Friday, August 16, 2013
Managers, GMs who must finish strong
By Jim Bowden
Could Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto, right, be on his way out in L.A.?
Stability and continuity in the general manager and field manager positions are how an organization wins championships.
In the early 1990s, the Atlanta Braves’ combination of general manager John Schuerholz and manager Bobby Cox set the bar. After Schuerholz and Cox retired, the Braves’ torch was passed on to GM Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez, but the Detroit Tigers’ Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland might be the closest parallel to the Schuerholz-Cox dynamic.
Up until Friday, when Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was fired, the 2013 season had been kind to both general managers and field managers as there hadn’t been a single firing -- which was good for baseball and its teams. Such stability underscores the success of competitive balance in the sport.
As was the case in Philadelphia, the lack of management upheaval elsewhere won’t last forever as there inevitably will be some changes this offseason. It’s simply the nature of the business. After polling executives in both leagues, here are four general managers or field managers who might have to finish this season strong in order to retain their jobs in 2014:
Dipoto is one of the bright young minds in the game. The problem is that he hasn’t been able to carry out his vision for the Angels because most of his moves have backfired. The decision to include shortstop Jean Segura in the Zack Greinke trade would have been justified had the Angels either won the World Series or re-signed Greinke. However, they didn’t win and Dipoto chose to sign free-agent Josh Hamilton instead of Greinke.
The inability to upgrade offensively at third base, catcher and the No. 3 spot in the rotation crippled the Angels and relegated them to non-contender status. The truth is, DiPoto’s blueprint to build the Angels was flawless -- build the team’s nucleus with players in their prime ages of 26-30. But curiously, so many of his acquisitions have been in their decline years, such as Hamilton and Blanton. Now the only question is how many of these decisions were his and how many came from above. Only owner Arte Moreno, manager Mike Scioscia and Dipoto know. As long as Moreno, Dipoto and Scioscia are on the same page, the trio is more than capable of quickly turning this team around in one offseason. However, if there is any truth to reports that the three are not on the same page, I don’t think Dipoto will be the one to win a power struggle.
Zduriencik has done a solid job in rebuilding the Mariners from the ground up via the draft and player development. However, it was curious at the trade deadline that he didn’t move veterans Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse, Raul Ibanez, Oliver Perez or Joe Saunders to acquire more prospects to keep the building going in the right direction. Non-moves clearly indicate the general manager is feeling the pressure to win games in the second half to either keep his job or please the fan base -- a philosophy that almost never works.
The Mariners have rebuilt their infield and the catching position is set for the future. With right-hander Taijuan Walker soon to be promoted, the Mariners will have three top-of-the-rotation-caliber starters. The outfield is the next priority for Seattle, and rebuilding it with high-impact bats in the middle of the order is crucial if this team expects to compete with the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics in 2014. Zduriencik deserves to return and keep building, but his inactivity at the trade deadline is a strong indicator that he is feeling the pressure to win now.
Redmond has done a terrific job developing a young Marlins team in his rookie managing season. From outfielders Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick to pitchers Jose Fernandez and Jacob Turner, the Marlins have the makings of a solid team in the future. Redmond’s passion, work ethic and preparation have been impressive. So why in the world should he be on this list? Well, the Marlins historically have shown little hesitancy in firing their managers. Joe Girardi wasn’t good enough for Miami, so he went to the Yankees and won a World Series. Fredi Gonzalez wasn’t good enough for Miami, so he went to the Braves and has led them to first place in the Marlins’ division. Owner Jeffrey Loria’s track record indicates that Redmond -- as ridiculous as it is -- is likely on the hot seat.
Last September, most baseball people felt Terry Francona -- then an analyst for ESPN -- would end up the next manager of the Blue Jays. However, the Cleveland Indians moved quickly and hired Francona before any other team could jump in. There was speculation that Jim Tracy or Manny Acta might be in line for the Blue Jays. A few months later, we learned that GM Alex Anthopoulos wanted to stay in-house and bring back Gibbons.
Gibbons had managed the Blue Jays from 2004-08, twice finishing in fifth place, twice in third place and once in second place. He neither made the postseason nor won 90 games. However, the Jays felt that he would have -- at least on paper -- a better team to work with than his first go around.
However, this year has been an absolute nightmare. Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey both have ERAs north of 4.40, and Josh Johnson has a 6.20 ERA. The three pitchers who were supposed to make the team contenders never lived up to expectations. Plus, an injury to key shortstop Jose Reyes and Brett Lawrie’s slow development hasn’t helped. The stink of this last-place season is on the front office, manager and players. However, the manager often is the one to take the fall. If the Blue Jays don’t finish strong, that might be Gibbons.