While the Kansas City Royals and their fans will be basking in the glory of winning the World Series for weeks to come, the rest of baseball has already turned its attention to taking the title themselves in 2016 or in the years ahead.
The Washington Nationals are one of the teams in the sooner-rather-than-later camp and they made a major change this week to recover from their disappointing 2015 season by appointing Dusty Baker as their new manager.
The role of a manager in MLB was brought into question this year due to the Miami Marlins sacking Mike Redmond and temporarily replacing him with Dan Jennings, hitherto their General Manager and possessing scarcely any baseball coaching or managing experience. To an extent you do have to set the Marlins to one side when it comes to MLB trends as their owner Jeffrey Loria is unconventional, to put it politely, yet we’ve seen numerous other examples in recent years of teams appointing ex-players with little managerial experience.
The Nationals did this with Matt Williams and despite winning the 2014 NL Manager of the Year award, the award voters giving him the credit for their 96 wins with clearly the best roster in the league that year, which backfired as he failed to mould a group of talented individuals into a team producing consistent performances.
As is so often the case with managerial changes, the Nationals have gone for an opposite approach this time in the experienced Baker. However, the process of his appointment looks confusing to say the least, with former San Diego Padres manager Bud Black having been pencilled in to the position only for the team to turn back to Baker when they failed to reach an agreement with Black.
According to CBS’s Jon Heyman, it all started to unravel when the Nationals decided on appointing Black and then acted upon this by offering him a one-year contract.
Teams are entitled to negotiate contracts how they wish, but that either showed disrespect to Black or was an indictment on how unimportant they feel a manager is (or perhaps it was even a bit of both).
The Nationals went into the 2015 season with a 25-man roster payroll of $162m, a mix of veterans and young players who – based on how things played out last season – needed a skilled leader to keep them together whilst also running the strategic side of the game to maximise their chances of winning games and getting back to the postseason. There are only 30 MLB manager positions at any one time, so there are many candidates out there and any team actually in a period of competing for titles should want to get the very best they can.
You don’t attract such quality with a one-year contract offer. What the Nationals were effectively saying was “we’re not sure if this is going to work so we’re just going to give you a one-year deal and then if it goes wrong we can ditch you for someone else”. That’s hardly confidence-inspiring, nor does it help a manager in dealing with a clubhouse that therefore knows he could soon be out of the door.
They’ve ended up with a good manager in Baker, not without his faults but with plenty going for him too, so it may turn out well in the end for them, but potentially more through luck than judgement.
The Marlins meanwhile splashed out on a four-year deal with ex-Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly. He was on a bit of a hiding to nothing with LA, getting it in the neck when his expensively created team didn’t go all the way and yet likely to not receive a great deal of credit if they had done so anyway. The Marlins have some good young talent so he has an interesting roster to work with, even if he may need to work around his owner’s unpredictable nature.
Mattingly’s replacement at the Dodgers is still to be decided. Plenty of names have been linked to the post and it’s a very attractive job even with the World Series or fail expectations to contend with. That seat on the MLB managerial merry-go-round should be filled soon.