Here’s how much managers are devalued these days: Excluding late-September, get-it-over-with dismissals, not one has been fired in-season since 2018.
That’s right, teams do not even think enough of managers to believe naming a new one in the middle of a season might make a difference. The Cardinals’ hiring of Mike Shildt to replace Mike Matheny at the 2018 All-Star break was the last in-season change. One other team dumped its manager that season — the Reds, who removed Bryan Price in favor of Jim Riggleman after a 3-15 start.
Seems like ages ago, no? Not a single in-season firing occurred the past three seasons, including the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. It’s a far cry from May 1991, when — true story — a manager was fired on each of the first three days of my son’s life.
The late Jerome Holtzman of the Chicago Tribune named the rash of firings in my son’s honor, calling it, “The Curse of Samuel Joseph.” Ah, but the curse is now a distant memory. Baseball-writing parents need not worry about the run that occurred in 1991 — the Cubs’ Don Zimmer, Royals’ John Wathan and Orioles’ Frank Robinson, taken down one by one.
Things change at the end of a season, but even then, general managers sometimes are hesitant to make moves. In the age of collaboration, GMs handle not only roster construction, but often rely on their analytics departments to contribute to in-game strategy. GMs of tanking teams, in particular, often are reluctant to hold managers responsible for the non-competitive clubs they’ve assembled, knowing a dismissal will only lead to greater scrutiny of their own actions.
Three teams changed managers at the end of last season. The Mets and Padres opted for greater experience with Buck Showalter and Bob Melvin, respectively. The Cardinals dumped Shildt, citing philosophical differences, and replaced him with Oli Marmol, a first-time manager at 35. But since last September, 10 teams have either exercised their managers’ options or awarded them extensions. Given recent trends, it would hardly be a surprise if no managers lost their jobs during the season.
What follows, then, is not an analysis of managers on the hot seat; the idea, at least when it comes to in-season firings, is practically obsolete. Rather, this is a look, with one exception, at managers who are in the last guaranteed years of deals, and what their futures might be. The exception is the Pirates’ Derek Shelton, who according to sources is under contract through 2023, but surely will draw attention if the team loses 100 or more games for the second straight year.
Obviously managers can be fired with more than year one left on their contract, but consider the example of the Reds’ David Bell, whose team is off to a 2-11 start. The Reds signed Bell to a two-year extension last Sept. 22. Why would they dismiss him so soon after deciding to keep him?
Without further ado, here are eight managers who bear watching as the season unfolds. We’ll proceed in alphabetical order.
Dusty Baker, Astros
Baker, 72, led the Astros to the ALCS in 2020 and World Series in 2021, but the team has yet to commit to him for more than one year. The exact contractual status of general manager James Click is not known, but this is his third season in Houston and he, too, likely will be judged on whether the team plays deep into October.
Owner Jim Crane brought Baker and Click together in a hurried manner to help guide the Astros in the wake of the penalties the franchise received for stealing signs illegally. The two inherited a loaded roster from their predecessors, Jeff Luhnow and AJ Hinch. Any regression by the Astros will give Crane the justification he needs to make any changes he desires.
If Crane objects to such talk, the solution is simple, just as it is for any owner dealing with contracts that are expiring or close to expiring: Award extensions.
Terry Francona, Guardians
With Francona, who turns 63 on Friday, it’s probably only a question of health. He essentially is going year to year, and seemingly can remain manager for as long as he would like. This is his 10th season with the Guardians. He managed the Red Sox for eight and the Phillies for four.
Right now, Francona seems to be in a good place physically. In 2020, he managed only 14 of 60 games because of gastrointestinal issues and multiple surgeries to correct a blood-clotting problem. In 2021, he stepped away on July 29 because of a staph infection in his toe.
Forget about the hot seat for Tito. Just give him a comfy chair.
Joe Girardi, Phillies
The Phillies have yet to exercise Girardi’s option for 2023, a clear signal they are expecting results. Not that Girardi needed a reminder. The Phillies’ $229.2 million Opening Day payroll was the highest in club history by more than $30 million. The team is hell-bent on making the postseason for the first time since 2011.
As The Athletic’s Matt Gelb explained Wednesday, Girardi is managing with particular urgency, dropping Kyle Schwarber from the leadoff to fifth spot and hitting J.T. Realmuto and Bryce Harper 1-2 in the 10th game of the season. That configuration, however, lasted only two games. Jean Segura and Rhys Hoskins batted 1-2 in the next two, with Harper third, Nick Castellanos fourth, Realmuto fifth and Schwarber sixth.
One concern: If the ball indeed does not carry the way it did in years past — an admittedly dangerous conclusion to draw at this early stage of the season — then Dave Dombrowski’s plan to build a slugging offense at the expense of defense might become an even bigger issue than many feared.
Brandon Hyde, Orioles
Hot seat? It’s only 13 games, but the Orioles with their no-name pitching staff rank sixth in the majors with a 2.87 ERA. If this goes on another week, Hyde might deserve early consideration for AL Manager of the Year.
Seriously, Hyde cannot be evaluated like a typical manager, not with the rosters general manager Mike Elias keeps giving him. The Orioles lost 108 and 110 games in Hyde’s two full seasons, then declared their intentions for this one by trading two relievers who were expected to get save opportunities to the Marlins for a competitive balance round B draft pick, two marginal prospects and a player to be named shortly before Opening Day.
Hyde’s contract status is not known, but it’s believed the Orioles hold an option on him for next season. The team, after dismissing pitching coach Doug Brocail in 2020 and hitting coach Don Long in 2021, eventually might get around to parting with a manager who keeps losing 100 games. But the Orioles’ effort under Hyde is rarely in question, and the team expects this season to promote four to six of its top prospects, including catcher Adley Rutschman and right-hander Grayson Rodriguez. Might be nice to see what Hyde does with something resembling an actual major-league team.
Torey Lovullo, Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks went 52-110 last season and the scary part was, they weren’t tanking. This season already looks like it might be an extension of the last one; the D-Backs, 5-8, rank 27th in the majors in runs, and were in even worse shape before an 11-run outburst against the Nats on Wednesday. But some perspective is in order:
The D-Backs’ $90.6 million Opening Day payroll was nearly $200 million lower than the Dodgers’, more than $100 million lower than the Padres’, nearly $65 million lower than the Giants’ and more than $40 million lower than the Rockies.
After thoroughly reorganizing their coaching staff, appointing three assistants to new hitting coach Joe Mather and two to new pitching coach Brent Strom, the Diamondbacks want to see how the season plays out. They hold an option on Lovullo for 2023. He is unlikely to return for a seventh season if the team’s young players fail to improve, and another 100 losses goes on his record.
Joe Maddon, Angels
Maddon seemed like he might not last the night, much less the month, when he made the bizarre decision last Friday to order an intentional walk to the Rangers’ Corey Seager with the bases loaded, one out in the fourth inning and the Angels trailing by a run. The Angels fell behind, 6-2, before rallying for a 9-6 victory. Maybe this is their year; they entered that game 3-4, and are 5-1 since.
As I wrote in spring training, Maddon might only keep his job if he leads the Angels to their first postseason appearance since 2014.
At 68, he says he wants to keep managing until the age Mick Jagger retires. At 78, Mick is preparing for a European tour celebrating the Rolling Stones’ 60-year anniversary.
If the Angels stay reasonably healthy, they should at least compete for one of the three AL wild cards, if not the AL West title. They went 77-85 last season with Mike Trout playing only 36 games and Anthony Rendon only 58. Their pitching, particularly their bullpen, looks much-improved.
Suggestion to Maddon: With the bases loaded, do not roll those tumbling dice again.
Don Mattingly, Marlins
The Marlins exercised Mattingly’s option for 2022 last July 8, so they likely would not rule out extending him in the middle of a season. And while Derek Jeter no longer is CEO, the rest of the Marlins’ leadership team — principal owner Bruce Sherman, general manager Kim Ng, et al — is unchanged.
So, what are the expectations? The Marlins opened the season with a $79.95 million payroll, their highest since 2018, but still only 26th in the majors. They’re a more veteran club after adding catcher Jacob Stallings, infielder Joey Wendle, and outfielders Avisaíl García and Jorge Soler. But the forecast of an 80- to 82-win team by some leading projections might be ambitious, considering the strength of the NL East.
This is Mattingly’s seventh year in Miami. The Marlins’ only winning record during his tenure was in 2020, when their 31-29 mark in a shortened regular season qualified them for an expanded postseason. Like any manager, he will be an easy scapegoat if the team flops. But as will be the case with several of the managers listed above, the issues extend well beyond the dugout.
Derek Shelton, Pirates
Signed through 2023, Shelton has the most security of any manager on this list. His situation is different for other reasons, though.
Shelton, 51, has served almost as an assistant general manager since his hiring by GM Ben Cherington in Nov. 2019. The team needed to build a better infrastructure; the pandemic and then the owners’ lockout created more time for Shelton to make other contributions. But as the Pirates start to improve — yes, it should happen eventually — they will need him to focus solely on managing.
Like Hyde, Shelton will need to prove he can handle all the responsibilities that come with running a competitive team — not just making in-game decisions, but also getting the most out of different personalities, keeping his pulse on the clubhouse, navigating the length of the season. Pirates people believe Shelton is fully capable of succeeding in those areas. He just needs the chance to prove it.
(Photo of Joe Girardi: Rob Tringali / MLB Photos via Getty Images)