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The Marlins' manager merry-go-round and Joe Girardi
The Marlins fired Joe Girardi on Oct. 3, 2006, and some time shortly after the announcement, Florida general manager Larry Beinfest received a phone call from Brian Cashman, who asked, essentially, "What happened?"
Yes, more than a year before Joe Torre departed as the Yankees' skipper, Cashman already had his eye on Torre's successor and was curious why Florida let Girardi go, despite leading a rookie-heavy club to a 78-84 record and, after the fact, winning NL Manager of the Year honors.
When Cashman subsequently hired Girardi, we all naturally looked back at Girardi's one-year run with the Marlins - the only sample size we had - and asked a simple question:
Who was more to blame for that divorce? The Marlins, or Girardi?
We have nearly three and a half years' worth of data regarding Girardi's time leading the Yankees, and almost four and a half years' time monitoring the Marlins since they let Girardi go. And with news that Edwin Rodriguez resigned as the Marlins' manager and will be replaced today by 80-year-old Jack McKeon, Girardi is looking like the winner in that debate.
We know Girardi's profile pretty well at this point: Pretty good at game management, not as much with people management. But ultimately, he's among the best at what he does, IMO, and keep in mind that it's still a pretty unique gig, even with George Steinbrenner gone.
I'm not sure that many of the game's great skippers, guys like Tony La Russa, Jim Leyland and Mike Scioscia, could handle the fan/media quantity/passion that comes with the Yankees job, despite the tradeoff that you get to play with the game's biggest payroll.
I think, furthermore, that he clearly has improved at many of the skills that cost him in Florida, most notably getting along with his bosses and with the media and trying to micro-manage everything from the Marlins' stadium's (whatever it was called at that point) between-innings entertainment to who drinks the coffee in the clubhouse.
On the flip side...I don't want to say Girardi's people-management skills have become worse than from his Florida days. It's more that the playing field changed so dramatically. Think of that '06 Marlins team, a rook full of rookies (plus Miguel Cabrera and Dontelle Willis) trying to prove themselves and ready to run through a wall for anyone who has the power to put their name in the lineup.
These Yankees, of course, are full of prima donnas, highly-paid eccentrics and veterans on the downside of their careers. It would be a tough job for most managers.
The Marlins, since they fired Girardi, are 354-364 while consistently fielding one of the lowest-paid and least-experienced clubs in baseball. They're very good at developing talent; Logan Morrison, Gaby Sanchez and Mike Stanton headline the newest bunch of impressive youngsters. I consistently put Beinfest in my list of Top 10 GMs in the game.
But those tiny payrolls - compiled while turning a sweet profit, as we learned last year - cost them in roster depth. They just haven't had enough to make a bona fide playoff run.
Far more damning, however, is the meddling at the ownership level from owner Jeffrey Loria and team president David Samson. There isn't much patience there; they seem to view the manager's job as disposable, much as The Boss once did. True, Rodriguez quit, but with a one-year contract, he was set up to fail.
And now they're bringing back McKeon - the third manager since Girardi left - who parachuted in for the middle of the 2003 season and wound up leading those Marlins over the Yankees for a World Series title. Will it work again this time? Not unless McKeon can heal both Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez.
It should be entertaining, for sure; Trader Jack can spin a yarn with the best of them, and he'll show the world that an 80-year-old can still function at a high level. But this move doesn't quite scream stability, at a time when the Marlins are preparing to move into their new ballpark next year and trying to show their fan base that they know what they're doing.
Will they wind up with Ozzie Guillen next year? First of all, I'll believe it when I see it; Guillen is under contract for the White Sox for 2012, and owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Guillen are extremely close.
Second of all, if Guillen did come over, how long would it take for him to be at serious odds with Loria and, in particular, Samson? A month? A week? Two days of spring training?
With the new ballpark coming, the Marlins must not only expand their payroll, but also pull back on their meddling. Meanwhile, in the Bronx, Girardi is far from perfect, yet he's certainly someone who can manage a contending team for the long run.