Commentary

Eight managers on the hot seat

Originally Published: September 20, 2007
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

September is more than just a time for spine-tingling pennant race drama. It's also a time for spine-tingling job preservation drama.

Our Rumblings and Grumblings Managerial Employment Status Division has counted eight managers whose jobs could be on the line this month. So let's take a look at where they all stand:

Joe Torre

Torre

Joe Torre, New York Yankees

How surreal is this? The Yankees have a shot to overtake a team they once trailed by 14½ games -- and their manager is still more likely to get fired than to get an extension. Only in the Bronx.

And we're not talking about any manager, either. We're talking about Joe Torre, a man who has won four World Series, who has won his division nine seasons in a row, who has taken his team to the playoffs 11 straight years and is about to make it 12.

You would think the guy would get a few bonus points for all that, right? You would think he would get even more bonus points for holding a team together that lost 29 of its first 50 games, fell 10 games behind after just 40 games and had a sub-.500 record at the All-Star break.

But we need to remind you of something: These are the Yankees. So April through September are months that are barely more relevant to the Steinbrenner powers that be than November. Which means it will be October, period, that determines Torre's fate.

If the Yankees at least get to the World Series and don't embarrass themselves when they get there, he'll probably get a new deal out of it. But an exit in either of the first two rounds is likely to mean the Joe Girardi versus Don Mattingly heir apparent debate is officially on.

In the past, Boss Steinbrenner has been talked out of dumping Torre after similar Octobers. But this season, there's a funny vibe, a feeling that Torre has fewer staunch allies and more second-guessers than ever. So if he doesn't win, look out.

Odds he won't be back: 4-5

Willie Randolph

Randolph

Willie Randolph, New York Mets

Let's make this clear: Randolph isn't likely to get fired. And it's even tough to argue he deserves to get fired.

But if this season ends badly -- especially if it ends with the Mets' becoming the first team since 1938 to blow a seven-game lead in September -- there is absolutely going to be talk about whether it's the manager's fault. And not just on your car radio.

That's how it works, though, when you manage in New York, when you manage a team with a $117 million payroll and when your team has been built to win the World Series before the core group gets too old to be capable of that anymore.

The Mets are not the Yankees, of course. And Randolph won't be held to the same standard as Torre. But every indication is that the second-guessing of Randolph -- in the clubhouse, in the front office and on the streets of Flushing -- has reached large enough proportions that we couldn't leave him off this endangered managerial species list. Let's repeat: It's very unlikely he'll actually get fired. But it's now a very real topic.

Odds he won't be back: 25-1

Charlie Manuel

Manuel

Charlie Manuel, Philadelphia Phillies

Normally, it's tough to fire Manager of the Year candidates. But remember, the Phillies considered axing Manuel last season, too, after his team barely missed the playoffs. So it's no shock he's still sweating out his future in a town that seemed to notice, right from the beginning, that he sure didn't talk like a guy from Kensington.

Indications are that the front office is still divided over what to do about Manuel if the Phillies wind up having another one of those not-quite years. But ultimately, our guess is that he sticks around.

After all, how is this team going to justify firing him after a season in which his club put five starting pitchers on the disabled list, lost Chase Utley and Ryan Howard with injuries, never had enough reliable bullpen arms to begin with and still had the best record in the league after April 18? Correct answer: It can't.

But here's a fascinating question to ponder: If the Phillies just make Manuel some token offer, for fewer years and dollars than he thinks he's earned, is there any chance he would tell them to go sit on a cheesesteak, and quit? Well, probably not. But Manuel is a tougher -- and prouder -- guy than he might look. So nothing is impossible here. Nothing.

Odd he won't be back: 8-1

Tony La Russa

La Russa

Tony La Russa, St. Louis Cardinals

No manager in baseball has done more to keep the rumor mill churning than La Russa. He's on the last year of his contract. He is finishing off as painful, challenging and occasionally embarrassing a season as he has ever navigated in his life. And he has sent just enough signals that this could be his grand finale in St. Louis that he has to rank high on this list.

But there are more reasons to think he's staying than he's going. And here are some of them:

His longtime GM, Walt Jocketty, is under contract next year. His longtime buddy and pitching coach, Dave Duncan, has another year left on his deal. The chairman of the board, Bill DeWitt, has said the club wants La Russa back. And La Russa would seem more likely to choose a known comfort zone over the uncertainty of potential destinations like Cincinnati, Pittsburgh or Seattle.

But before he agrees to any new deal, he'll also no doubt want assurances that Jocketty is staying, that the team will be better and that the organization really, sincerely wants him and still values what he brings to the dance. It's a decent bet he'll eventually hear what he wants to hear. But there are just enough question marks that we can't quite rule out a trip down the exit ramp.

Odds he won't be back: 10-1

Jim Tracy

Tracy

Jim Tracy, Pittsburgh Pirates

Since Aug. 10, the Pirates actually have won as many games (20) as the Mets. But the bad news is, the Buccos were 21 games under .500 by the time they launched that revival. And the even more ominous news is that the new team president, Frank Coonelly, looks like a guy driven to change the culture of a franchise that hasn't had a winning record since Barry Bonds blew town. "Change the culture" isn't always a synonym for "change the manager." But there's a heck of a chance it will work that way in Tracy's case, anyhow.

Odds he won't be back: 2-1

Ned Yost

Yost

Ned Yost, Milwaukee Brewers

When the Brewers careened from 14 games over .500 in May to a game under .500 in late August, it probably wouldn't have been a good time for Yost to run for mayor. But his GM (Doug Melvin) and his owner (Mark Attanasio) are bigger fans of stability than they are of panic. So Yost never appeared to be in massive danger, barring, say, an 0-30 finish. But when the Brewers pulled it together, won 13 of their next 20 and pulled back even with the Cubs, that was almost certainly enough to prove to Yost's employers that whatever shortcomings his team might have, willingness to play hard for the manager wasn't one of them.

Odds he won't be back: 25-1

John McLaren

McLaren

John McLaren, Seattle Mariners

When Mike Hargrove resigned and the Mariners hired McLaren in July, they didn't even hang an "interim" tag on McLaren's door. So he seemed like a lock to manage in 2008 and beyond. But that was before the Mariners became the first team ever to lead a wild-card (or any other kind of) race in the last week of August and then lose 13 of its next 14 games. McLaren has tremendous people skills, and his relationship with his players -- starting with Ichiro -- could easily outweigh any of the recent quibbling with stuff like how he has handled his bullpen down the stretch. But when teams collapse as dramatically as the Mariners have crumbled, nobody is safe -- from the manager to the general manager to the clubhouse men. So it will be verrry interesting to see who, if anyone, gets blamed for this one.

Odds he won't be back: 6-1

Pete Mackanin

Mackanin

Pete Mackanin, Cincinnati Reds

Unlike McLaren, Mackanin is listed as "interim" on his team's flow chart in Cincinnati. So he has no assurances he's keeping this gig, even though he took over a club that was 20 games under .500 and has the best record in the division (38-32) since. GM Wayne Krivsky is an unabashed Mackanin fan, which can't hurt. But people close to owner Bob Castellini continue to believe that if Castellini could somehow lure a marquee name like La Russa or Torre to his little corner of Ohio, he would have a tough time resisting. We don't have any good lure-factor handicappers on staff, so this is a tough call. But for now, it looks likely, but hardly certain, that Mackanin keeps his job.

Odds he won't be back: 5-1

Rumbling through Minnesota

• If your first reaction to Terry Ryan's resignation as GM in Minnesota was to assume the Twins are now resigned to trading Johan Santana, uh, guess again. Ryan made a point, at his news conference, of saying that new GM Bill Smith is "a better negotiator than I am." And that's not an accidental choice of words, because the future of the Twins may depend as much on negotiations as evaluations.

TRIVIALITY

Since he's hitting .354, Ichiro Suzuki is in great position to finish with a batting average of .350-plus for a third season, the most of any active player. Can you name the three other current players who have had two seasons with an average of .350 or better? (Answer later.)

Ryan's fellow GMs have wondered for months whether he could overcome his fundamental philosophical reluctance to give any pitcher the kind of deal (five years, $100 million? six years, $150 million?) it would take to keep Santana around. Well, Smith, who has served as Ryan's longtime assistant, isn't exactly George Steinbrenner Jr. But at least he has a fresh perspective.

"Where Terry would be a little more old school, I think Bill will be more proactive," said one baseball man who has had dealings with them both. "I can see Bill as a guy who's willing to say, 'The game has changed. We need to change with it.'"

• One thing we can't figure out: Why wasn't Ryan's resignation a bigger national story? One of his peers called him "one of the two or three best general managers in baseball." And while the Twins' payroll has climbed above $70 million, consider this:

Ryan's four playoff teams in this millennium (2002, '03, '04 and '06) had a combined payroll of $212.76 million. The Yankees' payroll for this year alone (factoring in the prorated portion of Roger Clemens' contract) is about $212.6 million.

"One thing that stuck out for me," said Ryan's former assistant, Reds GM Wayne Krivsky, "is how many players came to his press conference -- on an off day. And Torii Hunter sent word he was sorry he couldn't be there because he went home to Texas for the off day. It just tells you what I've always known about Terry: This guy's special. He's the best leader I've ever seen. He's so good, he can lead without saying anything. We used to say all the time when I was there that we all try to measure up to Terry -- but we all fail."

Now serving rumble pie

• One managerial job we didn't get into above is the Kansas City vacancy that will open when Buddy Bell's resignation takes effect after the season. But GM Dayton Moore has been quietly assembling his candidate list. And if he reaches out to his former place of employment, the Braves, friends say he's likely to zero in on two potential candidates. One is third-base coach Brian Snitker, who has 16 years of minor league managing on his credential list. The other is Braves special assistant Jim Fregosi, a four-time manager in the big leagues who, according to one of Fregosi's pals, "wants to get back on the field in the right situation." Another name we've heard floating around: former Padres and Cubs manager Jim Riggleman.

• Another situation to watch this winter is Baltimore. The new COO, Andy MacPhail, has dropped some hints with executives he has spoken with that he wants to put his stamp on the baseball operation this winter. He hasn't specified exactly how, or with whom. But you can forget those Terry Ryan rumors. Not happening.

Daniel Cabrera

Cabrera

• Speaking of the Orioles, they had several teams interested in the perpetually enticing Daniel Cabrera before the trading deadline -- and turned them all down flat. Now some of those teams are practically euphoric they didn't deal for Cabrera, who is 3-9 with a 6.14 ERA since July 1, allowing 150 baserunners in only 85 innings. Asked if he thinks Cabrera is salvageable, an executive of one team replied: "I'd question that. I love his arm. … But I don't see the focus that would allow him to turn the corner the way he'd need to turn it to be great. The stuff is incredible. But it doesn't seem like he has any idea where it's going, or that he has any reason for throwing any particular pitch at any particular time."

• One blitz of trade rumors you're guaranteed to read this winter is the annual Manny Ramirez rumorfest, which could kick into a whole different gear now that our man Manny finally has just one year left, at the bargain rate of $20 million (plus another $1 million if he actually gets traded). "They've had some nibbles already," said an official of one club that has spoken with the Red Sox. "The official posture is: They're not looking to move him. But they may have the ability to do something."

• Meanwhile, if people in Boston are thinking the Red Sox might also be able to export J.D. Drew, eh, good luck. "I've never seen that kind of look, for a kid with that kind of talent," said one scout who watched the Red Sox this month. "That kid just has no passion for the sport, from what I can see. And even the talent I question now. He had incredible talent. I don't know how much talent he's got left. He doesn't show you much of it anymore."

• Yankees bullpen coach Joe Kerrigan was once Pedro Martinez's pitching coach in Montreal and Boston. So when he says Joba Chamberlain has "the quickest arm I've seen since Pedro," we pay attention.

• It's shocking to listen to scouts and executives talk about the Mets these days. One scout on the Mets-Nationals series: "It was like the two teams changed uniforms." Here's another scout on the Phillies and Mets: "It's not about who's got the most talent. It's about how you play. The Phillies have a bunch of players who have got grit. I'm not sure the Mets have got anywhere near as many as they do." And here's one more review of the Mets from that sweep last weekend: "The Phillies were better prepared. The Phillies wanted it more. The Phillies had a plan, and they executed that plan. I don't think the Phillies are better. But the two guys in the middle of their infield [Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley] won't let them relax. They keep that team going every day."

TRIVIA ANSWER

Todd Helton, Barry Bonds and Nomar Garciaparra.
• Whether the Phillies make it to the playoffs or not, one NL executive believes they have crossed a critical threshold this season: "Unlike in the past, they think they can win now," he said. "They absolutely think they can win, and I think there will definitely be a carryover next year with that group. That's a huge building block for those guys." Then again, a bigger building block might be assembling a pitching staff that can win, too.

• How good can the Devil Rays be, once their next wave of prospects (Evan Longoria, Reid Brignac, Jeff Niemann, David Price) arrives? One scout who followed the Rays recently raved about their talent, but also said, emphatically, that what separates them from better times is more than mere talent. "They've got to reach the point, in their psyche, where it becomes important to play the game the right way," he said. "When the culture is, 'We stink and we're not going to win,' it's hard to play the game the right way, especially when just about all the guys playing have never had to do that. So it's the culture there that has to change. And that's tough to do."

• One thing the same scout conceded, however, was that the Rays definitely run "the best throwing outfield in baseball" out there. The bad news is, they sure get a lot of opportunities to demonstrate that with this pitching staff. "You definitely get to find out how well those pitchers back up the bases," he quipped. "There'll be very few pudgy Tampa Bay pitchers, because they're running pole to pole every game."

The official rumblings rotation watch

Finally, you know that old expression, "It isn't always the best team that wins, it's the healthiest"? We've heard it so many times, we decided to examine it a little more closely -- by looking at how many games have been started this season by pitchers who weren't members of each team's original five-man starting rotation. We understand that teams sometimes mess with their rotations for reasons other than health. Still, you would think the most stable pitching staffs would win more, right? Wrong. Take a look:

AMERICAN LEAGUE
Fewest Most
White Sox, 9 Yankees, 76
Mariners, 18 Blue Jays, 69
Red Sox, 21 Orioles, 57
Indians, 25 Royals, 55
Tigers, 35 Rangers, 50
A's, 38 Twins, 44
Devil Rays, 41 Angels, 44

NATIONAL LEAGUE
Fewest Most
Diamondbacks, 19 Nationals, 77
Brewers, 21 Phillies, 53
Astros, 24 Dodgers, 47
Cubs, 25 Cardinals, 46
Mets, 27 Braves, 39
Padres, 29 Marlins, 39
Reds, 33 Giants, 36
Pirates, 34 Rockies, 35

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," has been published by Triumph Books and is now available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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