The late Nick Cafardo made it a yearly exercise to rank the 30 managers in the major leagues. It was something he had fun doing and this seems like the right time to bring it back, especially with 10 teams having new managers for the coming season.
The role of the manager has changed considerably in recent years. In-game strategy is often obvious because it’s predicated on creating favorable matchups and reducing risk.
Front offices — analytics staffers, to be more precise — have an increasing influence on lineup construction, bullpen usage, and even when players should get a day off. Managers either listen or they’ll have somebody who will.
Managers are instead valued for how ably they can influence the clubhouse atmosphere, prepare for games, and guide what is a growing number of coaches.
The Red Sox used 47 players last season, nine of them rookies. They came from eight countries and had salaries that ranged from $31 million to the minimum of $555,000. They were as young as 22 and as old as 36.
That is fairy typical, and the manager is expected to find a way to motivate everybody in the group in addition to serving as the daily spokesman for the team to the media and public over the course of the season.
Here’s one view of where the managers stand:
1. Terry Francona (Indians) — As he enters his 20th season as a manager, Francona skillfully blends an appreciation for analytics with traditional views on how players should be accountable to each other and the team. He’s averaged 92.1 victories over the last 15 seasons, so it works. Francona is 18th all time in victories. Twelve of the men ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame and he’ll likely join them someday.
2. Rocco Baldelli (Twins) — Maybe this is too high after one year on the job. But Baldelli showed an advanced feel for handling in-game decisions and the clubhouse en route to 101 wins last season. A manager is never just one of the guys, but Baldelli has created an environment where he’s part of a collaborative group.
3. Dusty Baker (Astros) — It’s a good thing for baseball that Johnnie B. Baker Jr. is back after two seasons of an unwelcome hiatus. The Astros badly need the credibility and humanity that he will bring to the job. That organization doesn’t deserve him, frankly.
4. Bob Melvin (Athletics) — Oakland has had some managers who were functionaries under Billy Beane. But Melvin enters his 10th season with the Athletics having shown he can keep an ever-changing roster on the right path. Oakland has won 97 games each of the last two seasons and plays with a great sense of purpose.
5. Dave Roberts (Dodgers) — It’s impossible to argue with his 393-256 record and four division titles since taking over in 2016. Roberts has the ability to bring calm to the chaos that invariably happens over the course of a long season. Now, can he get this group to a championship?
6. Aaron Boone (Yankees) — He’s a perfect example of what teams want in a manager. Boone comes from a deep baseball background, has the credibility of a successful playing career, embraces analytics, and isn’t afraid to show his personality. He’s won 203 games in two years.
7. Joe Maddon (Angels) — There will be bands in the clubhouse, zoo animals popping up from time to time, and an endless array of slogans emblazoned on T-shirts. Maddon and the Cubs broke up after last season, his methods losing their appeal. The Angels need life and he’ll bring that.
8. Joe Girardi (Phillies) — This is a very smart guy who survived 10 years with the Yankees. Two years away from the dugout to reflect on how better to communicate with players should serve Girardi well. The Phillies will get better with him in the dugout.
9. Craig Counsell (Brewers) — “Don’t forget Counsell,” a scout said. “He makes his roster work even if the pieces don’t always fit.” Counsell has worked well with president of baseball operations David Stearns to get Milwaukee into contention. The Brewers play like a team that believes in what it’s doing.
10. Kevin Cash (Rays) — Why the Rays bother to print rosters is a mystery. It’s going to change the next day anyway. But Cash takes what he has and has made life uncomfortable for the Red Sox and Yankees. Tampa Bay will win a World Series with him eventually.
11. Brian Snitker (Braves) — He has unquestionably benefited from a wave of young talent and the shrewd guidance of underrated general manager Alex Anthopoulos. But the 64-year-old Snitker, who first joined the Braves in 1977 as a player, is a big part of their success.
12. Torey Lovullo (Diamondbacks) — Lovullo and GM Mike Hazen have managed to stay competitive while at the same time flipping much of the roster. That’s hard to do and it’s a testament to Lovullo’s baseball acumen and ability to connect with players.
13. Mike Shildt (Cardinals) — At 51, he’s a younger version of Snitker, an organizational man who was the right fit for a talented team. Getting swept in the NLCS was a disappointing end to a strong 2019 season.
14. Dave Martinez (Nationals) — He had a 114-118 record as of last June 15. Had Washington fired him, nobody would have been shocked. The Nationals finished 61-31 and then went 12-5 in the postseason. Now he’s a big hero.
15. David Ross (Cubs) — It’s not a reach to rank a first-time manager this high. Ross knows the personnel and the front office in Chicago and will charm the fans and media. But he’s also demanding of those around him and driven to win. Forget the “Grandpa Rossy” image. He’ll get tough with an underachieving group.
16. Don Mattingly (Marlins) — This will be his fifth year managing in Miami and perhaps it’ll be a little more successful given the upgraded roster. Mattingly is grinding through a tough task.
17. Mike Matheny (Royals) — That the Cardinals took off after he was fired in 2018 was a bad look. But Matheny managed four playoff teams before that. Like Girardi, the time off to reflect should serve him well.
18. Ron Gardenhire (Tigers) — You have to respect his body of work. But the Tigers lost 114 games last season and are years away from contention as Miguel Cabrera battles time and injuries. No manager has a tougher job.
19. Bud Black (Rockies) — Colorado dropped from 91 wins in 2018 to 71 last season and now star third baseman Nolan Arenado is upset with the idea of being traded. Black, who has yet to win a playoff series in 11 years of managing, has work to do.
20. Scott Servais (Mariners) — Seattle dropped from 89 wins in 2018 to 68 last season after GM Jerry Dipoto blew up the roster. Servais deserves a team with a more cogent plan.
21. Gabe Kapler (Giants) — He was 161-163 in Philadelphia and the front office wanted him back before being overruled by ownership. Then the Giants hired him after a thorough search by president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi. There’s something there a lot of smart people like.
22. Chris Woodward (Rangers) — Young, smart, analytically inclined, and attuned to what the media wants, Woodward checked off all the boxes with the Rangers. As they move into a new park with a better roster, they need better than 78-84 in his second season.
23. David Bell (Reds) — Cincinnati is a sleeper in the National League Central as its roster improves. Bell is not a sleeper. He was ejected eight times last year.
24. Charlie Montoyo (Blue Jays) — The Blue Jays have a lot of young talent and better days are coming. After a 67-95 debut, Montoyo has a better rotation to work with this season.
25. Rick Renteria (White Sox) — Chicago is 83 games under .500 in three years under Renteria. As the roster improves, he’ll have to show he’s the manager to take the White Sox into contention.
26. Brandon Hyde (Orioles) — He could well be an excellent manager but is working with so little talent in Baltimore it’s impossible to know. It could be even worse this season as the tanking continues at Camden Yards.
27. Derek Shelton (Pirates) — As a coach, he worked under Baldelli, Cash, Maddon, and John Gibbons. The Pirates are rebuilding under Ben Cherington and Shelton seems like a wise choice to take them through that process.
28. Jayce Tingler (Padres) — He was the minor league field coordinator for Texas after having experience on the major league coaching staff. The Padres are taking a chance, but it’s one they believe will pay off.
29. Luis Rojas (Mets) — The Mets looked past him to hire Carlos Beltran, then went back to him after Beltran got caught up in the Astros scandal. Rojas has the approval of several key players at least, and has considerable minor league experience.
30. TBA (Red Sox) — Welcome to Boston. You’re replacing Alex Cora, whom everybody loved, and your two most expensive players are cranky pitchers coming off injuries. Have fun!
BOSTON, YOU’RE MY HOME
Why Moreland returned to Sox
Mitch Moreland took a $3 million guarantee to return to the Red Sox, turning down at least two other teams for a fourth season in Boston.
That the Sox don’t yet have a manager didn’t matter to him.
“I trust them to do the right thing and bring in a good person,” Moreland said. “The biggest thing for me was I’ve enjoyed my time in Boston. It feels like home for us and there’s a good group of guys. I’m comfortable there.
“It’s a good family atmosphere, too, and that means a lot to me.”
Moreland, 34, has a .782 OPS with the Sox and played strong defense at first base. His lefty bat will help balance the lineup. Moreland also will continue to be a good role model for players such as Rafael Devers, Michael Chavis, and Bobby Dalbec.
“I feel comfortable in that position,” Moreland said. “It’s something I bring to the table. I’ve had some experience and I want to pass that along.”
Chavis and Dalbec were developed as third basemen, so having Moreland around to work with them defensively is a bonus. They’re also righthanded hitters, which could lead to the Sox using a platoon.
Having Moreland around also makes it easier for the Sox to give Dalbec more time in Triple A. The 24-year-old played only 30 games for Pawtucket last year.
Moreland was surprised by the series of events that took down Alex Cora last month. He’s known Cora since they briefly played together for Texas in 2010.
“He’s been a friend of mine for a long time now,” Moreland said. “He was great for us and he’ll definitely be missed. Alex has a great baseball mind. I’ve talked to him some and it’s a difficult thing.”
Moreland needs one more season to have 10 years of service time in the majors, which would be an impressive milestone for a former 17th-round draft pick.
Teams usually throw a small clubhouse celebration for players who hit 10 years.
“It’s meaningful because it’s hard to do,” Moreland said. “The life span of careers is getting shorter in the game. It’s a nice thing to be able to say you did that. When I came up, it seemed like every team had a few guys who did it. It’s rare now. It’s nice for my family, too.”
How nice? If players wait to collect their pensions at 62, they draw $220,000 a year.
As for a manager, Moreland talked to chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and general manager Brian O’Halloran about the search and is comfortable they’ll make a good choice. Moreland already has played for four managers in his career. One more is not going to affect him.
“You can’t get caught up in that,” he said. “I’m going to be the same person no matter what. The Sox know what they’re doing and will make a good decision.”
Moreland had 13 home runs and an .870 OPS through May 25 last season. Back and leg injuries then kept him out for two months.
“Injuries have always been something I’ve had to deal with,” Moreland said. “But I know I can help this team. We’re going to hit, I feel confident in that. I know some things have changed but we have a good lineup.
“This team is still in a great place. We can contend. If it wasn’t for the injuries we had last year with our pitching, we’d have been right there.”
Here’s to Curtis Granderson, who announced his retirement on Friday. Granderson, 38, had an .803 OPS over 16 seasons and hit 344 home runs. He could make an even bigger impact off the field considering his dedication to community service and bringing baseball to other countries and to Black kids in American cities. Commissioner Rob Manfred would be wise to find a role for Granderson within Major League Baseball . . . After trading center fielder Starling Marte to Arizona, Pittsburgh’s payroll as calculated for luxury tax purposes is $66.9 million, the lowest in the majors. Chris Archer, at $9 million, is the Pirates’ highest-paid player and he’s a good candidate to be traded if he pitches well . . . Now that he’s manager of the Astros, Dusty Baker is in line to manage the American League All-Star team in Los Angeles on July 14 . . . Red Sox scout Ray Fagnant and Yankees scout Matt Hyde work together every year to put on a showcase game at Fenway Park for amateur players. This year’s game will be dedicated to the late John Altobelli, one of the victims of the helicopter accident that also claimed the life of Kobe Bryant. Altobelli coached 27 seasons at Orange Coast College in California and had a three-year run with the Brewster Whitecaps of the Cape Cod League. His son, J.J., is an amateur scout with the Red Sox . . . Happy birthday to John Tudor, who is 66. The lefty was 39-32 with a 3.96 ERA for the Red Sox from 1979-83, part of a 12-year career in the majors. Tudor was born in upstate New York but raised in Peabody and played for North Shore Community College. Tudor was 21-8 with a 1.93 ERA in 1985 for the Cardinals and finished second in the Cy Young voting to Dwight Gooden. Tudor was a remarkable 20-1 with a 1.37 ERA in his last 26 starts and had 10 shutouts. Nobody has had more than eight in a season since. Tudor’s career included a World Series ring with the Dodgers in 1988.