The one remaining MLB managerial vacancy has just been filled.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have decided to appoint former outfielder Dave Roberts as their new manager, succeeding Don Mattingly who has changed coasts to take over in Miami.
The news has been warmly welcomed by those who know Roberts based on his good nature and he’s got a great opportunity to take on a team built to win.
However, it is curious that a team in that position should hire someone with no managerial experience.
Roberts does have MLB playing experience, of course, and recently served as bench coach to Bud Black in San Diego. That all counts for something, but doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll make the right strategic calls during games, nor does the generally positive quality of being an all-round nice guy necessarily mean he’s the right person to keep this roster of players on the right path.
I know I’ve banged this particular drum several times recently, yet I do struggle to understand the seemingly haphazard way in which MLB teams appoint managers and coaches.
Maybe they really aren’t that important and the difference between one potential candidate or another doesn’t justify getting worked up about it? Certainly it’s the quality of available (i.e. non-injured) players that is the most important factor in a team’s potential in a given season. A manager can only do so much with strategy and pep talks.
Yet if you’re the Dodgers, with the highest payroll in MLB and a host of experienced players on board, why wouldn’t you want the best manager you could get? If he adds 5% above the other candidates, that might be the 5% that makes all the difference.
An MLB manager position is an elite role. The Dodgers clearly were preparing to part ways with Mattingly for a while and in that situation a company would normally have a clear vision on what qualities they were looking for in a replacement and who was currently out there that could fulfil that brief. Normally that would mean sounding out potential interest and then head-hunting the person you want to appoint.
Instead, the Dodgers’ search involved interviewing a wide range of candidates and then whittling them down.
In the news article linked to above, MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick stated that Roberts was “initially considered a long shot until dazzling management in his interview”. Well done to Roberts for earning his new role, but “dazzling” in an interview is very different to making the right relief pitching call in a tight game or being able to get into the head of a talented young player like Yasiel Puig.
If this all seems overly negative then I’ll happily concede that every great managerial career starts with a team taking a chance and giving that person their first opportunity. Roberts may prove to be an inspired appointment, and I’ll wish him the best of luck, but there’s reason to question whether pairing a man who has never been a manager before with a team built to win a World Series is the wisest decision.