Gear up for a lot of managerial changes 

October 1st, 2019

The baseball industry is poised to witness one of the most turbulent offseasons in memory among its managerial profession.

On the first full day of the Major League Baseball offseason, six managerial searches were underway. More jobs could open in the coming days as the Mets and Phillies consider their 2020 plans.

According to Mike McCurry of MLB Network Research, there have been only three offseasons since 2000 in which at least seven clubs made a managerial change: 10 teams after the ’02 season, eight teams after ’06, and seven teams after ’10.

Some notes as the managerial Hot Stove warms, in advance of the postseason:

The essence of the job
Given the volume of openings, and recent trend toward the hiring of younger candidates, the coming weeks amount to a referendum on whether clubs will again see the wisdom in hiring candidates with Major League managerial experience.

Of the last 24 World Series champions, only three -- the 2018 Red Sox, ’05 White Sox and ’01 D-backs -- were led by managers in their first Major League jobs.

Jim Leyland, the 1997 World Series champion and Hall of Fame candidate, told Monday that teams disregarding his managerial peers do so at their own peril.

“We’ve got a lot of bright young people in the game now, but we’ve got a lot of bright older people in the game, too,” Leyland said. “We watch the game. We’re open to technology. I think people forget that we’ve worked with technology -- in different ways -- for our entire careers.

“It upsets me that experienced managers and coaches aren’t getting the respect they’ve earned. Nobody’s going to convince me that Joe Girardi, Dusty Baker, Mike Scioscia, Buck Showalter, John Gibbons and Gene Lamont can’t manage in today’s game. They can.

“Didn’t Jack McKeon win the World Series when he was in his 70s?”

Indeed, he did: McKeon turned 73 one month after leading the Marlins to the 2003 World Series championship.

Leyland, 74, made clear during the telephone conversation that he will remain retired from managing. But he’s troubled by the perception that the subjective aspects of the job are less valuable than they once were.

“In general, I don’t think people have the respect they used to for how hard it is to manage in the Major Leagues,” Leyland said. “It’s a very difficult job. You’ve got to handle the media, manage the players, help your players when they’ve got personal situations, spend time with the players who are upset because they’re not playing.

“A lot of people seem to think that if you give people information and put them in the dugout, they’d automatically know how to do everything it takes to manage. And that’s just not true.”

For what it’s worth, many in the industry expect the Padres to hire an experienced manager, after they posted the worst record in the National League West over the last four seasons under Andy Green, who did not have prior Major League managerial experience.

One name in demand
Raul Ibañez, an All-Star outfielder and revered teammate over 19 Major League seasons, has spoken with teams about managerial vacancies in recent offseasons. In the end, the father of five has remained in his role as a Dodgers advisor, which allows him the flexibility to spend time with his family during the baseball season.

But if Ibañez decides the time is right to become a manager now, it will be a surprise if he doesn’t land one of the available jobs. He’s known as a superb communicator in English and Spanish and has gained fluency in analytics by working with the Dodgers.

The Giants have interest in Ibañez, partially because of the relationship he built with current Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi while Zaidi was general manager of the Dodgers. And the Cubs also are expected to pursue Ibañez, who grew accustomed to big-market pressure while playing for the Phillies and Yankees.

Echoes of last winter
Derek Shelton, Joe Espada and Pedro Grifol are expected to be considered for openings again this offseason, after interviewing for managerial positions one year ago.

Grifol served as the Royals’ catching/quality control coach prior to former manager Ned Yost’s retirement at the end of this season; he interviewed with the Orioles one year ago and is under consideration to succeed Yost in Kansas City. Grifol's background in player development -- as the Mariners’ director of Minor League operations from 2008 through 2011 -- likely will appeal to clubs.

Shelton was among the final candidates for the Twins and Rangers jobs, before the hirings of Rocco Baldelli and Chris Woodward, respectively. The Twins retained Shelton to work with Baldelli as the team’s bench coach this season, and Shelton’s profile is even greater now, after Minnesota’s American League Central title. Shelton is a natural candidate in Pittsburgh, as he worked with current Pirates general manager Neal Huntington in Cleveland more than 10 years ago.

Espada, the Astros’ bench coach for the past two seasons, interviewed with the Twins and Blue Jays last offseason. The Mets are expected to consider Espada if they fire Mickey Callaway, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney. Espada is in charge of positioning the infield defense in Houston, a crucial role that fuses analytics and in-game decision making. Espada has experience on the Yankees’ Major League coaching staff and as a manager in the Puerto Rico Winter League.

New name
Vance Wilson spoke of his aspirations to become a manager during a Major League playing career as a backup catcher with the Mets and Tigers from 1999-2006. Now having served as the Royals' bullpen coach for the past two seasons, he’s poised to be an internal candidate for the managerial job in Kansas City -- and perhaps elsewhere, too.

Wilson managed for seven years in the Royals' farm system before that, including one managerial assignment in the Arizona Fall League. Leyland admired Wilson greatly while managing him in Detroit and is impressed by the path Wilson has taken since.

“I’ve heard nothing but great things about what he’s done as a manager [in the Minor Leagues],” Leyland said. “There’s something about guys who spend a lot of years as a backup catcher. They have to understand how to work with pitchers and talk with them all the time. They’ve got a great feel for the game. They have to concentrate. Vance always was that way.

“He was backing up a Hall of Famer [Ivan Rodriguez] when I was managing him, and he was always really into it. No matter what was going on, he was into the game mentally. I knew he was a sharp baseball guy, and I’m happy that he went to manage in the Minor Leagues for all those years.

“I always like to see guys who have ridden the buses in the Minor Leagues get their chance. That’s not to say that you need to do that, because there are a lot of great baseball people who don’t. But that was my pedigree, too.”