Every year as we enter spring training I rank the managers. The rankings are unscientific and based on my preferences and whims. I consult with some of the people I respect most in the game and ask how they would rank the top 10, but it’s rare that I agree with them.
I base the rankings not only on a proven track record over time, but the performance of the managers from the previous year. I tend to rank managers who have won World Series championships the highest, given how difficult it is to win enough to be the best in a given year.
As always, those who have never managed will occupy the bottom third of the rankings.
Feel free to disagree (and I know you will) and make your own list.
1. Alex Cora, Red Sox — Surprise! Not really. When you win 119 games and the World Series in your first year as a manager, you’re a superstar. At least for this year. He’s certainly our Rookie of the Year in this category. Now let’s see what he does for an encore.
2. Bob Melvin, Athletics — We always rate Melvin extremely high because he’s consistently one of the best managers in the game. He’s had to manage good teams like he had last season when Oakland won 97 games and he earned AL Manager of the Year honors for the third time, and also the tear-down of rosters, which he handles as well as anyone.
3. Terry Francona, Indians — His success speaks for itself. He’s a two-time champion and he brought great stability to the Indians franchise. Talk about a guy who has his act together in this difficult job. He knows how to perform the job, delegate authority to his coaches, and gets the highest level of respect from his players.
4. Bruce Bochy, Giants — He is going to the Hall of Fame. Bochy has got three World Series championship rings and did it over a five-year period. When he was successful, he was humble. In the down years since, he’s handled them with so much class and dignity. His methods are timeless. Maybe he’s one of the last of the old-time managers, but he’d be successful in any era.
5. AJ Hinch, Astros — He won a World Series championship, and has had much success in managing a very talented team. Hinch was one of the first analytics-based managers when he was hired in Arizona. That didn’t work out, but he took the heavily analytics ways of the Astros and managed to humanize them and mold them to his own style. Not to mention he’s probably the most articulate manager in the game.
6. Joe Maddon, Cubs — Maddon reinvented managing in this era, combining the heavily analytics slant of the Rays when he ran that team to the big-market, high-resource Cubs, where he ended the franchise’s 108-year drought between championships.
7. Kevin Cash, Rays — Who does more with less? Cash has adapted to the Tampa Bay model, as frustrating as it may be at times for a manager to take a back seat to the analytically-based methods he executes. He’s had to put up with front office ideas such as the “opener” and managed to sell it publicly. He learned from Francona, which is plain to see.
8. Dave Roberts, Dodgers — Maybe his decision to remove Rich Hill from Game 4 of the World Series earned him scorn from his fan base, but to get to the World Series two straight years — even if you don’t win it — is a pretty amazing feat in this day and age. Roberts has a chance to get there again. He’s a great communicator.
9. Ned Yost, Royals — He made it to two World Series and won one, and then saw his roster get decimated. He’s one of the best teaching managers in the game and another guy who has accepted his fate as overseeing a rebuild that may eventually cost him his job.
10. Bud Black, Rockies — One of the most underrated managers in the game. I’m sure if Black were in a bigger market he’d be elevated as one of the best managers. He obviously knows pitching as a former major league pitcher and coach. But he also knows players. He gets the most out of them and that’s quite a tribute to him.
11. Aaron Boone, Yankees — First year, 100 wins. That speaks for itself. Boone is going to have a great career. He’s media savvy in the biggest market. He managed his bullpen well and was able to find ways to succeed even with numerous injuries to key players. Cora won the first round between the two, but Boone will likely have his victories.
12. Craig Counsell, Milwaukee — From what you hear from players and those in the know around baseball, Counsell may be the closest facsimile to Cora in the way he bounces around and handles players with respect and positive reinforcement. You can see the results, as the Brewers have become a top-notch organization that isn’t going away.
13. Clint Hurdle, Pirates — Tried and true, Hurdle remains one of the great motivators in baseball. A fatherly figure with a positive message, he can see the good in all of his players.
14. Torey Lovullo, Diamondbacks — We saw it in Boston. He handles young players very well, and he did a fabulous job in Arizona when he first got there. Unfortunately for Lovullo, the Diamondbacks are a bit watered down now, forcing him to work with a cost-saving roster.
15. Brian Snitker, Braves — Snitker was not expected to survive when he got the interim job, but he did and led the Braves to a first-place finish in the National League East last season, winning NL Manager of the Year honors. He’s a Braves lifer — in the organization since 1977 as a player, a minor league coach and manager, and major league coach and manager. He got the big job and won’t let it go. He’s not a big analytics guy, but he’ll have to embrace them as he moves forward. You love guys like this getting their chance.
16. Don Mattingly, Marlins — He has had to endure the great strip-down of the team. Mattingly is a good manager who had success with the Dodgers and seemed to be building something with the Marlins until they traded away most of their impressive young stars.
17. Brad Ausmus, Angels — A personal favorite, Ausmus gets a second chance after four mediocre years managing in Detroit. It is often said that a manager’s second go-round proves to be his best. He has a chance to use his superior intelligence to motivate a veteran lineup.
18. Andy Green, Padres — We’ve always heard good things about Green, who begins his fourth season with the Padres. His job initially was to bring along the youngsters, and he’ll likely do that again with the most talented farm system in baseball. But the Padres are also making waves about contending and we’ll see how Green responds.
19. Ron Gardenhire, Tigers — Hate to drop a proven veteran manager this far down the list, and if I could I’d rank him a lot higher because I’ve always respected him so much. Gardenhire took over a team that was ripped apart, is tanking, and he’s making the most of it by trying to balance the team’s direction with the veterans he still has.
20. Rick Renteria, White Sox — Another solid, veteran manager. The bilingual aspect of his credentials has proved successful in his being able to communicate so well with younger players. He got a raw deal when the Cubs moved him out to make room for Maddon, but he’s recovered nicely while it at least appears the White Sox are trying to upgrade their roster.
21. Scott Servais, Mariners — You feel bad for Servais, who won 89 games a year ago and now sees a tear-down of his team heading into 2019. It doesn’t mean he can’t survive it, but Oakland and Houston are still too powerful to overcome in the American League West.
22. Mike Shildt, Cardinals — The players responded to him last season, and felt he had a more open policy than former manager Mike Matheny. Shildt emphasized base running and defense, and both improved under his watch. Highly communicative with players and often asks their opinion on various topics.
23. Gabe Kapler, Phillies — An extremely bright baseball man who definitely has his own methods and ideas on how to motivate players and get optimum performance out of them. Kapler had his ups and downs in 2018, for sure. The Phillies fell off considerably during the second half of the season. This is a big year for Kapler, who will have an enhanced roster to work with in his sophomore season.
24. Mickey Callaway, Mets — He had his challenges as a rookie manager last season with the game speeding up on him, according to many observers. Callaway managed like a manager who had no experience. But he’s a highly intelligent baseball man who was instrumental in the Indians’ pitching success as a coach, and will likely have the same effect on the Mets’ staff. We’re guessing he’ll have a nice sophomore season because he admitted his shortcomings and has vowed to correct them.
25. Dave Martinez, Nationals — It’s tough to sugarcoat it, but Martinez’s first year wasn’t great. Yes, his team had injuries. Yes, he had pressure to perform on a high-payroll team. The Nationals hope he learned a few things and can be the manager whose greatest influence was Maddon during the many years he spent with him in Tampa. While at this writing he doesn’t know whether he’ll have Bryce Harper back, his roster is pretty solid, both positionally and on the mound.
26. Rocco Baldelli, Twins — I expect great things from him. Baldelli is smart, he comes from the Cash tree, and he can incorporate the things that made sense while he was with the Rays. Team president Derek Falvey has done a nice job adding positive pieces to the Twins’ roster, which should help his first-time manager.
27. David Bell, Reds — He comes from a great baseball family. Bell has served in many different roles. He has a great temperament that should create a tough but relaxed atmosphere. The Reds have a chance to move out of the NL Central basement with Bell at the helm.
28. Charlie Montoyo, Blue Jays — Here’s a guy you root for. Like Snitker, Montoyo has paid every ounce of dues you possibly can. He will be entrusted to bring along the best prospect in baseball — Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — as well top prospects Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette.
29. Chris Woodward, Rangers — He has worked in a high-profile setting with the Dodgers under Roberts, and he brings that enthusiasm that players like to the job. The Rangers haven’t been that good and have been trying to upgrade the roster little by little. It will still be a challenging year for Woodward.
30. Brandon Hyde, Orioles — Nobody has a bigger challenge in 2019 than Hyde. Other than a few holdover veterans, the Orioles will be almost unrecognizable. Hyde was on Maddon’s staff in Chicago, but there’s no blueprint on managing what might be one of the worst teams in baseball history.
Apropos of nothing
1. Finally we can stop speculating on J.T. Realmuto. The talented catcher went to the Phillies, who did a great job giving up good prospects, but ones that likely won’t come back to haunt them. The Marlins can claim they got the Phillies’ No. 1 prospect in righthander Sixto Sanchez, a starting catcher in the offensive-minded Jorge Alfaro, and finesse lefthander Will Stewart, as well as $250,000 in international bonus money.
Sanchez is an elbow risk, and there’s a consensus from the scouting community he may be best served as a closer. The 5-foot-10-inch righthander is a strike thrower, for sure. Alfaro can certainly hit but defensively he just isn’t Realmuto. Stewart is a reliever type who could be a big leaguer. The international money wasn’t that significant.
All in all, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak did a nice job obtaining one of the best all-around catchers in the game for minimal return.
2. Rangers president of baseball operations Jon Daniels made one of the better signings of the offseason with Hunter Pence. Daniels signed the veteran outfielder to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. One of the best character guys in the game, Pence, who missed significant time with a thumb injury with the Giants last season, went to play winter ball to change his swing. Pence could be a major signing for Daniels, who recognized he needed some righthanded balance in his outfield.
3. We wonder how long Theo Epstein will put up with the Ricketts ownership after racist e-mails were discovered and published emanating from Joe Ricketts, the patriarch of the Cubs’ ownership group. There was some pretty raunchy and unseemly stuff in those e-mails that must have disgusted Epstein.
4. Already we have a list of Red Sox players who will or will not attend an invitation to the White House to honor their 2018 World Series championship. It doesn’t appear manager Alex Cora will attend in protest of what he feels was a poor reaction from President Trump to the plight of his fellow Puerto Ricans after the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria. Putting political beliefs aside, should Red Sox players support their manager and not attend? It’s an interesting question, and one players should think through.
5. Baffling as to why they remain unsigned: righthander Edwin Jackson, outfielder Adam Jones, righthander Ervin Santana, utilityman Marwin Gonzalez, lefthander Dallas Keuchel, and infielders Logan Forsythe and Josh Harrison.
6. Wouldn’t the Orioles be better selling off Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb, and Andrew Cashner and signing some of the remaining free agent pitchers at low money, then flipping them at the trading deadline? That’s the old Billy Beane method and it sure worked for the A’s.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Last season, no pitcher faced more batters in the eighth inning than new Yankees reliever Adam Ottavino, who faced 213 batters and allowed 29 hits, 30 walks, and struck out 75. He had a .165 batting average against and a .534 OPS against.” . . . Also, “In their first 671 career games while playing for the Red Sox, Dustin Pedroia, Carl Yastrzemski, and Jackie Bradley Jr. each hit 70 home runs. In their first 671 games for the Red Sox, Pedroia hit .306, Yastrzemski hit .297, and Bradley hit .238.” . . . Happy birthday, Allen Webster (29) and Lenny Webster (54).