Introducing the new American League Managers
As a lifelong fan of Major League Baseball (MLB), I am eagerly looking forward to the beginning of the 2020 season regardless of what the format is, and whether or not fans will be in attendance. However, until baseball gains clearance from health officials to begin its season, there are numerous issues that must be resolved between the MLB owners and the Player’s Association (MLBPA). As ESPN columnist Jeff Passan has highlighted, there are several complex reasons why the status of the 2020 season is uncertain. While unfortunate, there is precedent for the league cancelling games over the past five decades, and the 1994 World Series was no exception due to labor disputes between MLB and the MLBPA. Nevertheless, I believe that MLB owners and players will reach a deal because there is simply too much money at stake for both sides to lose due to a disagreement of wages. For now, the offseason is still here and there was still plenty of news that occurred. Ten managerial changes occurred which, according to Bill Felber, a retired newspaper editor and author of seven books, is the most since 2003. In this article I will focus on the four hires made by American League teams in the offseason – the Houston Astros, Boston Red Sox, Kansas City Royals, and Los Angeles Angels. Two of the changes were made in the midst of the sign-stealing scandal involving the Houston Astros, one was made to return winning baseball across a state, and one was made with the expectation that three times can be a charm with its new manager.
Dusty Baker, who brings 22 years of managerial experience, has received three NL Manager of the Year Awards, and managed the San Francisco Giants to the 2002 World Series. However, he is no stranger to bringing out the best in players while managing controversy in a clubhouse. At the end of the 2015 season, Washington Nationals’ teammates Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper, the latter of whom widely considered the face-of-the-franchise at the time, engaged in a fight late in a game which led to both being suspended. On top of that, Harper had previously been reprimanded for not running out a ground ball, and for returning to the field after being ejected from a game. Subsequently, the Nationals hired Baker in the offseason, and he immediately brought stability en route to division championships in 2016 and 2017, and to his credit without major controversy. Similarly, after taking the past two seasons off, Baker was hired by the Astros to help guide the team following an offseason surrounded by the sign-stealing scandal. Baker will have plenty of talent composed of core players from the 2017 champions on offense led by Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and George Springer, but will have to manage a pitching staff that lost key starters Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley, and reliever Will Harris in free agency. Baker won the 1981 World Series as a player for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he will attempt to win his first as a manager with the World Series runner-up from 2019. Baker only has a one-year contract however, and he only spent two seasons with the Nationals, so, while expectations will be exponentially high, this pairing can be mutually beneficial as both sides seek to maximize the chances of winning this year’s Fall Classic.
Boston Red Sox
Speaking of managerial positions marred by controversy, Alex Cora and the Boston Red Sox mutually parted ways in January just one year after winning the 2018 World Series due to both his role in the Astros scandal in 2017, and the investigation into the Red Sox electronic sign-stealing scandal in 2018. Subsequently, the Red Sox promoted bench coach Ron Roenicke to interim manager in February before naming him the full-time manager following the 2018 investigation. Since 1992, Roenicke has coached in various positions at both the Major League and minor league levels, including five seasons in the Dodgers’ farm system in the ‘90’s. He previously managed the Milwaukee Brewers from 2011-2015 where, in 2011, he led the team to a franchise-record 96 wins, a division championship, and an NLCS appearance where they lost to the eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. However, the Brewers failed to reach the postseason again during his tenure, and Roenicke only held his position until the first month of the 2015 season. He will take over a Red Sox team that missed the postseason last year, and then traded stars Mookie Betts and David Price in the offseason for various reasons as highlighted by Staff Writer Joon Lee. Despite the trade, the Red Sox will continue to rely on their starting lineup led by Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, and Jackie Bradley, Jr., while being led by ace-starting pitcher Chris Sale; all of whom won the 2018 World Series with the Red Sox. Roenicke has two World Series championships as coaches for the Angels in 2002, and the Red Sox in 2018 along with being a coach on the Dodgers that finished runner-up to the Astros in the 2017 World Series. His recent experience around clubs with winning cultures meshes with the winning expectations of the Red Sox organization on a yearly basis.
Kansas City Royals
Mike Matheny traveled west on Interstate 70 for his next managerial position where he was hired by the Kansas City Royals in October. After playing in the MLB for 13 seasons, Matheny served as an advisor for the St. Louis Cardinals from 2008-2011 before taking over as manager for Tony La Russa who retired after winning the 2011 World Series. Matheny led the Cardinals to the postseason in each of his first four seasons, including NLCS appearances in 2012 and 2014, and the 2013 World Series. Matheny, who had a winning record in each season with the Cardinals, will replace a World Series-winning manager for the second time, taking over for the recently retired-Ned Yost who guided the Royals to World Series appearances in 2014 and 2015, losing in seven games in 2014, but winning in five games in 2015. Despite the recent success, these have been the Royals’ only playoff appearances since defeating its cross-state rival Cardinals in the 1985 World Series. Unlike his previous stop where he began his managerial career with the reigning champions, Matheny will begin his Royals tenure with a team that has lost more than 100 games in each of the past two seasons. Despite this stark contrast between situations, he will have a solid core of players to work with including Whit Merrifield, Adalberto Mondesi, Salvador Perez, and Jorge Soler – the latter three of whom have won a World Series; Mondesi and Perez in 2015 with the Royals, and Soler in 2016 with the Chicago Cubs. However, for reasons that were highlighted by Vahe Gregorian, sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, Matheny will need to apply lessons that he has learned through self-evaluation since leaving the Cardinals in order to return winning baseball to the other side of the Show-Me State.
Los Angeles Angels
Joe Maddon was hired by the Los Angeles Angels to be the next manager shortly after he and the Cubs agreed to part ways in October. As a three-time Manager of the Year, Maddon has brought success to each team that he has been to. After winning the World Series as a bench coach for the Angels in 2002, Maddon led the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 to both its first playoff and World Series appearance in franchise history. After guiding the team to three more playoff appearances during his tenure, he then managed the Chicago Cubs to four playoff appearances in five seasons, most notably winning the 2016 World Series to end the team’s 108-year championship drought. This season Maddon will attempt to be the third manager in MLB history to lead three different teams to the World Series, and the fifth to win it with multiple teams. Maddon will have the luxury of deploying Mike Trout, who is arguably the best player in the league. Among his accolades since 2012, his first full season in the MLB, Trout has been voted the AL Most Valuable Player three times, and has not finished lower than fourth in voting. The clubhouse will also have veteran leadership from Albert Pujols, a two-time World Series champion with the Cardinals, who has been with the Angels since 2012, and has the sixth-most homeruns in MLB history. Maddon will also manage stud two-way player, Shohei Ohtani, who had a successful career in the Pacific League of Nippon Professional Baseball of Japan, but who has already undergone two major surgeries since joining the Angels in 2017. Going into this season, Maddon will be tasked with turning around the fortunes of a franchise for the third time as the Angels organization has both missed the postseason and finished under .500 in each season since 2014.