Big market teams are making big time changes
Three of the eight MLB teams that advanced as the Division Series have decided to replace their managers. Another, which happens to be the defending world champion, has axed most of its coaching staff. This seems odd.
Let’s address these in ascending order of surprise. The Red Sox have added elite pitching to their roster on a regular basis over the past few years with little to show for it. Despite consecutive division titles, they have won one playoff game since their 2013 World Series title. Several of their young stars regressed this year, and a major leadership void manifested itself after the retirement of David Ortiz. Throw in an unseemly scandal over stealing signs from the Yankees, one in which the real scandal is not the act itself but the ineptitude of getting caught, and John Farrell probably needed a deep postseason run to save his job.
In Washington, the Nationals discovered the shocking reality that their manager is indeed Dusty Baker. Baker has taken nine different teams to the postseason and has lost in the division round seven of those times, including the last five. There’s nothing to indicate that Baker is any worse of a manager in the postseason; it could be a random occurrence, or maybe his teams overachieve in the regular season. He has never been a masterful tactician, but his players love him and play hard for him. He was 66 when the Nationals hired him two years ago. If they were expecting him to be radically evolved from the guy who managed the Reds, Cubs, and Giants, they were badly misreading human nature. With Bryce Harper a free agent after next season, the front office may have decided that their window is closing and are not willing to trust the last shot to someone with Baker’s track record. All in all, this looks like a panic move by a front office that may simply still be getting paid back by karma for sitting Stephen Strasburg in the 2012 playoffs.
I guess it’s never a big surprise when the Yankees fire a manager. They are still run by a Steinbrenner, after all. But, thanks to the Internet, you can go back to March and look up how many experts picked the Yankees to make the playoffs. Joe Girardi has the charisma of a wet noodle, but he helped Aaron Judge find his way out of a historic second-half slump and nursed a rotation full of question marks to the second-best starter ERA in the American League. It’s hard to say what Girardi did that was unforgivable, aside from not winning Game Seven of the ALCS. Would they have fired him if he’d won that game? I’m very intrigued to see who gets this job.
I still haven’t seen a reasonable explanation of why the Cubs let go of most of their coaching staff. Of course, there are the clichés about needing to hear new voices, but more than anything else this feels like the Cubs expected their 2016 magic to just keep happening. There’s a reason dynasties don’t happen often; they’re freakin’ hard! The last MLB dynasty, the 90s Yankees, took a step back in their second season, then plugged some holes in the roster and won three straight World Series. That may be the path the Cubs take, but they need to face the reality that they haven’t built a championship rotation. They got lucky by pulling Jake Arrieta off the scrap heap, and Jon Lester was a good signing, but now Arrieta is ready to get paid, Lester is nearing the end of his prime, and John Lackey is just plain old. That leaves Jose Quintana and Kyle Hendricks, plus a handful of guys who are…guys. In other words, nobody that I want to throw against Clayton Kershaw or Max Scherzer in a playoff series.
The Cubs have enough money to sign pretty much anyone, and enough prospects to do a Chris Sale kind of trade if someone becomes available. Coaching staffs turn over all the time, especially on good teams because their coaches become managers, and there have only been a few coaches over the years who were actually missed when they left. Chances are these moves will have little impact, and the Cubs are likely to be a playoff team next year regardless of who is waving runners around third base. But the Cubs are trading a staff who proved that they could get this core group of players to the promised land for folks who might do better, or might not. Joe Maddon comes from a culture in Tampa Bay that values patience and stability. This isn’t that.