Baseball’s next generation of managers
The trend for new managerial hires in Major League Baseball has been set. Previous experience is not required. What is sought after these days are bright, well-respected former players who can not only communicate well with players, but also respect and work well with a front office. In today’s game the front office is involved more than ever with the field manager, and — as highlighted with the Angels this season — mutual respect and a fluid working relationship is incredibly important.
There is also the dynamic of understanding today’s player. Things change generation to generation and what may have worked 15-20 years ago does not necessarily work today. Because of this, managers, like executives, are trending younger.
Teams have not been afraid to stray from the old mentality of managerial field experience as a pre-requisite to a big-league job. Mike Matheny, Robin Ventura, Walt Weiss, Craig Counsell and Brad Ausmus are all recent examples of new-hire managers taking over teams with no previous experience.
As many as eight teams could be looking for managers this offseason. Here’s a list of names you’ll be hearing this winter that fit the new mold:
Todd Greene: There are certain guys you play with over the course of your career who immediately profile as managers. Brad Ausmus and Eric Wedge were two of those teammates for me. Both went on to lead big-league clubs. Todd Greene is likely the next. The 44-year-old Greene spent 11 seasons in the majors playing the most common position among managers: catcher. During his playing career, Greene played under some of the game’s most respected managers — Joe Torre, Joe Maddon, Buck Showalter, Jim Fregosi and Clint Hurdle among them. He also cites time with bench coach Don Zimmer in New York and Tampa as some of his most influential.
Greene has served in a variety of roles since retiring, including quality assurance coach (Rays) and professional scout (Mariners). He’s been with the Diamondbacks for the past five seasons, where currently serves as a major-league scout and special assistant to general manager Dave Stewart.
With more than two decades in the game in a variety of roles, Greene has experienced every type of team, from rebuilding in Colorado to being on a Yankees team that lost a Game 7 in the 2001 World Series. He’s at an ideal age, 44, not too removed from his playing days so he can still relate to players while having experienced all facets of the game. He’s a fierce competitor who hates to lose. Philadelphia could be a nice fit.
Alex Cora: The 39-year-old Cora spent 14 seasons in the majors as a utility infielder. Four of those seasons his team made the playoffs, including a World Series ring with Boston in 2007.
Cora is a strong communicator, which has been on display in his work for ESPN. Former teammates and coaches universally respect him. He spent time on six different teams over those 14 big-league seasons under nine different managers. There is great value in playing the game under a variety of different managers and coaches when developing a mind to potentially manage one day. You have the advantage of learning under varying styles and developing your own style from the group.
Alex told me Davey Johnson was one of those managers he considers an influence. The big lessons came in watching Johnson be patient with the development of young players like Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa in Washington while handling the delicacy of aging veterans. He also cites Jim Tracy as a mentor he watched win while utilizing a full roster and executing the platoon advantage to perfection.
Cora managed in the Puerto Rican winter league this past year and will do so again. Anyone who knows the winter ball culture knows that the pressure to win each and every game is like no other.
Alex played his college baseball at the University of Miami. If the Marlins job opens up he could be the perfect fit.
Gabe Kapler: Kapler currently serves as the Los Angeles Dodgers director of player development, his first year in the position. He spent 12 seasons in the big leagues after being selected in the 57th round of the 1995 amateur draft, a round that doesn’t exist anymore. Work ethic and determination to beat the odds to succeed was something Gabe never lacked. I witnessed this first hand as a teammate in Detroit and then again as a broadcasting partner at FOX.
In 2007, Kapler took a year off from playing to manage the Class-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox before resuming his career in 2008. He was a part of the 2004 World Series championship team in Boston. Some notable managers he has played under include Terry Francona, Joe Maddon and Clint Hurdle.
Kapler’s affection for advanced metrics is well known. Combine that with his natural ability to lead and he’s an ideal candidate in today’s version of Major League Baseball. With Gabe it’s not a matter of “if” he will manage a big-league team, it’s a matter of “when.”
Gabe may want to stay in his current role with the Dodgers for now, but if reports are accurate and the Dodgers decide to let current manager Don Mattingly leave for Miami, Kapler could slide in to the lead role in Los Angeles without missing a step.
The ideal situation for him would be something similar to what AJ Hinch walked into with Houston this year: An analytic-heavy organization that is close to winning.
Raul Ibanez: Before I ever met or worked with Raul here at FOX, he always profiled as a big-league coach or manager. He is universally well-respected in baseball and had the kind of big-league career that favors managerial success.
Ibanez played 19 seasons with five different organizations. He played under successful managers like Lou Pinella, Charlie Manuel, Joe Girardi and Mike Scioscia. He never won a ring but played in 44 postseason games in 10 different postseason series.
Ibanez was raised in Miami and is bilingual. He’s just 43-years old and last played in 2014. He’s connected to the current generation as much as anyone. His name surfaced as a finalist in Tampa Bay last year with the job ultimately going to Kevin Cash. Seattle could be a fit if the team makes a move. Ibanez spent 11 seasons with the Mariners and still resides in the area.
Joe McEwing: “Super Joe” played nine seasons in the major leagues with four different clubs and has been coaching or managing since 2008. Currently he serves as the third base coach for the White Sox, his fourth year in the role.
McEwing is 42-years-old and does have managerial experience. He managed for three seasons in the White Sox system and was twice named manger of the year in the Carolina League.
McEwing was a utility player over the course of his career and played seven defensive positions (no catcher or pitcher). Experiencing the game as a player from a variety of angles is advantageous for McEwing.
He played under Tony LaRussa, Bobby Valentine and Phil Garner, among others. If the White Sox make a change, McEwing could be the guy to make the transition seamless.
Managers are scrutinized more than ever in baseball these days. The turnover rate is high as owners and fans have little patience for anything less than the win now mentality. This group will likely be among others that could get their chance.