The Marlins and Red Sox each made managerial splashes last offseason, bringing in controversial skippers in an attempt to change team culture. The Red Sox, fresh off of their historic 2011 collapse, replaced Terry Francona with Bobby Valentine, a supposed strategic genius who isn’t exactly known for warm and fuzzy relationships. The Marlins, meanwhile, traded two somewhat substantial prospects to pry Ozzie Guillen away from the White Sox.
Both Valentine and Guillen were fired after one season, as the Red Sox and Marlins underperformed and each manager seemed to cause more drama than contribute to team victories.
Yet, despite seeing through Guillen how risky it is to actually give up non-monetary value to acquire a manager, and seeing through Valentine how even those with strong resumes can struggle in the position, the Red Sox just filled their managerial void by ostensibly trading Mike Aviles for John Farrell.
Farrell, the former Red Sox coach who landed the Blue Jays managerial spot a few years back, was made available because the Jays weren’t convinced that he was worth a contract extension. Some in Toronto questioned his ability to handle a clubhouse, and while injuries have ravaged his teams, they haven’t shown much improvement.
Trades for managers are rare, and something of a novelty, but the current managerial landscape is changing. In what feels like a new climate, trading prospects for Ozzie Guillen — a proven manager in the sense that he won a World Series — was questionable on the Marlins part, though it was evident what they were trying to accomplish. It’s much tougher to understand the logic behind trading a solid defensive shortstop for Farrell.
Though it wasn’t as cut-and-dried as some trades are, the Red Sox sent Aviles to the Blue Jays as compensation for their allowing Farrell to manage elsewhere next season. Farrell spent four years as Boston’s pitching coach in the Francona era, and was long considered his heir apparent. However, when it seemed like Francona would remain the Red Sox manager for some time, Farrell pursued opportunities elsewhere. The Red Sox tried to hire him last year, but scoffed at the Blue Jays asking price.
Farrell is considered a safe choice. He knows the organization and worked with a few of the players left over from his previous stay. However, the Red Sox have experienced considerable turnover from when he took the Toronto job, so it isn’t as if he is taking over a team full of players he previously coached. Farrell is a safe candidate in terms of not having a repeat of the turmoil experienced this season, but he wasn’t the only candidate worth pursuing. He certainly wasn’t the slam-dunk, has-to-be-him choice to justify trading an actual major league player.
The Red Sox interviewed former catcher Brad Ausmus, and were seriously considering him for the position. Ausmus retired not too long ago and would have been another recent retiree to take over the managerial helm without much, or any, experience elsewhere. Last offseason, the White Sox replaced Guillen with their former star third baseman Robin Ventura, and the Cardinals brought in Mike Matheny to replace Tony La Russa. Neither had any experience.
Both Ventura and Matheny were chosen over several other candidates who had either coached or managed at the major league level for quite some time. While these decisions were questioned, if team success is a major analog for managerial success, it’s hard to argue with either selection. Both were cerebral players destined for managerial duty, it was just the timing of their initial hiring that came as a surprise.
Perhaps Ventura’s and Matheny’s success opened the door for other recent retirees to garner legitimate consideration. In Colorado, the Rockies not only gave Jason Giambi — who isn’t even retired yet — an interview, but were blown away by his responses. Giambi was aggressive in campaigning for the Rockies position and has a serious shot of actually getting hired before he even retires from his playing career. The Red Sox were impressed by Ausmus, perhaps more than they were with Tim Wallach, Tony Pena and Demarlo Hale. And the apparent frontrunner for the Marlins gig is former backup backstop Mike Redmond, who has worked in the minors since hanging up his cleats.
The hiring and consideration of recent retirees has, for the first time in a long time, made the managerial offseason very interesting. While baseball lifers like Wallach, Pena, Hale, and even Ryne Sandberg have had trouble landing big league jobs, teams are becoming more open to hiring the Matheny’s, Ventura’s and Giambi’s of the world, regardless of their experience level.
Perhaps this stems from the lack of success of some long-time managers. Maybe it’s progressive-thinking organizations simply trying something new. Or even a simple realization that, if two managers plan on utilizing the exact same strategies, it makes more sense to hire the guy to whom the current roster can relate more easily.
Teams are beginning to think of the manager position differently. And it’s about time.