Ryne Sandberg waited a very long time to manage a Major League Baseball team. The obvious joke here is that hopefully some day, he will actually get to do so.
Jokes aside, Sandberg can be forgiven for not accepting the status quo of a Philadelphia Phillies team that struggled terribly the past two seasons largely due to the former manager's blind reliance on the formula that won him two pennants and a World Series.
Charlie Manuel hit Ryan Howard fourth as though there was never another choice. He left Jimmy Rollins in the leadoff role about two years too long. And so on.
Sandberg's extended minor league apprenticeship understandably means that he probably does not feel like accepting losses in hopes that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and the Phillies ownership group will be patient with him.
If anything, Sandberg's managerial style points to a man trying to win as many games as possible in this fallow period, right now, so that he can tell the club's brass that he can be trusted to win games if and when the team gets good again.
Sandberg is pushing buttons with his roster like you might press every button (and the gas and brake pedals) on a rental car—hard, fast and too often.
Unfortunately, Sandberg's need to win an extra game or two now is doing terrible things to the Phillies' hopes of winning dozens of games in the future.
Center fielder Ben Revere entered the season as one of the few young players carrying the potential of doing exciting things for the Phillies, particularly in the leadoff spot. Revere hit .305 in 88 games last season and stole 22 bases. Over 162 games, the projections were thrilling.
Revere has struggled with injury a bit, but right now he is fully healthy and relegated to the bench in favor of the platoon of John Mayberry Jr. and Tony Gwynn Jr.
Does Sandberg think the superior talents of the platoon juniors' fathers are going to magically appear now? Both Mayberry Jr. and Gwynn Jr. are past their 30th birthdays and hitting under .220.
So what is the point of this move? Revere is 26. If he is not the Phillies' center fielder of the future, fine. But you still have to play him to try to squeeze a hot streak out of him so he can be traded to a contender in July.
Sandberg's treatment of Revere is odd, but compared to his mishandling of Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, his deployment of Revere is totally logical.
Hamels opened the season on the disabled list. So naturally in his fourth start of the season, Sandberg had Hamels throw 133 pitches in seven innings.
The Phillies still owe Hamels, 30, $90 million over the next four seasons. Blowing his shoulder or his elbow out in this already listing season is not the preferred course of action.
Then again, at least Hamels is as of this writing still active.
Cliff Lee, 35, is on the disabled list with a strained left elbow. Hey, how did that happen? Lee is a workhorse.
Here is how it happened. Sandberg has had Lee throw over 100 pitches in eight of his 10 starts this season, including a season-high 128 pitches on April 16—Lee's fifth start of the season.
The Phillies still owe Lee $37.5 million, with $25 million of it due next season. Having Lee's ulnar collateral ligament start floating around in his left elbow not would not only disable him, it would completely destroy his trade value should the Phillies want to explore that avenue later this summer.
Point to the struggles of the Phillies bullpen all you like. Risking the health of the team's two best pitchers is not an option. The Phillies lost Hamels' 133-pitch start; they lost Lee's 128-pitch start, too.
The situations of Hamels and Lee are so dire that no one even talks about A.J. Burnett's hernia anymore.
To recap, Sandberg is overextending older players in his rotation and burying a young center fielder in favor of veteran stopgaps, all in the name of prodding this aging team to 20-24 wins through 44 games.
Unlike a rental car, though, Sandberg cannot just return this team to Amaro Jr., et al in September and get himself another one for April 2015.
So it is time for Sandberg to ease up on the throttle where the old guys are concerned and to let the young guys (including Cody Asche and Jake Diekman) succeed or fail over the course of a full season.
Because while Sandberg may think what he is doing is creating optimum results, the modest short-term gains are almost guaranteed to be followed by an extended breakdown.
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