Changes could be coming
Houston's high expectations have Jimy Williams sweating, but he's not the only skipper in trouble.
The draft is over. The All-Star break is three weeks away, and off on the not-too-distant horizon sits the trading deadline.
It's time for teams to assess their standing. For the teams in contention, this means determining needs for the second half of the season and positioning for the playoff run.
For clubs hopelessly out of the running, it's time to examine the (mis)direction of their franchises. In addition to determining which players to deal and which prospects to seek in return, some clubs will also be taking the opportunity to evaluate their managers.
In-season managerial changes have been kept to a minimum in recent seasons. Florida fired Jeff Torborg in May 2003 and hired Jack McKeon, who promptly rewarded the Marlins with a world championship.
But American League manager was fired last season. The pink slips flew in the offseason, though, as three AL teams -- Boston, Baltimore and Chicago -- changed managers.
Job security has never been harder to come by. Besides Joe Torre -- himself unsure of his job as recently as October -- no other AL manager has been on the job longer than four seasons.
The fact that so few teams in either league -- the NL in particular -- are thoroughly out of the wild-card race means there won't be wholesale firings.
But the seat remains hot for a few:
HOUSTON ASTROS -- Jimy Williams.
Now in his third season with the Astros, Williams is battling great expectations.
Pettitte has been slowed by injuries and with nearly 70 games played, the Astros, instead of being locked into a race with the Cubs for NL Central supremacy, find themselves lodged in fifth place and looking up at the Milwaukee Brewers in the standings.
Williams had an option for 2005 exercised, and the players steadfastly back him, including clubhouse leaders Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell. It's been speculated that Houston's role as host for the All-Star Game next month will buy Williams additional time, like it did for the White Sox's Jerry Manuel last season.
But owner Drayton McLane is result-driven, and if he sees his go-for-it game plan in trouble, he could make a change.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS -- Carlos Tosca.
This was supposed to be the season the Blue Jays closed the gap between themselves and division powerhouses Boston and New York. Instead, thanks to injuries to Carlos Delgado, Vernon Wells, Chris Woodward, Orlando Hudson and Frank Catalanotto, the Jays find themselves in the AL East cellar, behind -- of all teams -- Tampa Bay.
Because of financial concerns as much as anything else, the Jays are unlikely to make a switch in the middle of the season. But Tosca will have to get more out of a (presumably) healthier roster during the second half to return in 2005.
SEATTLE MARINERS -- Bob Melvin.
Melvin won 93 games -- and nearly an American League wild-card spot -- in his rookie year with the Mariners, but this season has been an unmitigated disaster.
It's not all Melvin's fault. "That team just got old in a hurry,'' notes one general manager. But then, fairness doesn't always factor in when it comes to managerial changes.
It doesn't help that Melvin is working under a new boss -- GM Bill Bavasi. Typically, general managers like to hand-pick their managers, and when the first opportunity presents itself, often do just that.
NEW YORK METS -- Art Howe.
The Mets have been a surprise, flirting with .500 and being more competitive than some expected.
The trade last week for Richard Hidalgo means ownership thinks the season can still be salvaged and the firing of hitting coach Denny Walling means the front office wants more.
Walling's firing might also be a warning shot to Howe. The taciturn manager has been buried in the New York media for being dull, the greatest sin of all in that market.
Unless the Mets completely fall apart in the second half, or Howe loses control of the clubhouse, it's likely that he won't be canned during the season. At the same time, it's difficult to see him returning to Shea for a third season.
PITTSBURGH PIRATES -- Lloyd McClendon.
To the surprise -- if not outright shock -- of many, McClendon was given a contract extension at the end of spring training.
Just what has McClendon done to warrant that kind of backing? In his first three seasons as skipper of the Bucs, McClendon averaged 92 losses, a figure he's likely to top this season.
Sure, the Pirates are your basic small-market poster children. But few young players have developed on his watch and the front office has spent the last year trying to deal veterans Jason Kendall and Kris Benson.
McClendon seems safe for now, if only because the budget-conscious ownership wouldn't relish paying him not to manage the next few seasons.
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS -- Bob Brenly.
D-Backs owner Dale Jensen issued the dreaded vote of confidence to Brenly last week, insisting that his manager wouldn't be fired this season and that Randy Johnson wouldn't be traded.
By now, the afterglow of the Diamondbacks' improbable 2001 World Series win over the Yankees has worn off, though Brenly followed his rookie season with two more winning seasons, including a division title and 98-win year in 2002.
Payroll cutbacks have hurt, and it didn't help to lose slugger Richie Sexson for the season. Brenly gets high marks for integrating younger players into the mix, a move necessitated by the rash of injuries that has swept through the Arizona clubhouse.
But he's also come under fire for overusing some of the pitchers in the bullpen, and his game management has been called into question.
Sean McAdam of the Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.
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