catch many more.
2. Eric Chavez, special assistant, Angels — Chavez remains the top candidate for the Angels’ managerial job. His longtime relationship with GM Billy Eppler seems to be driving it. Chavez was summoned in August to manage their Triple A team to get some managerial experience. The Angels also could consider special assistant Brad Ausmus.
3. Tim Naehring, assistant GM, Yankees — Naehring gave a lot of credit to the Yankees’ scouting staff, but also to analytics guru Mike Fishman, for coming up with slugger Luke Voit, who was acquired from the Cardinals on July 29. Voit is yet another power threat in the Yankees’ lineup, and he has opposite-field power. Naehring said that Scranton hitting coach Phil Plantier, like Naehring a former Red Sox player, recommended Voit highly for a major league promotion.
4. Mark DeRosa, analyst, MLB Network — It’s no surprise that DeRosa is considered a top candidate to manage the Rangers. DeRosa has been rumored to be a managerial candidate in a few places over the last few years. With managerial experience no longer needed, DeRosa, who played for many teams and understands the baseball culture and its new realities, checks off all the boxes, including the ability to comprehend complex analytics, the communication skills needed to get players to buy into them, and all the things players need nowadays to make them feel wanted and happy. Rangers GM Jon Daniels makes the call and has always admired DeRosa, who would also have some credibility in Toronto. But here’s the rub: First-year managers are generally paid less than $1 million, so a team would have to go significantly over the unofficial pay scale to lure him from a nice job at the MLB Network.
5. John McDonald, minor league defensive coordinator, Indians — Don’t be surprised if McDonald, who lives in Scituate, emerges as a candidate for the Toronto managing job. McDonald is highly regarded and has an Indians pedigree, which appeals to Jays president Mark Shapiro. Whether McDonald feels he’s ready for it is another question, but we’re told he’ll be highly considered.
6. Ben Cherington, vice president of baseball operations, Blue Jays — Cherington wants to be very selective in getting back into the GM carousel. He certainly wants a supportive ownership situation as a starting point, which the Mets don’t necessarily provide. And as we’ve pointed out, the Orioles are also a volatile situation. But the one thing the Orioles have going for them in Cherington’s eyes is that he can build a team from the ground up. It’s the same dynamic that led Theo Epstein to the Cubs. Cherington would be ideal for the Giants in terms of a supportive ownership and resources, but the Giants don’t rebuild. He’d have to add to them.
7. Joe Maddon, manager, Cubs — Was Maddon ever really in jeopardy of not returning to the Cubs? A major league source close to Maddon said no. But the telling part is that there’s no contract extension in the works or was ever discussed. What some in the industry are wondering is would the Cubs let him seek another job, say that of the Angels (you could you see owner Arte Moreno having interest in a big name)? Maddon spent many years with the Angels on Mike Scioscia’s staff.
8. Josh Bard, bench coach, Yankees — Bard is being talked about among the next wave of young bench coaches, heavy into analytics of course, who could be considered for future managing jobs. Being Aaron Boone’s top adviser and helping to mold a 100-win team certainly doesn’t hurt.
9. Josh Donaldson, 3B, Indians — The Indians have been happy with the acquisition of Donaldson, whose intensity has seen a rebirth in Cleveland. The only question is, will the Indians try to bring Donaldson back as a free agent? Because of Donaldson’s extensive injuries, which kept him out the majority of the season in Toronto, he picked a poor time to be a free agent and won’t get nearly what he expected. The Indians are into bargains and Donaldson might be one they might try to take advantage of for 2019 on a one-year deal.
From the Bill Chuck files — “The 2016 and 2018 Red Sox each hit 208 home runs AND the 2016 and 2018 Red Sox each allowed 176 home runs.” . . . Also, “The Rays have an active streak of 452 starts without a complete game since Matt Andriese threw a shutout on May 14, 2016, the only complete game of his career. The all-time record is held by the Marlins, who went 480 games incompletely from 2014-17.” . . . Happy birthday, Mookie Betts (26), Milt Cuyler (50), and Butch Henry (50).