Grading Every MLB Manager/Front Office Hire

Though we are waiting for the top free agents to sign and for some blockbuster trades to take place this offseason, there has already been a lot of action this offseason- all manager and general manager/president of baseball operations vacancies have been filled. In fact, a quarter of the league will have a new manager this season, and many of them come with a lot of intrigue. So, how did teams fare in their hirings? Let’s take a closer look at each one, assigning each with grades and providing analysis.

October 16th: Angels Hire Joe Maddon As Manager

MLB: OCT 24 Joe Maddon Press Conference
Photo Cred: The Athletic

Grade: B+

Main Strength: Long Track Record of Success

Main Weakness: Age/Potential Inability To Adapt

The Angels kicked off the offseason with a mini-splash, hiring long-time manager Joe Maddon to replace Brad Ausmus. Maddon, 65, had ties with the Angels dating back to his original coaching days, as he was the bench coach during their 2002 World Series championship. In his 14 years managing the Rays and Cubs, he’s put together an impressive 1225-1044 record, which includes eight postseason appearances and a 2016 World Series championship with Chicago. However, over the past two seasons, he’d been under major scrutiny with the Cubs, as the team appeared to stagnate. That hasn’t been a problem for the Angels, who need a manager capable of guiding them as they attempt to go from 72 wins to reach the playoffs with Mike Trout. To that end, Maddon has had a lot of success helping teams take the next step- he did so in Tampa and Chicago. It is worth noting, though, that Maddon hasn’t exactly been 100% committed to analytics, and even if he is the correct hire, Los Angeles has a lot of work to do to add talent if they actually want to compete- this cannot be seen as a legitimate solution to the several holes present on their roster.

October 24th: Cubs Hire David Ross As Manager

rossy
Photo Cred: Forbes

Grade: B

Main Strength: Upside

Main Weakness: Ties To 2016 Team

Speaking of Maddon, his former team has replaced him with a player he managed- David Ross. The 42-year-old was the backup catcher and a fan favorite on that 2016 World Series-winning team, and after three years of serving in Chicago’s front office, he will now take over on-field duties at a critical time for the franchise. After all, they’re trying to squeeze out whatever they can from their core before they get too expensive- they face an incredible amount of urgency. That makes Ross, someone who has personal connections to several of the team’s players and has no coaching experience at any level, a major risk. However, at the same time, it’s impossible to look past the potential upside he brings. After all, we’ve seen several backup catchers in the past (Kevin Cash, Bruce Bochy, AJ Hinch) go on to make fabulous managers, and Ross was cited as one of the brightest baseball minds during his playing days. Plus, he’s a young hire, should connect much better with the front office, and even though his relationship with the team’s key players could be an issue, it could also allow for him to put them in the best positions to thrive. One can argue if this was the right job for Ross to take, but he’s certainly qualified, and if this works out, he could be this team’s manager for a long time.

October 24th: Phillies Hire Joe Girardi As Manager

girardi
Photo Cred: 6abc Philadelphia

Grade: B+

Main Strength: Past Success/Balance

Main Weakness: Rigidity 

In their search to find an established manager to replace Gabe Kapler, the Phillies hired Joe Girardi to be the team’s next manager. Girardi, 55, is the second-oldest manager to be hired this offseason, and has a very similar resume to Maddon. In 11 years as manager of the Marlins (one) and Yankees (ten), he holds an impressive 988-794 record, and even though much of that is due to New York’s stacked rosters, he did win manager of the year by guiding a talent-ridden Marlins team in 2006 to 84 wins. Plus, Girardi’s experience working in a big market and with a star-studded team will be important in Philadelphia, as he hopes to guide a team led by Bryce Harper and JT Realmuto to the playoffs. Contrary to most older managers, Girardi has also expressed an interest in analytics in the past, so he’s a great blend for an analytically-inclined front office in a city that works better with a traditional manager. If there’s one potential negative with the Illinois native, it’s that he was described as rigid with New York, and didn’t connect well with the front office at the end of his tenure. Then again, there’s also the chance he’s learned from those experiences, and as long as he maintains his curiosity for analytics, he’s definitely fit for this job.

October 24th: Padres Hire Jayce Tingler As Manager

tingler
Photo Cred: San Antonio Express-News

Grade: A-

Main Strength: Past Experiences/Youth

Main Weakness: Ties With GM AJ Preller*

When they were looking to hire their new manager, the Padres looked to be fixated on two candidates that were polar opposites of each other- Ron Washington and Jayce Tingler. Washington, the popular choice, is a former manager with plenty of coaching experience, and is seen as a “master” at improving infield defense. However, it was Tingler, who is 29 years younger than Washington, that’ll take over as the team’s manager. The 38-year-old, unlike Washington, has no previous major league managing experience, but that certainly doesn’t mean he isn’t qualified. Here’s a report on his significant amount of experience working in several occupations, per Dylan A. Chase of MLB Trade Rumors:

“Tingler spent time as a skipper at the Rookie and Dominican Summer League levels before being named as Texas’ minor league field coordinator from 2012-14. He served as a coach on the staff of Jeff Banister in 2015 and 2016 before entering the front office as an assistant GM in 2017. Tingler served as bench coach for interim manager Don Wakamatsu at the end of 2018 and interviewed to be Rangers manager that offseason (he was ultimately passed over in favor of the aforementioned Woodward). More recently, Tingler has been serving as manager of the Leones del Escogido of the Dominican Winter League.”

Tingler’s wide array of previous experience will be critical for him to develop relationships with players of all different backgrounds, especially San Diego’s young Spanish players- the 38-year-old is bilingual. In fact, I see almost zero weakness with Tingler, who is extremely reminiscent of previous successful manager hires- Rocco Baldelli of the Twins is a nice comparison. If there’s anything that could hurt him, it’s that his close ties to general manager AJ Preller in Texas mean that his fate with the franchise may be intertwined with the aggressive general manager; if the Padres disappoint and Preller is let go, Tingler could have a very short stint with the franchise. Still, it’s clear why Preller believes this is the manager who’ll develop San Diego’s young talent and help lead them to the playoffs- he’s arguably the best manager hiring of this offseason.

October 25th: Red Sox Hire Chaim Bloom As Chief Baseball Officer

bloom
Photo Cred: Over The Monster

Grade: A+

Main Strength: Regarded As One Baseball’s Brightest Minds

Main Weakness: N/A

Red Sox Save Themselves With Remarkable Hiring of Chaim Bloom

October 31st: Royals Hire Mike Matheny As Manager

matheny
Photo Cred: The Athletic

Grade: D

Main Strength: Chances That He Learned From Previous Mistakes

Main Weakness: End of Tenure As Cardinals Manager

In what may have been the least surprising manager hire, the Royals announced Mike Matheny as the franchise’s 17th manager. Matheny, 49, was long rumored to be long-time manager Ned Yost’s successor, as he had been serving as a special advisor to general manager Dayton Moore since November of 2018. That case was strengthened when Kansas City decided not to interview any external candidates, which, although confusing, proves their commitment to Matheny. After taking over as the manager of the Cardinals in 2012, he put together an impressive 591-474 record, but following a 2015 NLDS exit to the Cubs, didn’t make the playoffs again before being let go in the middle of the 2018 season. Why was he let go? Well, his lack of faith in young players who didn’t immediately produce was a reported issue, as was his inability to prevent rookie hazing- he was too strict/rigid and still couldn’t control the clubhouse. Now, there’s a chance Matheny has learned from his previous mistakes, and can help Kansas City get through the rebuild. However, unlike another manager we’ll get to shortly, his stint with the Cardinals demonstrated some clear red flags; is Matheny really the right person to oversee the development of Kansas City’s young pitching prospects, since many of them will likely make their debuts this season? The answer to that, in my opinion, is almost certainly not.

November 1st: Mets Hire Carlos Beltran As Manager

beltran
Photo Cred: USA Today

Grade: B

Main Strength: Relationships With Players/Upside

Main Weakness: No Coaching Experience

In what can be described as a “splashy hire”, the Mets chose Carlos Beltran to be the team’s next manager. General manager Brodie Van Wagenen has not been afraid to take risks and garner a lot of attention in the past, and now, he’ll do so by hiring an extremely successful former player. Still just 42-years-old, Beltran was cited as a key piece of the Astros 2017 World Series championship team- he was an excellent veteran mentor, and even hired for the Yankees’ manager job right after retiring; in large part due to that success. Since then, he’s worked in the Yankees front office, and appears to be extremely fit for this job. Obviously, with no coaching experience, hiring Beltran is a risk. Yet, his experience with the New York media and ability to relate with pitchers will make him a suitable replacement for Mickey Callaway, who was constantly scrutinized in his short tenure with the Mets. He’s a definite unknown, and faces huge expectations for a team expected to make the playoffs next season. Still, similar to Ross, his upside is tremendous- if this pans out, New York will finally have found a long-term answer as their manager.

November 10th: Giants Hire Scott Harris As General Manager

harris
Photo Cred: The San Francisco Examiner

Grade: A+

Main Strength: Reputation As A Young, Up and Coming Baseball Mind

Main Weakness: N/A

When he was hired as the President of Baseball Operations of the Giants last offseason, Farhan Zaidi didn’t hire a general manager, and went all of last season as the team’s sole decision-maker. However, that’ll change now, he’s hired Scott Harris to fill that general manager position. Harris, 32, is highly regarded within the industry, per Jeff Passan of ESPN, and it’s easy to see why. He’s worked his way up the hierarchy, and after working five years as the Cubs’ director of baseball operations, was promoted to be the team’s assistant general manager in 2018. Notably, Harris oversaw Chicago’s “financial strategy and planning”, and also played a key role in player development- something definitely impressive considering their success in developing their young core. We’ve seen a recent trend of teams hiring young decision-makers with a high-end understanding of analytics to replace more old-school executives, and in several of the situations, it’s been a major success. The duo of Zaidi and Harris makes up what has quietly become one of the smartest front offices in baseball- Zaidi definitely struck gold in this long-awaited hire.

November 13th: Giants Hire Gabe Kapler As Manager

BNG-L-KAPLER-1114
Photo Cred: The Mercury News

Grade: A-

Main Strength: Creative, Analytically Driven

Main Weakness: Controversy

In a very criticized hire, the Giants have officially shifted into a new era with their structure in place- former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler was hired to replace longtime manager Bruce Bochy. Kapler, 44, is a very controversial hire for San Francisco. His unique style of managing and 161-163 record in Philadelphia are red flags for many, as is controversy from his time as the director of player development with the Dodgers over a sexual assault that he may have not reported correctly. While we’ll have to trust that the latter issue was investigated by Farhan Zaidi – we don’t have the information necessary for it be properly analyzed – we can look at Kapler’s supposed manager “weaknesses”, which I personally don’t believe to actually be true. Rather than criticizing a manager for being different, we should be more open to more innovative ideas that are supported by analytics- Kapler’s extremely open approach to analytics is impressive given that many of the decisions he’d have to make would be very uncommon in previous eras. Furthermore, his relationship with Zaidi from Los Angeles, as well as his experience in player development, is paramount for the Giants- they’ll need to develop their young prospects as they move on from their older fan favorites. Heck, since San Francisco isn’t expected to compete for the next couple seasons, why not take a shot at Kapler, who could be an incredible hire if he pans out? It’s a very understandable hire for Zaidi, who hopefully won’t follow under the same fate as Kapler if this somehow doesn’t work.

November 15th: Pirates Hire Ben Cherington As General Manager

cherington
Photo Cred: CBS Sports

Grade: B+

Main Strength: Success Turning The Red Sox Around

Main Weakness: More of a “Traditional Hire” 

After finally changing guard this offseason by firing general manager Neal Hunnington, the Pirates are putting their franchise’s future in the hands of Ben Cherington, who was hired to replace Hunnington. Cherington, 45, served as the general manager of the Red Sox during their 2013 World Series championship season, before resigning when Dave Dombrowski was brought on to be the team’s main decision-maker. During his time with Boston, Cherington built up the farm system, cleared payroll, and excelled at mid-level signings- all the makings of a great executive. His downfall, however, was his signings of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez in the 2014-2015 offseason, as each became massive failures. After that, he worked with the Blue Jays as the senior vice president of baseball operations; it’s worth noting that during his time there, Toronto’s farm system was improved drastically, and their future now looks very bright. With Pittsburgh, Cherington will need to bring the same qualities he possessed with Boston. He doesn’t even have to worry about succeeding with big-money contracts; the Pirates have one of the lowest budgets in the league. With a lackluster farm system, little spending power, and a poor major league roster, he’ll have quite the task of getting this franchise back on track. Then again, if someone was going to do so, it would have to be someone who isn’t afraid to be bold and aggressive- this hire does make a lot of sense.

November 27th: Pirates Hire Derek Shelton As Manager

MLB: Minnesota Twins-Media Day
Photo Cred: CBS Sports

Grade: B

Main Strength: Extensive Coaching Experience

Main Weakness: Lack of Success As Rays Hitting Coach

In the last major manager/front office hiring, the Pirates named Twins bench coach Derek Shelton as their new manager. This decision by Ben Cherington comes just twelve days after he himself was hired to guide this team- he clearly has a lot of faith in Shelton to make such a quick decision. And it’s easy to see why; the 49-year-old has experience as a hitting coach, was highly regarded as the Twins bench coach, and also was a minor-league manager with the Yankees at the beginning of this century for three seasons. Bench coaches are often great candidates, and with Rocco Baldelli thriving in Minnesota, some credit needs to be given to Shelton, who certainly helped the first-time manager get adjusted to the organization. Still, there are some potential red flags for the new Pirates manager- as the Rays hitting coach, the team’s plate discipline and overall numbers declined, and it wasn’t until after he left that the team’s offense improved. Still, as long as he puts the right staff in play, he certainly seems fit for this job- it’s not like the Pirates are expected to be a contender anytime soon, anyways.

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