Ranking the toughest jobs for 8 new managers

December 3rd, 2023

There are eight managers in new spots in Major League Baseball heading into 2024. Eight! That’s nearly a third of the teams switching their managers, which feels like a high number.

Of the eight teams in question, six didn’t make the postseason, and the two who did either had a manager who left on his own as a free agent (the Brewers’ Craig Counsell) or retired (the Astros’ Dusty Baker).

All of these jobs will be tough because it’s tough being a big league manager. Every situation is different, as are each fanbase’s expectations. But we thought we’d take a stab today at ranking the difficulty of all eight jobs from toughest to easiest -- mostly in the short term but also in the long term.

1. Angels: Ron Washington

It is possible that Shohei Ohtani returns to the Angels. If so, you might drop this a spot or two in the rankings, though you might want to talk to Joe Maddon and Phil Nevin about that before you do. But if Ohtani doesn’t, boy, does Washington have his work cut out for him.

Should Ohtani depart, that leaves a wonderful but injury prone Mike Trout and the rest of a team that just went 73-89 despite Ohtani’s greatness. And this doesn’t even account for how Washington will deal with the inevitable Trout trade rumors if the team gets off to a bad start.

2. Padres: Mike Shildt

It still feels kind of strange that the Cardinals fired Shildt two years ago. The franchise had made the playoffs three straight seasons, including an NLCS appearance. Shildt, an organizational guy, felt like he’d stay there a while, almost like Atlanta’s Brian Snitker, someone rewarded after years in the trenches. Instead, St. Louis let him go, citing internal disagreements, and it should be noted they haven’t won a playoff game since and just finished in last place for the first time since 1990.

So the Padres hiring Shildt does make sense, particularly after he was with the team for the past two years. But wow, is there a ton of uncertainty here. What does the organization look like in the wake of owner Peter Seidler’s passing? Are they going to trade Juan Soto? And seriously, what in the world was going on with this team last year? The Padres are a grand mystery wrapped up in a riddle inside an enigma. It’s now Shildt’s job to figure it all out.

3. Brewers: Pat Murphy

Speaking of teams with uncertainty, Murphy, who has been the bench coach for the Brewers since 2015, is probably the most stable thing the Brewers have going. Counsell leaving was the latest organizational change in the wake of former GM David Stearns’ departure (He’s now president of baseball operations for the Mets.) You can see more on the horizon, too: No one would be surprised if Corbin Burnes was traded, and it’s possible Devin Williams could be as well.

Reports that top prospect Jackson Chourio could sign a record-setting extension -- and be in the Majors to start the season -- are encouraging but potentially point to a youth movement coming. The depth and strength of the Brewers’ farm system may make that transition quicker than it might be for other teams, Murphy is here to see it through and hopefully he’ll still be around for when it pays off.

4. Giants: Bob Melvin

As noted above, you can certainly see why Melvin might have wanted a fresh start away from San Diego. But returning to the Bay Area comes with its own set of complications. The Giants are a smart organization that has made some good decisions and had a surprisingly fantastic season a couple of years ago, but it’s also starting to feel like they are spinning their wheels, with their attempts to bring in a superstar thus far falling short.

Melvin would appear a logical fit to take over for Gabe Kapler, but if the problem in San Diego was a roster stocked of superstars who underperformed, he'll face an entirely different challenge in San Francisco.

5. Guardians: Stephen Vogt

There isn’t a person in baseball who doesn’t like Vogt, which is why you didn’t hear all that much grumbling about the hiring of a guy with no managerial experience and only one year of coaching experience, who was just playing two years ago.

He takes over a Guardians squad coming off their worst season in a decade, however. They’ve been unable to add any big bats to help out José Ramírez, and there is a sense that this core may have missed its window. That said, this is hardly the most harrowing division, so there’s some margin for error here.

6. Mets: Carlos Mendoza

Mendoza has a new team president, an owner willing to do whatever it takes and a fanbase that obsesses over everything the team does. Those are excellent resources to have, but they come with obstacles. Expectations are going to always be high here, even when the Mets are going through a transitional season like they might be this year.

Mendoza is a calm presence who in many ways feels like a great fit. Long term, the Mets have a team in place that looks primed to make some happy things happen in the next few years. But this is New York: You have to make it to those next few years first.

7. Cubs: Craig Counsell

The highest-profile hiring of the offseason -- the age of the free-agent manager is upon us! -- featured Counsell leaving Milwaukee for those usually friendly confines of Wrigley. Counsell, surprisingly, has never won National League Manager of the Year, but he has finished second four times.

That Counsell was hired at all is a sign that the Cubs are serious about winning right now, particularly after a season where they just missed out on a playoff berth. They will be suitors for many big free agents this winter, which they may have to be, since they have two of their own in Cody Bellinger and Marcus Stroman. But there’s young talent coming, money to be spent and a fanbase that isn’t going anywhere. In the long term, this is probably the best job on the list.

8. Astros: Joe Espada

In the short term, though, you can’t go wrong with the team that has made the last seven American League Championship Series. Espada takes over a roster that is one of the best in baseball, albeit one that isn’t quite up to the level of some of Houston's truly great teams.

There are questions about the Astros over the next few seasons: Which free agents might leave? How are they going to restock? But there isn’t a single manager on this list who wouldn’t love to be taking over a team with this sort of recent success. Now Espada gets to add to it.