Hot-Seat MLB Managers Who Need to Finish Strong

Rick WeinerFeatured ColumnistSeptember 4, 2014

Hot-Seat MLB Managers Who Need to Finish Strong

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    Kathy Kmonicek/Associated Press

    A wise man once said "We fear change," and he's absolutely right. It's far easier and less risky to stick with what you know, even if the results aren't what you hoped for and sometimes make you want to take a hammer to a robotic, prosthetic hand.

    But change is a necessary evil, especially in baseball, where success is gauged on wins and losses. 

    Just ask Bo Porter, who was recently dismissed as manager of the Houston Astros. While he may wind up as the only skipper to lose his job during the regular season seeing as how there's only a few weeks left, he won't be the only one looking for work before the end of the calendar year.

    You could make an argument for Texas' Ron Washington to be the next to go, considering that he's one of the worst tacticians in the game. But it'd be absolute lunacy to blame him for the Rangers' injury woes this season, and his players genuinely seem to love playing for him. There's value in that.

    Philadelphia's Ryne Sandberg would normally be another candidate for the chopping block, but the team's interim president, Pat Gillick, recently confirmed to CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury that the Hall of Fame second baseman's job is safe.

    Just like general manager Ruben Amaro and team president David Montgomery, who is off recovering from jaw cancer surgery, Gillick seems to believe that the year is 2009 and that the Phillies are in far better shape than they actually are.

    But I digress.

    There are a handful of managers, all of whom have been afforded a substantial amount of time to turn their teams into winners, who should be feeling a warm sensation building underneath them every time they sit in the dugout.

    There's only one possible way to soothe that heat, and it's to win more games than they lose from here on out.

Bud Black, San Diego Padres

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    While San Diego president Mike Dee would love to see former Boston catcher Jason Varitek get a chance to manage the Padres, he told Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal that Buddy Black's fate as skipper ultimately rests in the hands of new general manager A.J. Preller:

    We have a lot of confidence in Buddy, think he has been a great leader here. It's going to be up to A.J. to figure out whether Buddy's managerial style fits the construction of the roster. If I was sitting here today, I would say that I see a marriage that could form between the two that could be very productive and promising.

    Buddy has been here awhile. He has been through a lot. This is clearly going to be a new direction. That's going to be up to him. If it's going to be, 'We're going to play these young guys and Buddy wants to play veteran guys,' that may be something that needs to smoothed out. All those things they will get into. But I know A.J. during the interview process was very open-minded to Buddy being here and being part of what he wants to build. And that was important to him.

    Black, now in his eighth year as San Diego's manager, is widely regarded as one of the best managers in the game, someone who wouldn't have difficulty finding a new job were he to be relieved of his duties.

    But he's led the Padres to winning records only twice during his tenure (2007 and 2010) and has never reached the playoffs, something that his predecessor, Bruce Bochy, did in 2005 and 2006, the two years before Black arrived.

    While he's led San Diego to a 23-17 record since July 22—the fifth-best in baseball—new general managers typically like to put their own people in place throughout the organization.

    That's especially true of the on-field manager, someone with whom Preller must have a close relationship so that a plan to bring the Padres back to relevance can be put into action. Continued strong play under Black's watchful eye to finish the season would go a long way toward making Preller's decision for him.

Terry Collins, New York Mets

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    Kathy Kmonicek/Associated Press

    It was only a few weeks ago that New York sat only six games under .500 (57-63) and manager Terry Collins seemed likely to return for his fifth season in 2015. Team sources told CBS Sports' Jon Heyman as much: "The Mets are planning to bring Collins back to manage, officials in the know say, and the expected return assumes the Mets remain on their steady path of improvement, avoiding anything close to a collapse over the final 42 games."

    The team's 7-11 record since then doesn't qualify as a collapse, but are more mediocre results really acceptable for a once-proud franchise?

    Collns' supporters, who are few-and-far between—especially if New York sports talk radio is any indication—will point to the development of players like Jacob deGrom, Lucas Duda, Jeurys Familia and Juan Lagares this season as a sign that he deserves another year.

    His detractors will simply point to the scoreboard, noting that since Collins was hired as the 20th manager in team history in 2011, the Mets have lost more games than they've won:

    SeasonWLWinning Pct.Place in Division
    20117785.475Fourth
    20127488.457Fourth
    20137488.457Third
    20146474.464Fourth

    To be fair, Collins has fielded a team that was missing its ace in both 2011 (Johan Santana) and 2014 (Matt Harvey), though the team's rotation has been a relative strength under Collins' watch, pitching to a 3.85 ERA over the past three-plus seasons, the 11th-lowest in baseball.

    It's also worth noting that during his tenure, the team's Opening Day payrolls have steadily declined:

    SeasonPayroll (Millions)
    2011$142.8
    2012$94.5
    2013$93.6
    2014$84.9

    Even with some in-season additions, the Mets currently sit with the seventh-lowest payroll in baseball.

    Yet of the six teams spending less money than them, only one—the perpetually rebuilding Houston Astros—have played to a worse record.

    While the team's payroll and the configurations of Citi Field have helped to stymie the team's offensive production, it's Collins' job to make do with what he's got. In nearly four years, he's failed to do just that. 

    Without a strong finish, there's no reason for anyone, including general manager Sandy Alderson, to believe that things are going to change in Year 5.

Ron Gardenhire, Minnesota Twins

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    It hasn't always been like this for Ron Gardenhire in Minnesota.

    Over his first nine seasons on the job, the affable skipper guided the Twins to six AL Central crowns, pulling off a three-peat from 2002-2004. Talk of replacing him in the dugout would have gotten you laughed out of town.

    But things have turned sour quickly, with the Twins hovering perilously close to 100 losses in each of the past four years, including a 99-loss season in 2010. Currently sitting with a 61-78 record, the Twins are well on their way to record a fifth consecutive 90-loss campaign.

    While general manager Terry Ryan recently told Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that Gardenhire would likely be back as manager in 2015, Ryan was noncommittal on his own status for next year. 

    Couple that with a July tweet from Hartman's colleague, Lavelle E. Neal III, who said that the last three-plus years had "worn on Gardy," intimating that Gardenhire himself may want to step away, and it becomes difficult to take Ryan's statement on the managerial position as fact.

    Howard Sinker, the Star Tribune's digital sports editor, alluded to Neal's report in making as strong a case as anyone for why Gardenhire needs to be replaced:

    In addition to not being very good, the Twins over and over again are showing that they’re not very baseball smart. I saw it in Wednesday’s victory when Brian Dozier, who is usually better than that, shoveled a gloved-hand throw over the first baseman’s head on a play he had no business even trying. I’ve also seen it in grooved pitches and taken pitches and poorly focused at-bats and base-running mistakes. You can get by with some suspect players if their mental game props up their physical limitations, but second-tier players making beer league choices equals no hope.

    The endless loop of mental mistakes, which hasn't improved as players have gotten more experience, is on the manager and his coaching staff. When I teach my college students, there are times when the repeated mistakes of a student wear me down to where I don’t see them. So if Gardy is worn down by what he keeps seeing, I get it.

    Gardy has been given his chances to make things better – and his successes before 2011 earned him bonus chances that wouldn't have been given to others. It hasn't worked. If he gets a job managing elsewhere, which many of his supporters contend would happen, so be it.

    That’s not a reason for keeping him.

    Entrenched in his old-school ways, Gardenhire has been slow to embrace things like the defensive shift, a tactic that has become increasingly popular (and wildly effective) among his peers in recent years.

    With an influx of young talent coming through the pipeline, the Twins need to decide whether the losing atmosphere that has permeated Gardenhire's clubhouse is really one that they want the likes of Alex Meyer, Miguel Sano and eventually Byron Buxton to enter.

Kirk Gibson, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    In mid-August, much to the chagrin of Diamondbacks fans everywhere, USA Today's Bob Nightengale tweeted that while there hadn't been an official announcement, Arizona planned on bringing Kirk Gibson back as manager in 2015.

    A day later, Tony La Russa, a Hall of Fame manager and the recently hired "baseball czar" of the organization, disputed that notion in a conversation with MLB.com's Steve Gilbert:

    I don't think the timing for each of those (Gibson's future and general manager Kevin Towers' future) has to coincide. I just think that at this point, we're at Aug. 18, I've been around three months, I've observed a lot, talked to and met with a lot of people in the organization. I have a much better idea. I just think the official comment is, we're at Aug. 18, the season is a month and 10 days from being over. So it won't be long until you have to trot out your plan officially.

    Since La Russa made those comments, the Diamondbacks have gone 4-9, and the futures of both men remain in limbo.

    While we are focusing specifically on managers, it's important to include Towers in this conversation, as he has seemingly made trades with Gibson's philosophy and managerial style in mind. Consider some of the young talent that the Diamondbacks have traded away during Gibson's run as manager:

    • SP Trevor Bauer
    • OF Adam Eaton
    • SP Jarrod Parker
    • SP Tyler Skaggs
    • OF Justin Upton

    It's fair to assume that Gibson had a hand in each and every one of those players being traded away.

    The Upton trade stings quite a bit more than it normally would have, considering that the key piece coming back to Arizona, Martin Prado, was shipped off to the New York Yankees for minor league catcher/corner infielder Peter O'Brien at the trade deadline.

    While O'Brien has big-time power, he's far from a complete player and years away from the major leagues. He very well could be the second coming of Mark Trumbo—that's not a good thing. 

    Neither is Arizona's 348-360 record during the Gibson era, an era that includes only one winning season (2011). Under his direction, the team has gone from contender to pretender in a relatively short time.

    That's an impressive feat for all the wrong reasons.

    It's going to take a strong finish to the regular season for Gibson to convince La Russa that he's the right man to turn things around. Even then, it might not be enough.

Ned Yost, Kansas City Royals

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Just about a week after the All-Star break, the Royals sat in third place in the AL Central, eight games behind Detroit and two games below .500 (48-50).

    With his team on a four-game losing streak that made them losers 10 times in their last 13 games, general manager Dayton Moore had a grenade lobbed his way by Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star, who asked him for his assessment of manager Ned Yost's performance to that point.

    Moore did what any good leader does in a time of crisis—he jumped on top of the live grenade:

    All of our success in this organization is tied together. We've fought through some challenging times in the past. We’ll do it again. Together.

    It’s been frustrating. But I look at myself. I’m accountable for this. I look at what I can do. I’m not blaming anybody else. I've got to look internally at myself and what I can do, how I can contribute.

    I don’t blame the players. I don’t blame coaches. I don’t blame managers. I don’t blame ownership. I look at myself, and what I can do, and what we can do as a baseball operations department to improve our team.

    Moore's faith was well-placed, as the Royals have baseball's best record since July 22:

    TeamWLWinning Pct.
    Kansas City2912.707
    Baltimore2713.675
    Washington2516.610
    Los Angeles (AL)2416.600
    San Diego2317.575

    Yost has guided his club to first place in the division, marking the first time since 1982 that Kansas City has been in first place when the calendars flipped to September.

    To put that in its proper perspective, only 11 members of the Royals' current active roster had even been born yet. Recently acquired utility infielder Jayson Nix, 32, was six days old. Yost was a 27-year-old backup catcher for Milwaukee.

    It's been a long time.

    But this isn't the first time that a Yost-led team has looked like a contender heading into the season's final month. Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recounted the events leading up to Yost's dismissal as Brewers manager with 12 games to go in 2008:

    The Brewers, who haven't appeared in the post-season since losing the 1982 World Series to St. Louis, were flying high entering the final month of the season, having gone 20-7 in August to move 24 games above .500. At that point, they held a 5 1/2 -game lead in the NL wild-card race over Philadelphia.

    But when the calendar turned to September, the team went into a deep funk, especially on offense. The Brewers went 3-7 on a home stand to begin the month, then went to Philadelphia and were swept in a four-game series, blowing any realistic chance of catching the Cubs for the NL Central crown. Chicago leads the division by eight games.

    The sweep allowed the Phillies to draw even with the Brewers in the wild-card race. The final straw was a lifeless performance by the club Sunday in losing both ends of a doubleheader, 7-3 and 6-1.

    While the Brewers would make the playoffs as the wild card under interim skipper Dale Sveum, they dropped the NLDS to Philadelphia in four games. It was Yost, not Sveum, who took the brunt of the backlash for what was a disappointing run to end the season.

    At that point, Yost had been running the show in Milwaukee for six years.

    He's nearing the end of his fifth season at the helm in Kansas City and has overseen the continued development of young stars like Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez, just as he did with Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Yovani Gallardo in Milwaukee years earlier.

    Should the 2014 Royals suffer a similar fate as the 2008 Brewers, skidding into the playoffs as a wild-card team only to get outplayed and make a quick exit, Moore may not be jumping atop any more grenades.

    He might be the one tossing them—in Yost's direction.

     

    *Unless otherwise noted/linked, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and are current through games of Sept. 3. All payroll information courtesy of Cot's Contracts.

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