We are approaching mid-May and are officially in firing season. MLB teams looking to shake up a slumping team often turn to the only thing that can truly make a difference: firing the manager.
It is too difficult to revamp the roster on the fly in MLB. Even at the trade deadline, you likely are only swapping out a maximum of four starters among your position players and rotation. Something like that could be done at this point in the season, but finding a trade partner or partners and the capital to make that happen makes it prohibitive.
Changing the manager, however, is the easy thing to do. Regardless of how nice of a person the manager is, sometimes the messaging on a daily basis is off or the decision-making is questionable. Slow starts magnify issues.
And these are teams with expectations that would be pulling the plug at this point. Teams such as the Oakland A’s will wait until the end of the season to make a change unless something else forces their hand. Even then, they might bring their skipper back next year.
In that spirit, I think these four managers could be on the chopping block at this point of the season.
4. Aaron Boone, Yankees
This one probably won’t happen for the reasons I am about to detail, but Aaron Boone’s seat is definitely warmer that it usually is for the manager of the New York Yankees. The Bronx Bombers began this week with 10 players from the 40-man roster on the injured list, including five on the 60-day IL.
But every team has injuries and the Yankees have withstood the rough waters, sitting at 21-17 after Wednesday’s games. They are in last place in the American League East, perhaps the toughest division in baseball top to bottom.
Boone is in his sixth season managing the Bronx Bombers. Taking out the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Boone has guided the Yankees to two 100-win and two 90-win seasons entering 2023. In all five of his seasons, the Yankees have made the playoffs, but only once made the AL Championship Series. That was last season, when the Houston Astros swept the Yanks en route to winning the World Series.
Has Boone been given the right tools to win? The only noteworthy acquisition the Yankees had this offseason was signing left-handed starter Carlos Rodón, who has had a forearm injury and is now battling a back injury that requires a cortisone shot. His season could be in jeopardy.
It could be time for a new voice to bring a spark to the Yankees. Typically when a manager is fired, the bench coach is promoted. In this case, that would be Carlos Mendoza, a career minor-leaguer who has interviewed for MLB managerial positions. Does owner Hal Steinbrenner think this is the right move? Or could someone from the outside be brought in?
3. Pedro Grifol, White Sox
How quick is too quick to move on from a first-year manager? Pedro Grifol has been one of the hot names on the managerial candidate circuit the past couple seasons. But the former Kansas City Royals bench coach is struggling in his first season as the main man with the White Sox.
Did Tony La Russa pull a vampire and just suck the life out of the White Sox? Coming off a disappointing 81-81 season and second place in the AL Central, the White Sox entered 2022 without star first baseman José Abreu, who went to the Houston Astros in free agency, as well as short-time pitchers Vince Velasquez and Johnny Cueto. The only noteworthy additions were Andrew Benintendi and Mike Clevinger, so the front office bears some responsibility for the roster.
Like the Yankees, the White Sox have been hampered by injuries. Star shortstop Tim Anderson, third baseman Yoán Moncada, and outfielder Eloy Jiménez have all missed extended time due to various health issues. The White Sox are 13-25 through Wednesday, the second-worst record in the AL.
Grifol was supposed to be a details guy. However, the White Sox are basically a bottom-10 team in batting average, ERA and fielding percentage. It does take time for a manager to establish his messaging, but some guys are overmatched in the hot seat. An easier analogy I like to make is with NFL coaches. Some are great as coordinators, but absolutely blow as a head coach.
Could Grifol be in that category? Or is there something else? Why wasn’t Grifol simply promoted to manager when the Royals fired Mike Matheny? It still seems too early to make that judgment from the outside, but those on the inside would have better insight.
2. Gabe Kapler, Giants
The curious case of Gabe Kapler is complex. During his playing days, his teammates saw him as a potential manager. When he was hired as manager by the Philadelphia Phillies before the 2018 season, Kapler was coming off four years as the director of player development for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The traits touted were his out-of-the-box thinking and energy he brought to the role.
But he only lasted two seasons in Philly, going 80-82, then 81-81. Both campaigns featured late-season collapses, with criticism centered around being too reliant on analytics and Kapler not being critical enough publicly about his players. But Kapler wasn’t out of work long as the San Francisco Giants needed a replacement for Bruce Bochy.
Kapler’s first year in San Francisco was the pandemic season of 2020 and the Giants finished 29-31. What happened in 2021 is where things went off the rails — in a positive way. The Giants found a magical elixir and went 107-55, winning a lot of games late with a cast of overachieving players. They beat out the 106-win Dodgers for the National League West title. Remember the push for shortstop Brandon Crawford for NL MVP? It appeared that Kapler might have found a balance he couldn’t in Philadelphia.
In 2022, the clock struck midnight and the Giants went back into pumpkin form, finishing a mediocre 81-81. Now, the Giants are 16-20 through Wednesday and languishing in the West. Not only are they looking up at the Dodgers and San Diego Padres, but the young Arizona Diamondbacks are now a threat, too. The Giants decided not to sign shortstop Carlos Correa due to medical reasons and were used as pawns in Aaron Judge’s free agency.
The Giants had hoped to rebound and be a contender this season, but something is definitely off. It could be the roster construction, but it also could be Kapler’s decision-making and communication. Unless there is a big rebound, Kapler’s seat is extremely hot and it would not be surprising if he doesn’t make it to Game 162.
1. Oli Marmol, Cardinals
This is not the Cardinal Way. Whether that sentence is a play off “The Mandalorian” or a simple fact is up to you. (It can be both.) This past weekend brought a new low point in the Oli Marmol era for the St. Louis Cardinals. It can be simply summed up as the Willson Contreras blunder. Signed to be their starting catcher, Contreras was for now relegated to designated hitter duty. When he returns to that role depends on things the Cardinals are pretty much keeping inside the clubhouse.
The pitching staff has not fared well in the first season in quite some time without Yadier Molina on the roster. At 13-25, the Cardinals sport the worst record in the NL through Wednesday’s games. How shocking is that? The only time since 2000 that the Cards finished at .500 or below was 2007 (78-84). That stretch includes 11 NL Central titles and 16 playoff appearances with two World Series championships. So the standard in St. Louis is high.
The scuttlebutt around Contreras is that he hasn’t fully comprehended (bought in?) to the team’s game-planning. The Cardinals give up a ton of two-strike homers. Contreras hasn’t been known for his defense. On the contrary, it has been well-known that he has deficiencies behind the plate. So one question in this has to be the homework John Mozeliak and the front office did before signing Contreras to a five-year, $87.5 million contract this offseason.
Marmol is front and center in this because player readiness falls on him, regardless of position (starting pitcher, reliever, backup infielder, star first baseman). The Cardinals’ issues don’t end with their pitching staff. Marmol publicly called out outfielder Tyler O’Neill for not running hard enough while trying to score in an April game against Atlanta. O’Neill was temporarily benched. Another reason behind the Cardinals’ dreadful start has been All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado not hitting like the perennial MVP candidate he is.
This is the perfect scenario for a team to make a change. Marmol had a successful debut as manager in 2022, going 93-69 and winning the NL Central. But that title came thanks in part to a collapse by the Milwaukee Brewers. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Cardinals pull the plug by the end of May if things don’t turn around. The team has a reputation to uphold and a fan base to appease.