|Friday, October 4
Rating the best ... and worst managerial openings
By Rob Neyer
This winter, there are plenty of manager jobs available ... which is good, because there are plenty of manager candidates available. Wally Backman, Willie Randolph, Buck Showalter, Ken Macha, Chris Chambliss, Jim Fregosi, Buddy Bell, Alan Trammell, Chris Chambliss, and a host of other, less-famous names have been mentioned in recent days as strong candidates.
Hey, did I mention Buddy Bell? Yes, but only because somebody else did first.
Anyway, let's assume for a moment that you've been offered all six of the available jobs. Which one do you take? Contract considerations aside, and assuming of course that winning is your primary goal, there are four obvious factors you'd want to analyze before accepting one of the jobs. I call them "the four M's," and they are:
In my profession, it's customary to assign equal values to qualities of unequal importance, and then arriving at a single number to summarize the results, and I believe that custom allows me to devise just such an obviously-flawed rating system. I'll examine each of the six teams looking for a manager, and assign each M a score from 1 to 10. Since there are four M's, a perfect score would be 40.
New York Mets
Minor-league talent: In shortstop Jose Reyes, pitcher Aaron Heilman, third baseman David Wright, and catcher Justin Huber, the Mets boast four of the top prospects in the minors. Unfortunately for the next Mets manager, none of those prospects are likely to make a significant contribution at the major-league level until 2004, at the very earliest. On the other hand, those four prospects could make for some great trade bait if GM Steve Phillips wants to trade for somebody who can help in 2003. Score: 7
Management: Many of my colleagues have called for Phillips' head, and I'm not so sure that he deserves to keep it. That said, wasn't it less than a year ago that Phillips was being hailed as a genius, by many of those same colleagues, for remaking the Mets lineup? Another positive is that the Mets finally have just one owner, after years of struggles between co-owners Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon. With Doubleday out of the way, it should be easier to get things done in Flushing. Score: 6
Money: No, the Mets don't have their own TV network (MES?) yet. And yes, they're still stuck playing their home games in that ancient creation of Robert Moses, where the decks seem to outnumber the luxury suites. But they still play in New York, and you know what that means. Score: 9
Total Score: 28
Minor-league talent: The Rangers just might have the best prospect in the game, third baseman Mark Teixeira. This season, playing in Class A and Double-A, Teixeira hit batted .318 and hit 19 home runs in 321 at-bats. Once you get past Teixeira, though, the Rangers are pretty thin, with only a couple of noteworthy prospects. So the following score is based almost entirely on Teixeira, and thus might be too generous. Score: 5
Management: John Hart's certainly made some missteps since taking over as GM a year ago, but also has done some good things. And you have to take his sterling record with the Indians into account, too. Owner Tom Hicks has made some missteps, too, but there's never any doubt about who's in charge. Score: 6
Money: Hicks has never been shy about spending it. Score: 8
Total Score: 25
Minor-league talent: Nothing special. First baseman Hee Seop Choi is knocking at the door, and the Cubs have a few mid-level prospects. Score: 5
Management: Does anybody know what's going on here? The Cubs have spent a lot of money since 1998 without much to show for it, and there's a fair amount of evidence that being owned by a faceless corporation is one of the main ingredients in the recipe for high-priced failure. On the other hand, management was smart enough to fire Don Baylor and Bruce Kimm ... Score: 4
Money: In case you haven't heard, the Cubs are a cash cow, mostly because of WGN and the large local market, but also because of ancient Wrigley Field, the world's largest beer garden. Score: 7
Total Score: 23
Minor-league talent: The Tigers have a few decent prospects, but they don't have anybody in the minors who looks like a future star. Score: 3
Management: General manager Dave Dombrowski has done good things in Montreal and Miami. Owner Mike Illitch has presided over a team that won the NHL's Stanley Cup. Score: 7
Money: Detroit is a good-sized market, Comerica Park is just about everything that it could be, the fans will show up if the team ever wins again, and Illitch can afford to take losses for a few years. Score: 6
Total Score: 18
Minor-league talent: As mentioned in this space last week, the Brewers don't have any exciting prospects in the minors. That's not to say they're bereft of talent -- at least four or five other organizations are in worse shape -- but the next manager can't expect much help immediately.Score: 3
Management: Until he blew all that money on injury-prone veterans, new general manager Doug Melvin did a fine job in Texas. But who's he going to report to? When the owner of the franchise is supposedly barred from having anything to do with the franchise, you're in trouble. I will give one extra point here, because both Melvin and new team president Ulice Payne both say that now-departed Jerry Royster should have let Hernandez play down the stretch. Score: 4
Money: To this point, the Brewers have been more than happy to simply take in the profits and tuck them away, perhaps to ensure the future enrichment of Cadillac Bud's progeny. Miller Park was supposed to help, of course, but Brewers fans have discovered what fans in Pittsburgh have discovered: a new ballpark is not panacea for a franchise's ills. Score: 3
Total Score: 13
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Minor-league talent: The Devil Rays do have a pair of outstanding prospects in pitcher Dewon Brazelton and slugger Rocco Baldelli. But after those guys, the cupboard is very close to bare. Score: 3
Management: I don't profess to know who's responsible for this mess. I do know it's not recently-fired manager Hal McRae. But I don't have any idea whether more of the blame goes to general manager Chuck LaMar or owner Vince Naimoli. The proof's in the pudding, though. Whoever's running this circus doesn't know an elephant from a dancing bear. Score: 1
Money: Let's see ... lousy ballpark, lousy attendance, lousy TV deal ... Score: 1
Total Score: 7
Conclusions? Nothing but what you'd expect. The Mets' next manager will have a solid shot at immediate success, and so that's almost certainly the best job available. There are also reasons to be optimistic about the Cubs and the Rangers, but anybody signing on with the Tigers, Brewers, or Devil Rays is likely to be fired before he guides his team to a winning record.
There's another factor here ... competition. While it's true that the next Cubs skipper gets to manage Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, it's also true that he'll have to manage in a division that contains the Cardinals and the Astros. Whoever takes over in Texas faces a similar situation. But again, the Mets are in a good position. With 1) the Braves soon losing Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine (whether to free agency or old age), 2) the Phillies losing Scott Rolen and still a season away from moving into their new home, and 3) the Marlins and Expos both suffering from being owned (either recently or currently) by Jeffrey Loria, there's a gaping maw of opportunity here. And so this writer won't be at all shocked if the next Mets manager drives his club to a division title in his very first season.
Notes on Methodology: I came up with ratings for the other 24 teams, too, and the limitations of this tool can be seen in my total scores for the Angels and Yankees.
They came out nearly even, at 29 points for the Yankees and 27 for the Angels.
Why? Because while I rated the Yankees slightly superior in major-league talent, and superior in management and money, they take a huge hit in minor-league talent, because they don't have any (their top prospect is Drew Henson, and he's a big question mark). But does this mean the Angels are going to win nearly as many games than the Yankees over the next few years? Probably not. Those big edges the Yanks have in management and money should trump their deficiencies in minor-league talent.
I was generally conservative when assigning scores to the various categories. I gave out only three 10's (Cleveland's minor-league talent, the Yankees' money, and Oakland's management) and five 1's (the Orioles', Yankees', and Cardinals' minor-league talent, and the Devil Rays' management and money).
Looking at all of the teams, nobody came close to a perfect 40. Due to the conservative nature of my scoring, however, a number of teams came out with similar scores. The Giants lead the way with 30 points, but eight other teams score at 26 or higher. Five of those eight teams are currently playing postseason games.
The Cleveland Indians, who score at 27 due largely to their huge number of solid minor-league prospects. It might take another year for everything to come together, but the Indians are my early favorites in the Central for 2004.
The Boston Red Sox, who you know about.
And the Mets, who at 28 are tied with the Yankees for second place.
The Devil Rays are at the very bottom of the rankings, just a shade worse than the Royals (9 points). Those two are the only teams that didn't reach double digits in the system.