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Last night, the Los Angeles Dodgers rolled past the Atlanta Braves and asserted themselves as maybe the best baseball team in the world right now. Rewind to March and that sentence is entirely believable, as the Dodgers had just spent $200 million and looked every bit like a team that had a realistic shot in October. But rewind a little less far, to June, how about, and that statement-from-the-future is total lunacy. Those Dodgers were twelve games below .500 and in last place, looking like maybe the very worst big-money flop. Those Dodgers ended up being these Dodgers, and they came together just in time to save their manager, who was on the hottest of seats following his club’s cold start.
Managers are scapegoats when things are going poorly and heroes when things are going well. For proof of that, look no further than Don Mattingly, who was as good as fired before he was as good as extended. Truth is, managers make very little difference on the field, as it is their players who have all the athletic talent that decides whether a team is good or bad. Fans have access to plenty of analytical tools for sizing up players, but the same luxuries do not exist for skippers. All we know is that there are only thirty major league managerial jobs, and we should probably work with the assumption that there’s not a huge gap in wins added between the first and thirtieth-best manager in the game at any given time. Maybe you could argue that 2012 Bobby Valentine was a long ways behind the rest of the pack, and yeah, sure, I’ll give you that one. Maybe Joe Maddon‘s the best by a mile. Plausible. But not overly likely.
The Seattle Mariners are out an Eric Wedge, as rumors of the skipper’s impending dismissal were cut short by his sudden resignation. GM Jack Zduriencik would appear to be on a short leash, leading to much speculation that the M’s next manager would have to come from within the organization. But the team has spent the early part of the offseason insisting that Jack has their full trust and expressing confidence that the Seattle job will be an attractive one. It benefits the team, of course, to push this exact mumbo jumbo, but for the sake of this exercise let’s say they’re more right than we are. The job isn’t going to come down to just Robby Thompson, Darren Brown, and Ted Simmons. Who else is out there?
Dusty Baker is out there, as of this morning, having been fired by the Reds because his team lost to the Pirates in a one-game playoff. He was scapegoated, and there has been virtually no attempt at making the decision look any more complex than that. He isn’t the only non-Wedge 2013 manager to find himself out of a job, as the Cubs relieved Dale Sveum and the Phillies got rid of Charlie Manuel. Davey Johnson is retiring, so he’s out of a job too, but only because he felt like it. Sveum has already latched on with the Royals coaching staff, but Joe Girardi‘s contract is up and recent rumors have him set to manage not-the-Yankees going forward. Walt Weiss, Terry Collins, and Jim Leland join Girardi and Mattingly as managers in their contract years, though all three are expected to stay put.
Girardi, Baker, and Manuel are not representative of all the potentially available managers. Former Mariner Joey Cora has been linked to the Seattle job, as he is seemingly every time it becomes available. A’s bench coach Chip Hale and Rays bench coach Dave Martinez are names that come up seemingly every time a manager is fired, and it’s safe to say they’re still candidates, or “prospects,” if you will. This recent Greg Johns piece also names Matt Williams, Torey Lovullo, Sandy Alomar Jr., Tim Wallach, Bryan Price, Hensley Meulens, Rob Thomson, and Rich Dubee.
What we have here is a collection of names and the working assumption that none of them alone will turn the Mariners into much more than a .500 team at best. How do the Mariners determine a good fit? Beats me. Maybe they’re looking for a veteran who will give Raul Ibanez infinity plate appearances, so they lean towards Charlie Manuel types. Maybe they’re looking to get back into new-school analytics, making Dave Martinez and his type the pick. Or maybe they just want someone who will look good posing for pictures with the moose and making people think about the 1990’s, so they hire Joey Cora. Or maybe they really do keep it in house and the job is Darren Brown’s, as ESPN already seems to think it is. We have no way of knowing where this will go until it goes somewhere.
This offseason ought to be busy for the M’s, but before they can start putting a team together they’re going to want a manager. Look for that manager to be one of the names listed above, unless it’s someone else. Look for the new manager to make more of an impact in newspaper columns than on the field. And, perhaps most importantly, pick the candidate with the coolest name and root for him. Hensley Meulens for Mariners manager! Hen-sley Meu-lens. Cool name. He’ll do.