April 23, 2024

Five Points to Ponder on the Guardians Managerial Situation

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The first thing is first with the Guardians off-season. Terry Francona’s departure from Cleveland leaves shoes the size of minivans that need to be filled.

Given a little bit of time to dwell on the Guardians’ situation, here are six points to ponder as they look to hire their next skipper.

  • The Guardians are looking for a manager because Francona felt like he couldn’t physically do the job anymore. The team didn’t accomplish anything near what they wanted to in 2023, but that doesn’t appear to be the fault of the man in charge or his coaching staff. If anything, the outpouring of love and appreciation from fans, the front office and the players at Francona’s departure suggests that the team’s culture is strong. A big part of me wonders if it might be more trouble than it is worth to mess with that culture. Additionally, Carl Willis has been a pitching coach for five different Cy Young Award winners in his career. A new manager is likely going to want their own pitching coach. DeMarlo Hale gained experience as a manager in Francona’s absence for multiple health issues over the last few years. Why not just promote Hale from within and keep the ship running?
  • Alas, about a week or so ago the Guardians stated they had a list of about forty-five candidates that they would consider for the job. We know that Sandy Alomar Jr. and Mike Sarbaugh from the current staff can be crossed off that list. They’ve both directly stated they are not interested (but the Guardians intend to retain Alomar in some role). We also know that highly sought-after Texas Rangers Associate Manager Will Venable can also be removed. He felt like a possible front-runner as a friend and former teammate of Guardians’ General Manager Mike Chernoff when they both played in college at Princeton. Venable has stated he is happy in his current role and isn’t looking to leave the Rangers for a managing job. Current Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash, who has a history in Cleveland, also has shot down the idea of jumping ship and taking the job.
  • My perception is that Francona was one of a certain archetype that has shrunk over the years. As a trusted elder statesman he was afforded a lot of license on traditional manager decisions: the lineup card, bullpen decisions, etc. It has become more and more in vogue to hire younger managers who instead work to execute decisions that come to be based on consensus between the coaching staff, front office, player development, trainers, and so on. Aaron Boone, for example, takes a lot of heat from Yankees fans (fairly or unfairly) for being “just a mouthpiece for the front office”. That perception is the opposite extreme and not necessarily true, but I wonder if the Guardians are going to pivot toward this style of decision-making.
  • With that in mind and because I am looking at this from outside of the organization, I find it kind of hard to have a strong opinion on any managerial candidates outside of a desire to stick with the status quo and not upset the apple cart. So much of a manager’s job in today’s game is stuff that isn’t easily seen. It’s about the manager being a conduit between the players and the front office. It’s less about who the manager hit seventh or brought in to pitch the seventh since those decisions are more likely to be shared. It’s more about motivating and managing personalities. Ironically, this also was a strength of Francona’s. But now that he is gone, we have no way to really perceive how a new manager will fare in the role until they actually start doing it.
  • Interestingly, the managers that have been successful this post-season happen to more fit Francona’s archetype. Dusty Baker in Houston and Bruce Bochy in Texas are probably the closest comparisons to what Francona had been for Cleveland. Both are elder statesmen of the game who are highly respected and carry a lot of decision-making weight in their organizations. Phillies manager Rob Thomson is a long-time baseball man as well. While his reputation doesn’t carry the same weight as Baker or Bochy, he has been coaching professional baseball since 1988. Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo has also been coaching and managing for over 20 years, getting his first managing job in the minors in 2002. My main point is that it’s gotten fairly popular to hire younger former players as managers: Boone, Rocco Baldelli, Mark Kotsay, David Ross, Skip Schumaker, etc. But it’s not these younger turn-key guys that are finding a lot of success. Not exactly a sparkling track record.

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