Top Five Candidates for Red Sox Manager Job
The Red Sox are looking for a new manager.
After two straight very disappointing seasons, and after axing two the game's two most well-known and accomplished skippers, the club is desperately seeking an answer.
The Red Sox need to fill a major void at manager. But, despite their status as one of the wealthiest, and greatest teams in the history of American sports, they're going to have a tough time finding a top-shelf skipper that actually wants to take the job.
First of all, any qualified manager is going to want to manage a team of qualified players. Unless they can woo a top-shelf candidate, by offering an extra-large salary, guys as good as Terry Francona or Bobby Valentine aren't going to shake on a deal. Veteran mangers like these two, already have extensive playoff success—maybe even a World Series ring or two—and unless they've really messed up recently, they're not going to want to take a step backward.
But this is the Red Sox. They're not a step backward. Right?
Last August, Ben Cherington traded away nearly all of the team's veteran, star-level talent. Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett have departed, as has Carl Crawford. No doubt, the trade was a step in the right direction for the team's future—it frees up a ton of payroll, and rids the clubhouse of bad energy. But, Boston's record declined in each of the last three months of the season. Following the trade, they went 9-26. A Hall of Fame skipper isn't going to jump at the opportunity to manage a lineup that relies on Daniel Nava and Cody Ross for run production.
Plus, the Red Sox are locked-in to their rebuilding phase. Their goal isn't to win now, their goal is to win long-term. And generally speaking, that objective necessitates payroll flexibility and a reliance on rookies and young-players, as well as sacrificing present success for the future. Instead of going after the Josh Hamiltons or even the Angel Pagans of the free agent market, they're going to stick with guys like Jerry Sands, Will Middlebrooks and Pedro Ciriaco. Players with promise, but without a lot of experience and with plenty to learn before they can reach their prime years.
Unless the timetable is accelerated and the forecast is especially bright, the best of the best just don't want to manage rebuilding clubs. Because, even if the club they sign with promises that they'll temper their near-term expectations, in practice that usually doesn't happen. After all, just ask Brad Mills, Jim Riggleman, Manny Acta and Bob Melvin, how managing a rebuilding club worked out for them. Each of these guys accepted their managing job knowing that they would trade winning now for success later, and each of them got a pink slip before their teams got it together.
Winning managers on occasion, will takeover rebuilding clubs. However, the new job has to offer a bright future. For instance, when Davey Johnson signed-on as the Nationals new manager in the middle of 2011, he took over a club that had finished last in the division in five of the last six seasons.
Johnson's resume didn't match-up. Not only did he boast an outstanding lifetime record of 1148-888, but he was owner of a 1986 World Series championship ring, and 1997 AL Manager of the Year. But with Bryce Harper in the minors, Stephen Strasburg set to return from elbow surgery and a burgeoning young pitching staff, Johnson had plenty to be optimistic about.
Another major reason for managerial candidates to steer-clear of Boston right now is the poor treatment of Francona and Valentine. The Boston press is notoriously ruthless, and every loss--every mistake--gets scrutinized and magnified 100x. When the Red Sox are winning, it's all champagne and roses, but when things aren't going well, the manager is punished with hell on earth.
The press is one thing, but the organization doesn't really treat their managers well either. The Sox have a win now or leave attitude, and as Francona's departure shows, they don't offer a lot of slack to their coaches-- even to those beloved by their fans.
Terry Francona, who led the team to two World Series Championships, five playoff appearances in eight years, a 744-552 record (57.4% win%) and broke a century-long curse, is hands down the best Red Sox manager in history. He took over a team that had been absolutely demoralized the previous fall; A team that had their hearts ripped-out by the Yankees in the ALCS (Aaron Effin' Boone) and a club that hadn't won a World Series since 1918. And what'd he do? He immediately led the Sox to the promised land and brought home a ring. In fact, he did even better. He won another World Series in 2007.
But after one very bad month, Terry was run out of Boston (he resigned under a hefty burden of pressure).
And then came Bobby Valentine. The guy that led underdog clubs to the World Series in two different countries, couldn't get it done either. Last season, the Red Sox hired him to replace Francona, believing he could resurrect a team of stars from a lowly collapse the previous fall, and guide them back to playoff glory. Despite fielding a star-powered roster with a $173 million payroll (second most in the AL), Bobby's team played terribly, finishing dead-last in their division and posting a the third-worst record in the league.
Valentine's team played poorly, but one season? That's all the man gets? He took over a team that ruined a Hall of Fame manager's tenure and all he got was one year to prove himself? The Red Sox were terrible down the stretch, but let's be reasonable here. Did anyone actually expect the team to win after trading-off fourteen All-Star selections, six Gold Gloves and two Postseason MVP awards during the season?
So, third time's a charm. Right?
After firing Bobby V earlier this month, the Red Sox are in the process of interviewing a number of different candidates to be the team's new skipper. Here are the five most-qualified candidates, who have the best chance of taking the job:
#5: Tony Pena
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The Yankees' current bench coach, Pena has past managerial experience at multiple levels, and he carries a laid back, just go out there and give 'em hell demeanor on to the diamond.
The former Gold Glove-winning catcher fits the smart, blue-collar former backstop mold that's worked excellently for Hall of Fame managers like Mike Scioscia and Joe Torre. As the Yankees' bench coach, he's used to the pressure of the AL East and he's tasked with formulating the team's strategy and honing the players' skills.
With the Red Sox, Pena will need to compete and build a young team at the same time. He's capable in both areas. Having managed in the minors, and with a rebuilding Royals team in the early 2000's, he's used to winning with a young roster. He won the 2003 AL Manager of the Year as the Royals' skipper, helping his team of has-beens, rookies and never-will-be's to a surprising 83-79 record. The '03 Royals had just two players with an All-Star selection on their resume, yet they held the first place spot in their division for 107 days of the season.
Mike Sweeney, Kansas City's longtime franchise player (from the late 90's to the early 00's), enjoyed his time playing for Pena. In an interview with the New York Daily News back in 2003, he gave a glowing review of the skipper:
"It's like he's our 26th man. We're not the New York Yankees here. We don't have superstars at every position. What we have are 25 guys who go out and bust it every day and play together, and Tony keeps us positive with the way he treats us. He has the credibility of playing 20 years in the big leagues and being successful in what he's done."
Though he was '03's AL Manager of the Year, Pena doesn't have the strongest resume in the world. His lifetime winning percentage as manager is 41%, which is pretty ugly, but considering he spent his entire three-and-a-half years managing the Royals, he shouldn't be judged on that alone.
He's a smart manager that offers a nice mix of veteran experience and the ability to work with a young roster. He's earned strategic experience as the Yankees bench coach and has proven that he can be successful with a rebuilding club.
#4: Brad Ausmus
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Just two years ago, Brad Ausmus was catching in the big leagues. Now he's interviewing to be the Red Sox new manager.
Ausmus doesn't have a lot of coaching experience to discuss during his interview. The forty-three-year-old has never managed in the big leagues. Outside of catching, the only position he's held with a team is the Padres' special assistant to baseball operations. But he has a lot going for him nonetheless.
Though he's new to coaching, Ausmus isn't short on baseball experience and he was one of the smartest players in the game when he played.
A former catcher, Ausmus's work ethic and defensive prowess were unrivaled during his career, and he was lauded for his baseball IQ by teammates and coaches. Though he was never an athlete and he holds a meager .669 career OPS, his smarts helped him turn into one of the most valuable backstops of his generation. Pitchers loved working with him and many credited their success to his receiving and game-calling ability.
After winning his seventh career Cy Young award with the Astros in '04, Roger Clemens praised Ausmus's contributions as his catcher, saying he "couldn't have won" it without him.
A student of the game type, Ausmus earned a reputation as one of the most well-prepared catchers in the game. Pre-game, he would helps his pitchers by writing-up detailed scouting reports on opposing batters, and he himself would analyze statistical data to help create a game plan. The extra work he put in pre-game allowed him to help maximize his pitcher's effectiveness, and as a result, the teams he caught for were generally near the top of league in performance stats ('04-'06 Astros for instance). Even when his playing time tailed off at the end of his career, his pitchers and fellow players still considered him an incredible asset.
Battle-hardened by years behind the plate, Ausmus ranks top-ten all time among catchers in games caught (seventh), put-outs (third), total zone runs (fifth) and he owns three Gold Gloves. He's also the the Astros' franchise leader in games behind the plate.
A testament to his character and charisma, Ausmus earned the 2007 Darryl Kile Award for courage and his status as a role model. So that's it, he's pretty much tailor-made for a big league manager's job. He's smart, analytical, well-versed in baseball, and his charisma has always made him a favorite of his peers. But is Boston the best place for Ausmus?
The former Dartmouth grad fits Boston very well. First of all, he's a local boy. Ausmus is a New England native, born in New Haven Connecticut, and he already owns a house in Massachusetts. But more importantly, he's a pitching expert and his recent experience catching means he knows the modern game inside and out. The Sox' starting pitching and bullpen were their Achilles last year--believe it or not their offense was pretty good-- and his ability to help in that area makes him a great candidate.
Though some might point to his age and lack of managerial experience as a weakness, Ausmus clearly has the smarts to succeed. And age in itself isn't a requirement for a successful manager. Ausmus had a long career playing the most baseball's most involved position, and his teammates and coaches applauded his dedication to studying the game. That should say enough. Besides, as Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny is showing this year, young managers can win too.
Ausmus' lack of big league managing history might actually be a strength in the end. Unlike the other candidates, Ausmus offers a fresh face. The flip side of coaching experience is baggage, and he won't bring any rainy days or ugly memories with him.
The city's media and focus on baseball may not be selling points, but if Ausmus is to manage anywhere, Boston might present the best opportunity. Only a few years removed from the game, he'll be able to relate to his players better than someone older. Plus, the Red Sox have been very successful under young managers before. The most decorated Sox manager in history, "Rough" Bill Carrigan, took-over the team when he was just thirty-two years old and proceeded to take his club to two consecutive World Series Championships (1915-16).
#3: Mike Maddux
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The biggest obstacle the Red Sox faced last season was their lackluster, under-achieving pitching staff.
Red Sox arms just couldn't get it done in 2012, allowing five runs to cross the plate per game—the third worst mark in the American League. Former All-Stars like Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz fell apart, and their once premium bullpen crumbled into a mess.
If there's anyone that can help in that regard, it's Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux. The brother of future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, Mike was a journeyman pitcher during his fifteen-season big league career, posting mediocre numbers with nine different teams. But as a coach, he has been golden.
After a successful stint in Milwaukee, Maddux took over as Rangers' pitching coach in 2008. At the time, the Rangers' pitching staff was in shambles, and annually performed at well under league average. Four of five of their starters had an ERA above five, and they finished '07 ranked 11th in ERA and 13th in walks allowed. A large portion of their pitchers' problems was caused by a longball-happy, bat-juicing home park. Arlington's dry air and sawdust infield made run prevention difficult. Anything hit in the air carried further, and when pitchers tried to keep the ball on the ground, the ball skipped through the infield faster. Before Maddux, their pitchers suffered, year-in and year-out.
Maddux immediately turned the pitching staff around. In the six years leading up to Maddux's hiring, the Rangers had averaged a 4.94 ERA and their best figure was 4.53 (2004). After he took over, he lowered the team's ERA by more than a half-run after his first two seasons, down to 3.93. Throughout the past three seasons, Texas' arms have totalled a 3.93 ERA, their lowest multi-season mean in decades.
With Maddux as their pitching coach, the Rangers have never finished below second place in their division, and they've made two World Series appearances in the last three years. Though injuries hindered their 2012 performance, his pitchers had finished among the league's top-five in ERA in each of the two previous seasons. And, heading in to 2012, his pitching staff had shaved at least 0.14 runs off their ERA for three straight seasons, the best rate in the AL.
Like his brother, Maddux is schooled in the art of pitching, and he's adept at teaching young arms the trade. During his tenure in Arlington, he's successfully developed a number of youngsters in to first-rate pitchers. In Spring 2010, he took C.j. Wilson, a lefty reliever with a history of arm trouble, and converted him in to one of the game's best starting pitchers. He also helped develop Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando and Darren O'Day in to some of the game's more productive pitchers,
Despite losing Wilson, their ace and their rotation's leader, to free agency in the offseason, and despite a tsunami of injuries ravaging their pitching staff, Maddux enjoyed another successful year in 2012. He turned Matt Harrison from an injury-riddled former prospect in to a Cy Young contender, re-invigorated Joe Nathan's faltering career and developed youngsters like Robbie Ross and Alexi Ogando in to first-rate relievers. He also helped acclimate Japanese superstar Yu Darvish to the big leagues, no small task considering the talent disparity between the leagues and the wave of media attention he drew.
Maddux's peers consider him one of the smartest baseball men in the game today, and numerous teams are pining for him to take over as their manager—including the Red Sox. Last season, the club pursued him to replace Francona, but he ended up passing on the opportunity.
Maddux is a Texas native and working with the Rangers allows him to stay close to his family. But, you never know. If the price is right, he could end up in Boston this time around.
#2: John Farrell
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In terms of familiarity, experience, and overall fit, John Farrell outshines the other candidates for the Red Sox manager job.
Two areas the Red Sox need to address are player development and pitching performance. They're a rebuilding club that needs to do develop rookies like Will Middlebrooks, Jose Iglesias and Allen Webster. The manager will also need to help prospects like Jackie Bradley Jr. and Matt Barnes make big league contributions pretty soon. Beyond that, their pitching staff is in shambles and they could desperately use a skipper that knows the trade.
Farrell is the answer in both areas. A former big league pitcher, Farrell had to fight through arm injuries during his eight season career and ended up totaling a 4.56 ERA. He was never an ace, but he knows the craft and he knows how to teach it. After a bright career coaching college ball, and working in Player Development for the Indians, the Red Sox hired him in the 2006-2007 offseason to replace Dave Wallace.
When Farrell took over as Terry Francona's pitching coach, the Sox had finished 11th in the league in ERA the past two seasons. But in his first year on the job, he turned their staff around drastically. His pitchers out-ranked their competition with a league-best 3.87 ERA. Stars like Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima had career seasons. That year, the Red Sox won their second World Series in four years and his pitchers played a lead role in the success.
The rest of his four-season Red Sox coaching career wasn't quite as bright, but he still did a fine job on his end. In 2010, his impressive work drew a lot of attention from teams looking for a manager, and he ended up signing with the Blue Jays.
Farrell isn't just a savvy pitching coach. He's also skilled in the player development department. Before he took his coaching job with the Red Sox heading in to the '07 season, he had spent five very successful years (2002-2006) as the Indians Director of Player Development. In that role, he built Cleveland's minor league system in to a powerhouse with intelligent player acquisitions and his expertise in the game helped form a number of top prospects in to top-shelf Major Leaguers. Cleveland reaped the benefits of his work in a big way, with his system producing blue-chip talents like Jeremy Guthrie, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips (they did trade him however), Franklin Gutierrez and Roberto Hernandez (still known as Fausto Carmona then).
During his stint in Cleveland, Farrell's farm system was brimming with top prospects. Baseball America named Cleveland's Farm System the best in the MLB in 2003, and Sports Weekly recognized the ballclub as Organization of the Year from 2003-2004.
Right now, Farrell sits atop the Red Sox' wish list. A familiar face with a successful coaching career, and plenty of player development skills, he has all the ingredients for a successful stint as Boston's manager.
But, he comes with a catch. Though he's posted a disappointing .475 winning percentage as the Blue Jays skipper, Toronto has a vice grip on him and if they do decide to let him go, they'll need a lot in return.
Farrell is under contract with the Blue Jays through 2013. And, because Toronto's organizational policy is to only allow their coaches to leave for a promotion, Farrell comes with a hefty price tag. The Red Sox wanted to trade for him last year, but scoffed at Toronto's demands. For Farrell and only Farrell, the Jays asked the Sox to trade Clay Buchholz, an All-Star pitcher with a no-hitter to his name.
#1: Gene Lamont
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Boston is already familiar with Lamont, and he was reportedly last year's runner-up to Bobby Valentine to take-over as manager. He's a veteran of the game, spending nearly forty-nine years of his life employed in pro ball, and he has nearly eight years of big league managerial experience to his name.
A former catcher, Lamont barely played in the big leagues, but he has that smart, scrappy, back-up catcher thing going for him. He spent parts of five seasons in the Majors, with the Tigers, and a total of thirteen seasons catching professionally. The Tigers' top draft pick from 1965, he made just 159 plate appearances with the big club, but toiled in the minors for 835 games--a lifetime for a catcher. Along the way, he built-up a career's worth of experience and made a number of friends in the business. As manager, he's taken multiple teams from the cellar in to playoff contention, and he's spent his career around the game's best minds. He's a close friend of Jim Leyland and has been the Tigers' third base coach since 2006.
Often considered a marginal role in a team's performance, third base coaches aren't always given the credit they deserve. Most fans won't even notice the third base coach until he makes a mistake, and one of his baserunners gets gunned down.
Lamont's case is a perfect example. With the Tigers, Gene has done an outstanding job in the role, yet as a quiet, humble guy, the media has rarely recognized him for his work. But he's earned the respect of the people who really matter. Leyland has consistently applauded Lamont's contributions to the Tigers' yearly success, and has even naming him the best coach in the American League. And rightly so. Since Lamont became a member of the Tiger's coaching staff six years ago, the team has won a pennant (2006) and finished second-place or higher in their division four times.
Like Farrell and Maddux, Lamont's expertise is pitching. During his seven-and-a-half-year managing career, he helped two different struggling teams—the White Sox and the Pirates—develop in to contenders. Both times, he took a below average pitching staff and re-built it in to a strength.
After a phenomenal career managing in the minor leagues, Lamont took-over for Jeff Torborg as the White Sox's new skipper. In the two seasons leading up to that point, the White Sox had finished in second place in the AL West and their pitching staff, armed with Jack McDowell, Charlie Hough and Bobby Thigpen-- was dominant. But the next season, the departures of Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk along with a group of key veterans, sapped the effectiveness of Chicago's pitchers.
In 1993 though, Lamont re-tooled the staff and enjoyed much better results. Under his tutelage, youngsters Alex Fernandez, Wilson Alvarez and Roberto Hernandez developed in to star-level hurlers and the White Sox finished the season with the fewest earned runs and hits allowed in the American League.
For his work as Chicago's skipper, Lamont was recognized as 1993's American League Manager of the Year.
In 1997, Lamont replaced his good friend and former teammate Jim Leyland as the Pirates manager. Only a few years earlier, Pittsburgh was a powerhouse and had annually played for the pennant. But when Lamont took his post, the Pirates had posted a losing record in every season since '92 and had finished dead last in the NL Central in three of the last four seasons. But once again, Lamont took a team heading in the wrong direction, and turned around their hopes.
In three seasons under Jim Leyland, Pirates pitchers ranked at the bottom of the league in ERA, averaging a 4.64 mark. Their performance was terrible. But under Lamont, the young pitching staff performed much better, improving their team ERA by half a run. Young stars like Jason Schmidt, Kris Benson and Denny Neagle matured in to top-shelf arms, and though the PIrates didn't win a ton, they outperformed expectations. In 1998 the Pirates' team ERA had lowered to 3.91 and after Lamont's first three years they had totalled a 4.17 ERA.
Though Lamont was eventually fired in 2000, his career with the Pirates was still solid. He exceeded expectations by taking the NL's worst team back to a passable performance level, finishing in second place in 1997 and third place in the NL Central in '98. And though the Bucs managed a subpar 295-352 record during his tenure, Lamont was still a well-respected skipper and he he even finished in second-place in Manager of the Year balloting in '97.
Before managing in the big leagues, Lamont cut his teeth in the minors, managing in the Kansas City Royals organization for eight seasons. Among the highlights of his career in farm ball, he led the Jacksonville Suns to two Double-A championships (1982-1983), and took-home honors a the 1983 Southern League Manager of the Year.
The biggest thing Lamont brings to the table over the other candidates is experience. He's spent nearly forty-nine seasons in professional baseball, as a player, a coach and a manager. He's earned recognition as Manager of the Year at in both the Major and Minor Leagues, and he's coached with the best and the worst. Lately, as the Tigers third base coach, he's worked with one of the game's most successful and well respected managers—Jim Leyland—and he's done an excellent job along the way.
Lamont's personality fits Boston well. He's an old, veteran of the game and his demeanor and coaching style have earned him comparisons to Charlie Manuel. Unlike Valentine, he's not outspoken, and he won't step on anybody's toes. His laid back disposition could do wonders for a clubhouse that's been wrought with turmoil the past couple of years.
Unlike Tim Bogar or John Farrell, Lamont didn't have a pre-existing relationship with Red Sox GM Ben Cherington prior to interviewing last year. However, he's worked for the organization before, as a third-base coach under Jimmy Williams in 2001. Once again, he was able coach alongside the game's best. Though he departed for Houston the next season, Lamont left a strong impression ont he organization, and a number of personnel in Cherington's front office wanted to hire him over Valentine last winter.
Lamont isn't flashy, and he's not a Moneyball guy, but he's been in the game a long, long time, and he knows how to win. He's learned from the best in the business, and after a decade away from the hot seat, he's probably itching to manage again. His resume also offers a history of turning teams headed in the wrong direction back in to solid performers, and that's a skill that Boston sorely needs right now.
As a younger manager, a pitching whiz and a player development guru, John Farrell may be the better fit overall, but he comes with a gaudy price tag. Lamont can come manage for the Red Sox right now, and his veteran leadership, and laid back clubhouse demeanor could be had for a much more reasonable price. Plus, if he doesn't work-out, he's not the type of acquisition that's going to sting for a long time.