This is the best manager free-agent class ever

October 15th, 2019

We love to evaluate free-agent classes in baseball the way we did last winter, when two young stars, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, were at the head of the class, both just 26 years old, both on the market, both on their way to $300 million contracts. So why can’t we have some fun speculating the same way about managers, especially since the current class of free agents is without doubt the deepest and most experienced in baseball history?

And guess what? That’s just with the big names we know, before we get to the bench coaches who might turn out to be the next Alex Cora, or somebody out of television who may turn out to be the next Aaron Boone.

Before we go any further, I want to take a moment to address Bruce Bochy, who is stepping down as manager of the Giants. When the season began, he said this was retirement, but he’s recently been quoted as saying he hopes he made the right decision (to retire), and some baseball people to whom I’ve spoken say they’ll only believe Bochy isn’t in play to fill the vacancy in San Diego -- where he managed the club to the 1998 World Series -- when the Padres hire somebody else. Bochy’s Giants won three World Series in this decade, he’s a lock to end up in Cooperstown, and he may not be done, even if his farewell tour with the Giants just ended a few weeks ago.

Everybody knows Joe Maddon is out there. Joe managed the Rays to the World Series in 2008, then eight years later was the Cubs' manager when they ended 108 years of waiting and finally won a Series on the North Side of Chicago. You keep hearing that he’s going to end up with the Angels, in whose dugout he once sat next to Mike Scioscia.

Scioscia is in play, as well. Mike managed a long time in Anaheim, and his Angels won the World Series in 2002. You remember that one. The Angels were up against Dusty Baker’s Giants, and the Giants led three games to two when Dusty came out to remove Russ Ortiz, his starter, from Game 6. The Giants were leading 5-0 at the time. Dusty told Ortiz to keep the game ball instead of taking it from him. You know what happened after that. The Angels came back to win Game 6 and then won Game 7 and Dusty never had a team win it all.

Now, all this time later, Dusty Baker is 70 and just got permission from the Giants, for whom he’s been working, to talk to the Phillies about their opening. Joe Girardi, who followed Joe Torre with the Yankees and won the Yankees their last World Series in 2009, has done everything except hire skywriters to announce that he is ready to leave television and go back to the dugout. Buck Showalter, who has taken three different teams to the playoffs, is talking to teams.

John Farrell is out there, too, six years after winning the World Series with the Red Sox in 2013. You keep hearing that Mike Matheny, who managed against Farrell in that ’13 Series, is very much in play to become the next manager of the Royals.

So we’re talking about a lot of World Series managers here. Most of them aren’t young, in this time when there are so many young general managers calling the shots in baseball. Matheny hasn’t yet turned 50. He’s the baby when it comes to available Series managers. Girardi is 55. Farrell is 57. The rest of them are over 60. Dusty is 70. Buck is 63, Bochy 64, Maddon 65.

Will some of the current general managers, who have grown accustomed to hiring managers they can have more input with, be scared off by all this experience, despite the thousands of victories these men have amassed? Yeah, I think they will be. Many of these veteran managers who’ve lost their jobs over the past few years have been replaced by younger men. Perhaps the only place where one of the older guys might replace a young manager is with the Mets, where the recently fired Mickey Callaway is just 44. Of the four men managing in the League Championship Series right now, only one of them – AJ Hinch – had any experience managing in the big leagues before he got his current job.

AJ is 45. Aaron Boone is 46, now in his second year managing the Yankees, and is the first manager in Yankees history to win 100 games in each of his first two seasons. Of course Boone came straight to this job from the booth for Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN. Boone had no managing experience anywhere, at a time there is two tons of experience available with Bochy and Buck, Joe Maddon and Joe Girardi, Dusty and John Farrell and Matheny.

How much does experience count for the people running the teams? We’re about to find out. I always remember one spring when I was visiting Sparky Anderson in Lakeland, Fla., getting close to the end of his time with the Tigers after managing the Big Red Machine. Sparky was chipping golf balls one afternoon after workouts behind the hotel where he stayed in Lakeland, and I finally asked him what the best part of managing was at that point in his career.

The old man smiled in that moment, and looked young.

“I know how to do it,” he said.

This year there’s more available ex-managers than ever who’ve proven they know how do it. Now we wait to see how many of them get a chance to do it again.