19 February 2014

2014 MLB Managerial Carousel: Grading the Hires

(AP Photo)
Spring training is kicking off. While it is an important time for all teams aiming to hoist the Commissioner's Trophy this fall, it is especially important for the five teams that have hired new managers, including a couple of playoff teams. How did these teams do in filling their managerial vacancies? Here are my grades.

Chicago Cubs - Rick Renteria (San Diego bench coach)
Since Lou Pinella's sudden retirement in August 2010, no Cubs manager has gone longer than two seasons at the helm. And it is a tough job, the rebuilding process is still getting underway as the club lacks talent to make a run at anything this year, and perhaps for a while. That said, Renteria comes very well-regarded and has a strong reputation, plus has some managerial experience in the minors and with the Mexican national club, and he makes sense for a rebuilding job.
Grade: B+

Cincinnati Reds - Bryan Price (Cincinnati pitching coach)
Sure, Dusty Baker had his fair share of flaws (perhaps too old-school, not a great tactician) and the club's six-game losing streak then the Wild Card loss to Pittsburgh to close out their 2013 season, but his firing still came as a surprise given his success in Cincinnati with a pair of division titles and three playoff appearances. Now it was reported that Baker refused to fire hitting coach Brook Jacoby, and it was known that he never had a good relationship with GM Walt Jocketty, but it still took many by surprise. Now Price is widely regarded as an excellent pitching coach, and has done fabulous work with the Reds' pitching staff in a strong hitting ballpark, but he has never managed before and while the Reds are a quality club, they look to be on the decline. Can he be the guy to prevent a slide?
Grade: B 

Detroit Tigers - Brad Ausmus (San Diego special assistant, baseball operations)
Bringing in Ausmus was a bit of a surprise considering it was thought that Tigers president Dave Dombrowski wanted a manager with experience managing, and Ausmus lacks that (although you could count his work leading Israel during the 2013 World Baseball Classic). And taking over for a legend like Jim Leyland is a tall task, especially for a team with World Series expectations. But I think this is a strong hire, and an inspired one at that. Ausmus has always been known as being very intelligent and a strong communicator as a catcher with pitching staffs. It comes with risk, of course, but I think it's a very fine hire.
Grade: A-

Seattle Mariners - Lloyd McClendon (Detroit hitting coach)
Sure, it has been almost a decade since McClendon managed in Pittsburgh, and he has done terrific work as a hitting coach with the Tigers. It's safe to say that McClendon built back up his reputation over the last few years. But you still cannot talk about McClendon and ignore the fact that he was awful during his five-year run as manager of the Pirates, going 336-446. Maybe he will find success amid the high expectations for the Mariners with an expensive offseason, but it still feels like me as a bit of a retread hire.
Grade: C+

Washington Nationals - Matt Williams (Arizona third base coach)
There is no question that 2013 was a disappointment for the Nationals, who had big expectations after winning 98 games and the NL East, although they still won 86 games. It also appeared that Davey Johnson had perhaps found himself a little past his prime and thus he retired at the end of the season. I think Williams makes a lot of sense as a former player much younger than Johnson, even if he does not have any managerial experience, and he appears to be more of a forward-thinking manager that will embrace advanced statistics. He's also fiery, and I think that will be key for him with this club. A strong move.
Grade: A-

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