- The field boss float:
Being a student of the game concerning aspects in which others may only have passing interest, I find the hiring and firing of managers and GMs fascinating. The schools of thought regarding the manager and his importance vary based on theories, factions, talent-level, and long term goals; it's laughable to think that, even in the most self-sustaining units, that a manager is meaningless; regardless of whether there's very little a manager can do to screw things up, he still has the potential to, well, screw things up.
When a team hires a manager, they have to ask themselves (and the prospective employee) the right questions. These all depend on the situation; for example, a manager in San Diego isn't going to have to worry about a meddlesome and predatory media as he would in New York, Boston or Philadelphia. Sometimes disinterest in a fan base can give freedom to a club to do the right things as opposed to what would placate the masses.
As the managerial merry-go-round spins, let's take a look at the current openings and how teams are going about filling them.
Braves hire Fredi Gonzalez:
Braves fans----specifically stat zombie leaners----are concerned about Gonzalez and the strategies he exhibited with the Marlins. With many clubs, this would be important, but the Braves are built to win now with a combination of youth and veterans and have a 2010 playoff spot upon which to build.
To me, Gonzalez's stature as a respected voice is far more important than which reliever he uses when. Such decisions aren't unimportant, but many times picking a reliever for a certain situation is based on execution and luck more than anything. If a righty is left in the game to pitch to a tough lefty and makes his pitch, the side of the mound from which he throws doesn't matter much. This isn't to say he should be stupid and leave a Peter Moylan in the game to pitch to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley when he has Jonny Venters ready to go, but Gonzalez isn't a manager who just "does" stuff; he has a reason for the moves he makes and that's all you can legitimately ask for.
Gonzalez has the aura of handling the clubhouse and is smart enough to forge the bonds with his veterans that Bobby Cox did; he'll allow them to police the clubhouse in the same way and only step in when he absolutely has no other choice as he did when he rightfully benched Hanley Ramirez for repeated and egregious lack of hustle.
While this decision was a proximate cause----the final nail in Gonzalez's managerial coffin with the Marlins----of his dismissal, it sent a signal throughout baseball that he's not a guy to be messed with. Despite the fact that he presumably knew that petulant Marlins' owner Jeffrey Loria would be unlikely to stand behind him in opposition to his star player and prodigal "son", Gonzalez did it anyway. Could the knowledge that he was on the short list (possibly the only candidate) to replace Cox with the Braves have influenced his tough stance? On some level, possibly; but I'd tend to think that Gonzalez would've done it anyway. And he was right.
Mentioning Loria opens up another aspect of Gonzalez that will serve him well with the Braves. Occasionally a team with rifts between the front office and field personnel benefits from the resultant energy that's created by fiery disagreements. I'd rather have passionate people disagreeing than everyone agreeing simply because it's easier to go along and get along; I'm not a fan of yes-men and Gonzalez is not a yes-man. Loria isn't the most rational man in the world and while his team is one of the best run in all of baseball, his firing of Gonzalez was unfair; in the end, Loria did him a favor and we know that Gonzalez can handle pretty much anything because it's not going to get worse than the way he was interfered with and undermined in Florida. Cox and GM Frank Wren had a rocky relationship, but personality clashes won't be as prevalent with the Braves.
The comparison of the Braves and Marlins is not particularly applicable. The Braves and Marlins have similar expectations of contention----those of the Marlins were somewhat unrealistic given the payroll constraints----but the Braves are a better on-paper team with more money to spend. The idea that Gonzalez will need Chipper Jones to be the conduit between the manager and clubhouse and would be lost without him is a stretch. Gonzalez, a former minor league catcher, will rely on Brian McCann as the leader to succeed Jones.
The handling of the young players----specifically Jason Heyward----won't be the turf war it was with Ramirez. The stark difference between Heyward and Ramirez in both temperament and attitude is unmistakable; Heyward is not going to cause Gonzalez the headaches that Ramirez did; Heyward will emerge as a co-leader with McCann once Jones is gone.
As far as strategies go, Gonzalez did the occasional strange thing that defied explanation such as allowing the Mets to score the go-ahead run with his infielders at double play depth in the bottom of the 8th inning of a game at Citi Field this season. Strategic mishaps are unavoidable----Cox made them as well----but Gonzalez has the overall resume to run the Braves ship. With the Marlins, he kept his bench players fresh by getting them enough at bats; he was entrusted with young, talented starting pitchers and didn't abuse them; and he doled out his relievers appearances evenly.
His personality is similar to that of Cox; he's got experience in the Braves way of doing things; he'll do fine with the media and front office; has knowledge of the NL East; and he's a worthy replacement for a legendary manager.
Bobby V pulls out:
I've just about had my fill of the drama between the Marlins and Bobby Valentine.
Either do it or don't.
First there were the rampant rumors----stretching back to the end of last season----that Valentine was going to be the next manager of the club; then when they fired Gonzalez, Valentine was on the verge of getting the job before things came apart; now that the season's over, it was again on the burner that Valentine was going to be the next Marlins manager; and yesterday, Valentine pulled his name from consideration for the job.
Whether or not this is a negotiating ploy or if Valentine has been given the heads up from another team that he's going to get a job elsewhere is anyone's guess.
You can get into the head of Bobby Valentine if you choose to; I've got enough problems with my own head.
He's in the mix for the Mariners job and GM Jack Zduriencik isn't going to get to hire a manager after this one, so he's got to make it count if he wants to keep his job. Another disastrous season on and off the field will get Zduriencik fired, so it makes sense to bring in an established name. Valentine is also a possibility for the Mets once they hire a GM.
Valentine would be an interesting candidate for a surprise team like the Cardinals if things go poorly with negotiating a new contract for Tony La Russa, but apart from that, I'd guess that the Mariners are the most logical landing spot for Valentine...unless things flare back up with the Marlins----always a possibility.
The Pirates are interviewing....everyone:
Of the above crew, my choice would be Gibbons; but this is the Pirates----who knows what they're thinking. Wedge is a solid guy who has experience with a rebuilding club; Sveum managed the Brewers over the final weeks of 2008, guided them into the playoffs and has that experience bolstering his candidacy. Macha would be a mistake for the Pirates. Like MLB's mandate that clubs must interview minority candidates for open positions, Macha would fill the bill of the mediocre, older retread mandate, if such a thing existed.
Dealing with a tough situation in Toronto, Gibbons showed a feistiness in his frequent dust-ups with players Shea Hillenbrand (precisely who didn't Hillenbrand fight with?); and Ted Lilly. He doesn't put up with crap and that's exactly what the Pirates need; in addition, he's a fine strategist who knows how to handle pitchers. His record managing the Blue Jays was a very respectable 305-305 (with two seasons over .500 and one at 80-82); he also had a GM, J.P. Ricciardi, who wasn't exactly stable; in fact, Ricciardi was the epitome of a loose cannon executive.
With all of this, remember that these are the Pirates and common sense is not part of their equation.
- LCS predictions:
My championship series posting will be up very early tomorrow. It'll be full-blown, top-to-bottom analysis that you literally cannot live without!!
- The Prince on the Podcast:
In conjunction with my LCS picks, I'll be a guest with Sal at Sportsfan Buzz tomorrow to go into detail about the match-ups and other things happening in baseball.You do not want to miss it. Begin preparations immediately....as much as you can.