5 MLB Managers Who Won't Have a Job Next Season
It's that time of year when some managers around Major League Baseball had better start looking over their shoulders.
Relative to years past, managers have been pretty safe in 2012. To date, the only manager to get the boot during the season was Brad Mills, who was a victim of the purge being carried out by Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow.
There are good reasons why we've only seen one manager get sacked: The extra wild card in each league this season has led to increased parity, which has been good for everyone's job security. And as Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports pointed out way back in May, over half of the MLB managers have contracts through the 2013 season. With Mills out, only Dusty Baker and Jim Leyland have contracts that are up after this season.
So odds are, we may not see many firings this offseason either. The firings probably won't pick up again until during and after the 2013 season.
But there will be firings this winter, to be sure, and some of the men who are fired won't be managing elsewhere next year.
To this end, there are five names that I have in mind.
Too Soon to Tell
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Before we get into the head-rolling business, here's a look at three managers who are on the hot seat, but aren't dead men walking just yet.
Fredi Gonzalez, Atlanta Braves
So far, so good. It hasn't been an easy season for Gonzalez's Braves, but they're presently in line to grab a wild-card spot. If they manage to avoid collapsing in September and make the postseason, I doubt the Braves will give Gonzalez the boot this winter. As an organization, they're too level-headed for something like that.
Jim Leyland, Detroit Tigers
If the Tigers miss the postseason, they'll go into the books as being one of the biggest disappointments of the season. A team with as much talent as it has should be playing in October, but the White Sox currently control the AL Central, and the Tigers are also a couple games off the pace in the AL wild-card race.
The Tigers won't have to fire Leyland if he fails to lead the team to the postseason this year. They'll just refuse to re-up on a new deal and go find someone else.
Charlie Manuel, Philadelphia Phillies
Charlie Manuel isn't the best in-game manager in the league, but there's only so much blame that can be placed on him for the club's poor showing this year. It's hard to win games when your bullpen is a mess and you've spent much of the season with a laundry list of star players on the disabled list.
Manuel could get the boot, but the Phillies have shown in the second half that they're still pretty good when they have all their key pieces healthy and playing well. That means there's hope for some kind of last-hurrah season in 2013.
If the Phillies think that's the case, they'll let Manuel serve out the final year of his contract.
Tony DeFrancesco, Houston Astros
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Let's get the obvious one out of the way first: There's no way Tony DeFrancesco is coming back as the manager of the Houston Astros in 2013. He's a classic placeholder, merely there to keep the seat warm for the next guy. Jeff Luhnow has basically admitted as much.
"For the remainder of the season,” said Luhnow recently, via the Shreveport Times, “he’s the ideal person to lead this team.” Luhnow is already on the lookout for a permanent solution for his quasi-vacant managerial position. He said this week, via MLB.com, that he already has a "relatively long list" of candidates drawn up.
One wonders if DeFrancesco is even on that list. He's plenty familiar with the organization, as he was the manager of the club's Triple-A affiliate before he got the call to step into Mills' shoes. The trouble is that this familiarity is also his biggest sin. DeFrancesco was hired by former GM Ed Wade, and the people he hired are quickly being jettisoned from the organization by Luhnow.
So DeFrancesco should enjoy what's left of the 2012 season. He won't be back with the Astros in 2013, and the odds of him catching on as a major league manager somewhere else are somewhere between slim and none.
He hasn't really done anything wrong, mind you. He's just the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates
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Yeah, I'm going out on a bit of a limb with this one. Clint Hurdle is more widely viewed as a Manager of the Year candidate than a candidate to get sacked. But don't think it can't happen. He only has one year left on his contract and he may have already maxed out his usefulness in Pittsburgh.
As far as motivators go, there aren't many managers out there better than Hurdle. He powered the Colorado Rockies' run to the World Series in 2007, and he's done a heck of a job making something out of the Pirates in the last two seasons.
But as far as strategy goes, Hurdle's no Joe Maddon. He's made that much clear enough over the years, and goodness knows there's no shortage of examples to point to.
One of the most recent of the bunch would be Pittsburgh's recent extra-inning loss to the San Diego Padres in which Hurdle left A.J. Burnett in long enough to give up 17 (17!) baserunners and then badly mismanaged his bullpen. This prompted ESPN's Keith Law, ever the pessimist, to come through with a reasonable question:
I wonder how much better the Pirates' record would be if they weren't managed by a bowl of Jell-o— keithlaw (@keithlaw) August 22, 2012
Indeed. I'd also say it's fair to ask just how horrid the Pirates would be if they didn't have Andrew McCutchen. They collapsed in 2011 when McCutchen stopped hitting, and they're stumbling again this second half with McCutchen once again showing signs of humanity.
Even still, his struggles are no excuse for the Pirates to be stumbling the way they are. They're by no means the most talented team in the league, but neither are the Baltimore Orioles, and they're still going strong. Baltimore is winning with timely hitting, good enough starting pitching and an excellent bullpen, a formula that the Pirates should be able to match.
They're not. The Pirates have played pretty bad baseball over the last three weeks, and their focus doesn't seem to be getting any sharper. That's on Hurdle.
I have no doubt that Hurdle will keep his job if the Pirates grab a wild-card spot this season, but the odds of that happening are slipping away. The Cardinals, Dodgers and Braves all have more talent on paper, and the three of them have been playing better baseball than the Pirates of late.
Keeping Hurdle wouldn't be a crime if the Pirates knew they were another year or two away from contention, but they're not. They're ready to contend right now with the pieces they already have, and more young and talented pieces are on the way.
The Pirates need a manager who can make the most of these pieces, and Hurdle's not that guy. He gets everyone ready to play, but his own limitations as a manager threaten to hold the club back.
If Hurdle does lose his job, I suspect he'll catch on as a hitting coach somewhere, just like he did after he was fired by the Rockies. He'll manage again someday, but not immediately.
Manny Acta, Cleveland Indians
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In the first half of the season, Tribe manager Manny Acta was one of the leading candidates to win the AL Manager of the Year Award. The Indians went into the break with a 44-41 record and a mere three-game deficit to make up in the AL Central.
Not unlike what happened in the second half of 2011, the wheels have completely fallen off. The Indians are 11-33 since the All-Star break. They've fallen behind the Kansas City Royals in the division, and it wouldn't be a huge shock if they fell behind the cellar-dwelling Minnesota Twins too before the season is over.
Either way, it's likely that this is going to end up being the worst year of Acta's tenure with the Indians. And that doesn't bode well for him, seeing as how the club looked to be making progress in 2011 and the first half of this season.
According to the Associated Press, team owner Larry Dolan doesn't have any plans to fire Acta or anybody from the front office. Not yet anyway. He may not be tipping his hand, but Dolan didn't sound too happy about the way things have gone for his team.
"It has been a very, very difficult stretch for us. In our entire tenure of ownership we have not seen a contending team deep in the season collapse like this," said Dolan.
The writing is on the wall that heads could roll, and Acta himself seems to realize this. He recently had to reassure his players that he's more likely to go before they do.
"They do need to relax," said Acta, via the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "There have never been 25 guys released [at once] in the history of the game. They should relax. If one guy is going to go, it's going to be me, not them. So relax and play the game."
The Indians fired Eric Wedge after a 65-97 season; Acta's club could do even worse this season. If they do, he'll be shown the door. You have to sympathize with the guy no matter what happens, of course. It's not Acta's fault the team's starting pitching staff is sorely lacking in talent, nor can he be blamed for the fact that the Indians have had to deal with gaping holes in their lineup all season long (though he didn't help his cause by openly griping about these holes).
Nonetheless, Acta found a way to motivate his players in the first half of the season, just as he did in 2011. What's clear now is that his motivational powers have a shelf life. This is Acta's sixth season as a manager, and it's looking like his team is going to finish in fourth place or worse for the fifth time during his managerial career. That's going to make it hard for him to find another job right away.
Bobby Valentine, Boston Red Sox
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You don't have to like him, but you do have to feel at least some sympathy toward Bobby Valentine. He was doomed as soon as he was hired by Boston. When Valentine was first hired, it was widely reported that he was not new GM Ben Cherington's first choice. In fact, Cherington had to deflect that question when Valentine was introduced in December.
"It's just not true," he said, via ESPNBoston.com. "We went through a very thorough process. We talked to a lot of candidates, did a lot of research on the candidates. ... That's the truth."
It was hard enough to believe him at the time, and it became harder to believe that Cherington and Valentine were on the same side when reports of a growing rift between the two started to come out before the club had even broken camp.
And then came all the drama of the regular season. The Kevin Youkilis situation. The Josh Beckett golf outing. The bullpen mess. And ultimately, the heated meeting that took place in New York in late July that Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports characterized as a mutiny.
The Red Sox could have fired Valentine right then and there. Instead, they ultimately chose to fire several of the team's players. Such was the effect of sending Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to Los Angeles last week. But don't think this means Valentine is safe as Boston's manager. Team owner John Henry gave him a vote of confidence earlier this month, but things changed with the big trade with the Dodgers.
With that trade, the Red Sox effectively became Ben Cherington's team. He found a way to break the team down to rebuildas he sees fit, and he made it clear that nobody is safe and above the club's fortunes.
This is what will lead to Valentine's departure this offseason. Cherington needs his own manager, and he certainly needs one who's less of a lightning rod in such a stormy region.
You can easily argue that it's not Valentine's fault that the Red Sox have flopped this season—and this is very much true. All the injuries weren't his fault, nor are the club's ongoing starting pitching woes. But this is beside the point at this juncture.
Up until last week, the Red Sox were staying a course. They're now on a different course, and Valentine is baggage that must be jettisoned. Once he is, expect him to go back to doing television. After the year he's had, another managerial job is not going to be forthcoming.
Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles Angels
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Earl Weaver once summed up a manager's job as the following: "For one hundred sixty-two games you try not to screw up all that smart stuff your organization did last December."
That means you, Mike Scioscia. After the offseason they had, the Angels were picked by some to win it all this year. They got even more World Series love when they traded for Zack Greinke ahead of the trade deadline.
Instead of going on a run, the Angels are 4.5 games out in the wild-card race with four teams ahead of them. That's a lot of ground to make up, and they're not going to make it up if the status quo for them holds into September. Though all his bosses are saying the right things (see the Los Angeles Times), Scioscia should be feeling the heat.
The Angels made it clear when they fired longtime hitting coach Mickey Hatcher in May that Scioscia's interests don't rule the organization quite like they used to. General manager Jerry DiPoto fired Hatcher because he felt a new voice was needed, and that same line of thinking will lead to Scioscia's dismissal if the Angels miss out on the postseason.
And though Scioscia is the longest-tenured manager in the major leagues, it's not so crazy to think that a new voice is what this team needs.
Scioscia did his best work when he had a roster that was suited to his National League style of managing. The Angels have morphed into a more traditional AL team in the last couple years, with the acquisition of Pujols being the biggest puzzle piece to fall into place. Hatcher wasn't cut out to guide the team bats, and it's becoming increasingly apparent that Scioscia is not cut out to manage the team itself.
If Scioscia is fired, his services will surely be in demand. For example, ESPN's Buster Olney told WEEI in Boston on Wednesday that the Red Sox would probably give Scioscia a look if he were to be made available. If I'm Scioscia, I don't go walking into the Boston mess just yet. For that matter, there's nowhere else in Major League Baseball where he's going to have it as good as he's had it in Anaheim all these years.
So if he is fired, I'd expect him to take a year off to weigh his options, perhaps doing some television work to pass the time. He'll manage again, but not until he's good and ready.
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