As speculated, Don Mattingly will apparently become the 15th manager in Miami Marlins history -- and seventh in seven seasons, which doesn't even count Brandon Hyde, who managed the team for one game in 2011.
Mattingly obviously enters a vastly different situation than the job he had with the Los Angeles Dodgers: The Marlins are coming off a 71-91 season, their sixth consecutive sub-.500 campaign; they haven't made the playoffs since 2003, which gives them the second-longest playoff drought in the majors, ahead of only the Seattle Mariners; he goes from the team with the largest payroll in 2015 to the one with the smallest; from the organization that led the majors in attendance to one that ranked 28th; from Magic Johnson to Marlins Man.
Is Mattingly the right fit for the Marlins?
Bill James just wrote this recently over at BillJamesonline.com: "Given my druthers, I would much rather hire a major league manager with no previous experience, rather than a manager with previous experience. I was very much influenced by one of the best pieces of sports journalism I have ever seen, which appeared in The Sporting News about 1973, which was a long interview with Carroll Rosenbloom on the subject of how he hired a head coach. Rosenbloom hired three head coaches in his life, who were Weeb Ewbank, Don Shula and Chuck Knox. Anyway, Rosenbloom said that he wouldn't even talk to anybody who had tried and failed somewhere else, because if a guy had failed somewhere else -- he didn't care where he had failed or why -- there were lots of good candidates who hadn't had an opportunity yet. I think that MOST managers are most successful in their first major league assignment, although there are certainly many exceptions to that rule."
Yes, there are many exceptions. Casey Stengel had eight losing seasons out of nine with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves before the Yankees hired him. Terry Francona managed the Phillies for four seasons and finished under .500 all four seasons; he won two World Series with the Red Sox. Ned Yost is now two wins away from a World Series title, after not making the playoffs in six seasons with the Brewers (they infamously fired him in 2008 with two weeks left in the season when they were in first place).
But did Mattingly fail with the Dodgers? He managed five seasons and finished over .500 all five seasons. They made the playoffs the past three seasons. Only the Dodgers and Cardinals have won at least 90 games each of those three years. So, failure? No, that seems harsh, even if he's not exactly Bruce Bochy in the postseason. But is that simply because Clayton Kershaw isn't Madison Bumgarner in the postseason?
Buster Olney wrote the other day how the players respected Mattingly, but also how the manager appeared beaten-down in L.A. at the end: "Mattingly's advantage, even as a newbie manager, was that he was a superstar when he played, and he was well-liked by Dodgers players for his steady nature. They saw that by the time L.A. was knocked out in the playoffs, he was worn down by the interaction with the front office, which was by all accounts something akin to a proctologic exam: respectful, as dignified as possible under the circumstances and thorough."
Mattingly's joy appeared to be missing by October, when he explained his lineup and bullpen decisions to the media in shorthand: Today, this is what gives us the best chance to win. For someone who has always loved to talk baseball, he seemed weary delivering those words, and you would suspect he had similar conversations with players when he was left to answer for the staggering number of roster, rotation and lineup changes that contributed to the general cynicism that was pervasive in the Dodgers' clubhouse.
Aside from that, however, there's no doubt that Dodgers fans criticized many of Mattingly's strategic moves and how the team itself, especially when Yasiel Puig was injured, played a certain lifeless brand of baseball. But is that Mattingly's fault or the front office's collection of a $300 million roster that didn't necessarily fit perfectly together? When Kershaw and Zack Greinke didn't start, the team was also just one game over .500 each of the past two seasons. It adds up to a mixed review of Mattingly's performance, even with the three consecutive playoff appearances.
All that said, I think this could be a good fit, and experience certainly shouldn't be dismissed. With the Marlins, Mattingly will inherit a young club that features Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Fernandez, Christian Yelich, Dee Gordon, a good defensive shortstop in Adeiny Hechavarria, and a whole bunch of young guys and question marks. Can Marcell Ozuna rebound to his 2014 form? Is Justin Bour the real thing at first base? Can catcher J.T. Realmuto build upon a solid rookie season? Most importantly, who lines up alongside Fernandez in the rotation?
Mattingly never seemed completely ready to trust his young players in L.A. -- pinch hitting Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley at the end of Game 5 of the Division Series, for example -- but with the Marlins he'll have to run them out there to sink or swim, like Ned Yost did with the Royals. Maybe the less-pressured environment will bring a more relaxed Donnie Baseball to the dugout as well.
You know, this team is sort of in the same place the Royals were a couple years ago. The team is young, but they're young veterans: Stanton, Yelich, Gordon, Ozuna and Hechevarria have years of experience now, and are similar in age and talent to where the Eric Hosmer/Alex Gordon/Mike Moustakas/Alcides Escobar/Lorenzo Cain group was in 2013. The Royals managed to sort of duct-tape together their rotations the past couple of seasons, and that's what the Marlins will have to figure out. (Coming up with their version of Wade Davis would be nice as well; maybe Carter Capps if he stays healthy.)
Add up it up, and it wouldn't shock me if Mattingly actually becomes the new Ned Yost, and the Marlins' talent does mature and come together.