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Managing expectations: Six new skippers take helm

As teams continue to strike winter deals, baseball fans are just a couple months away from the annual process of adjusting to seeing familiar names and faces in unfamiliar uniforms.

This spring, fans will also need to familiarize themselves with quite a few new managers. Assuming there are no other managerial changes between now and Opening Day, one-fifth of the 30 Major League teams will enter the 2013 season with a new skipper at the helm. The six new managers are the third most in any one season over the past decade, falling one shy of the seven new skippers in 2007 and '11.

Each of the six newcomers will face his own set of challenges, but two in particular -- John Farrell in Boston and his replacement in Toronto, John Gibbons -- figure to be the ones dealing with the highest immediate expectations for next season. Given Terry Francona's resume, he might also be tagged with slightly higher-than-average expectations in Cleveland.

On the other hand, the new skippers in Houston (Bo Porter), Miami (Mike Redmond) and Colorado (Walt Weiss) will be charged with turning around and assisting in the rebuilding process for their struggling franchises.

Regardless of each manager's inherited situation, he needs to look no further than last year for potential blueprints to success. Five teams -- the White Sox, Cardinals, Cubs, Marlins and Red Sox -- entered the 2012 campaign with new managers and the results were all over the board.

The Marlins and Red Sox dismissed their selections of Ozzie Gullen and Bobby Valentine, respectively, after their first seasons. Dale Sveum's Cubs struggled to a 101-loss season, but he remains with the team entering 2013.

As for the other two, Mike Matheny took the Cards to within one game of a return trip to the World Series and Robin Ventura finished third in the American League Manager of the Year voting after helping the White Sox bounce back to finish just three games behind the AL Central-champion Tigers.

At this point, of the six clubs with new managers, the two most likely to be considered contenders next summer both reign from the AL East.

Farrell takes over a Boston club coming off a last-place finish in 2012, but those will hardly be the expectations in '13. The Red Sox already added slugger Mike Napoli, veteran outfielder Shane Victorino and reliever Koji Uehera, and Farrell also believes they had more talent on their roster last year than their 69-93 record might indicate.

"There's a lot of quality players that are currently here, and yet the won-loss record [last year] doesn't reflect that," Farrell said. "It's my job and my intent -- and I'm eager to get started -- to identify what took place and how do we best address it and correct it."

As for Farrell's former ball club in Toronto, nobody would have expected his replacement to already be fielding questions about guiding an AL East contender next summer, yet that's exactly what Gibbons is facing. The Blue Jays pulled off a blockbuster trade to acquire Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio from Miami just three weeks after Farrell departed for Boston.

"There's always pressure, no doubt about it, because a lot is expected in the baseball world, the country of Canada and Toronto specifically," said Gibbons, who posted a 305-305 record as the Blue Jays' skipper from 2004-08. "That's a good thing, that means you've got a good team. But there's always pressure in this business to perform."

For Francona, pressure might be the least of his concerns in Cleveland. After all, Francona took control of the reins in Boston in 2004 and promptly guided the Red Sox to the franchise's first World Series title in 86 years. In doing so, he became just the 15th manager to win a title in his first season with a new team.

The difference is, in Boston, Francona took over a team that had won 95 games in 2003 and came within one win of going to the World Series. In Cleveland, he'll be tasked with turning around an Indians squad that went 68-94 last year, including 24-53 after the All-Star break.

"Having a challenge isn't bad," Francona said. "Trying to find a way to tackle it is actually pretty exciting. And I'm not delusional. We have challenges. We have some things we've got to overcome, but trying to do that, I'm looking forward to it."

The other three managers -- Redmond, Porter and Weiss -- are also taking over teams that lost 90-plus games, but they are doing so without any Major League managing experience. Redmond is also facing the challenge of leading a team that was mostly gutted in that blockbuster deal with Toronto.

"Obviously, I knew the organization was not happy with the 93 losses, and that there was going to be some changes," said Redmond. "I knew that going in. We've picked up a lot of great young players. We're starting with a clean slate. We're going to be able to go out there and develop these young players."

However, once again taking last year's new crop of managers into consideration, it was Ventura and Matheny -- both making their Major League managerial debuts -- who led their clubs to far more impressive seasons than veteran skippers like Guillen and Valentine.

So while Francona begins his new job in search of adding a third World Series ring to his collection and Farrell and Gibbons both return to their roots in the AL East, another trio of managers will be looking to establish themselves, much the way Ventura and Matheny did this past summer.

"Robin and Mike certainly knocked down some walls for someone like me," said Weiss, who worked for the Rockies as a front-office special assistant from 2002-08 and was hired as manager in early November. "What do we need to have success? I think the bottom line is you're trying to lead men. And for me, I think we've got to try to create an environment where we respect each other and we trust each other, and then you've got a chance at something special."