The position of manager is the easiest one to single out when needing a change to an MLB club’s fortunes. For proof, just look at this year’s 12 playoff teams. The Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays each fired their manager, only to rebound and make the postseason.
Whether Joe Girardi (Phillies) or Charlie Montoyo (Jays) were the problems is debatable, but the point is both teams played better under interim managers Rob Thomson and John Schneider. In fact, after the Phillies, the sixth seed in the National League knocked off the NL Central champion St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card Series, Thomson was rewarded with a two-year contract to be manager. Thomson guided the Phils to a 65-46 record after Girardi was fired on June 3 with a 22-29 mark and 14 games out of first place in the NL East.
Another team that fired its manager, the Los Angeles Angels, decided to keep the interim manager as a replacement. After Joe Maddon was fired on June 7, the Angels went 46-60 under Phil Nevin. Nevin was given only a one-year contract to remain as the bench boss, primarily because Angels owner Arte Moreno is exploring a possible sale of the club this offseason.
Currently, there are five manager openings, with one situation sort of up in the air. That is Dusty Baker’s status with the Houston Astros. Baker, as well as general manager James Click, is not under contract for 2023. It is very likely that 73-year-old Baker will return for a fourth season as manager after taking over the role following the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.
Which openings are the most attractive? Who are the key candidates? Pitcher List ranks the vacancies:
1. Blue Jays
Who is being replaced: Charlie Montoyo was fired on July 13 with a 46-42 record, and replaced by bench coach John Schneider.
Overview: With the caveat that the Astros’ opening would be the best if for some reason Baker doesn’t return, Toronto’s young core — led by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette — surrounded by some recent veteran acquisitions (George Springer and Kevin Gausman) makes this a very coveted opening. Competing in the rugged AL East, which sent three teams to the postseason, a younger voice that isn’t a roll of the dice would seem to be a shrewd move.
Key candidates: Schneider likely earned the job with a 46-28 finish to the season, but general manager Ross Atkins said he needed to take time to make sure it was the correct decision. Among Schneider’s bigger attributes were holding everyone accountable and better communication.
2. White Sox
Who is being replaced: Tony La Russa announced that he would not return due to health reasons.
Overview: The White Sox underachieved this season, finishing 81-81, and 11 games behind the Cleveland Guardians, a year after winning the division by 13 games over Cleveland. La Russa seemed out of touch with some of his decision-making. Someone who brings energy and communication to the manager
Key candidates: Bench coach Miguel Cairo took over for La Russa the last month-plus of the season when health issues sidelined the Hall of Famer, with the White Sox going 18-16, including a 13-6 push that saw them push for a playoff spot. Cairo would be a front-runner if general manager Rick Hahn doesn’t want to blow up the rest of the staff. Astros bench coach Joe Espada is at or near the top of everyone’s list and has already interviewed for the position, as has Kansas City Royals bench coach Pedro Grifol. Two with ties to the other team in the city, Maddon and Girardi, could also get long looks as could Don Mattingly. Outside-the-box hires would include ex-White Sox players A.J. Pierzynski and Willie Harris, while Tampa Bay Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro will be another popular name on teams’ radar. Carlos Beltrán, who was fired by the New York Mets before managing a game due to his involvement in the Astros’ sign-stealing controversy, is another name to watch.
Who is being replaced: Chris Woodward was fired on August 15 with a 51-63 record this year and 211-287 in less than four seasons.
Overview: The Rangers feel like a team that wants to contend and made moves last offseason to set them up for this offseason by signing infielders Corey Seager and Marcus Semien to big contracts. Now with general manager Chris Young fully in charge after the dismissal of Jon Daniels, his first big decision of the offseason is what type of voice is needed for a mix of young players and established stars.
Key candidates: If Bruce Bochy wants the job, it is his. Young was a pitcher under Bochy with the San Diego Padres in 2006 and wants his old skipper back. The three-time World Series champion with the San Francisco Giants, though, has basically been retired for the last three seasons. There would not be the same concerns in hiring Bochy as there were around La Russa’s comeback with the White Sox after a decade away. Bochy was adored by his players as a terrific communicator. Young has already traveled to Nashville, Tenn., to chat with Bochy, but the tenor of those talks is unknown (just an interview or was it a job offer?). Tony Beasley, the third base coach who replaced Woodward, has already been interviewed but his 17-31 showing isn’t appealing. Maddon, Beltran, Espada, and Quatraro would also be ideal for this job.
Who is being replaced: Don Mattingly’s contract with the Marlins expired after the season and the team announced a “mutual decision” not to pursue a deal for 2023.
Overview: The pitching-rich Marlins decided seven years was enough for Mattingly, who inherited a roster with Jose Fernandez, Giancarlo Stanton, and Christian Yelich. This will be general manager Kim Ng’s first manager hire, with owner Bruce Sherman chiming in, and she needs to hit a home run for the fan base.
Key candidates: Someone with enthusiasm who can communicate clearly and motivate. We will start with the usual names of Espada, Grifol, Quatraro, and Cairo if the White Sox decide to look elsewhere. Raul Ibanez could be an outside-of-the-box candidate, considering he has bypassed other interview opportunities, but this one is in his hometown. Tigers bench coach George Lombard is likely to be in the conversation as well. The bigger names might get a cursory look, but with the Marlins’ tradition of pinching pennies, they aren’t a probable solution.
Who is being replaced: Mike Matheny was fired after the Oct. 5 regular-season finale. The Royals went 165-219 in Matheny’s three seasons, including 65-97 this year.
Overview: The Royals have a new direction as J.J. Picollo took over as executive vice president and general manager after Dayton Moore was fired with two weeks left in the season. The Royals had hoped to at least be a team to be dealt with in the American League Central, but that never materialized this season. That could mean an offseason of at least trying to make big moves.
Key candidates: Grifol, as an internal candidate, could have an edge. He knows the players well and would be a smooth transition, as well as explain why only Matheny and pitching coach Cal Eldred were fired. Otherwise, Maddon could be a top candidate here, unless the brass thinks his voice is too big for this team. Espada and Quatraro again will be considered. That could open the door for Mattingly as a big name or someone like Dodgers first base coach Clayton McCullough or Phillies third base coach Dusty Wathan.
More names are sure to pop up, even ones not mentioned above or below. But who will be impressive enough to earn that job? Here are more names (with their most recent or current job):
Brad Ausmus (A’s bench coach), Montoyo, Mike Shildt (Padres third-base coach), Woodward, Ron Washington (Braves third base coach), Walt Weiss (Braves bench coach), Lloyd McClendon (Tigers Triple-A manager), Don Kelly (Pirates bench coach), Will Venable (Red Sox bench coach), Mark DeRosa (TV analyst, USA Baseball manager), Pat Murphy (Brewers bench coach), Eduardo Perez (ex-Astros bench coach, current TV analyst).
Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter)