Just the idea of putting a manager on the hot seat, in mid-May, sounds like a rush to judgement. After all, we’re talking about roughly 40 games, or 24.7 percent of the season. Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer, is still weeks away.
But a year ago at this time, Bryan Price already was out of a job for a month, after the Reds fired him April 19. By then, Cincinnati had the worst record in the sport at 3-15, so the front office didn’t see much point in continuing with Pryce, who never got the Reds above 76 wins or fourth in the NL Central during his four-year tenure.
Price’s replacement? None other than Jim Riggleman, who currently sits beside Mickey Callaway in the Mets’ dugout. That makes for a convenient transition as it’s now Callaway’s turn to feel the heat, as the underachieving Mets stood at 18-20 before Saturday’s game with the Marlins at Citi Field.
Despite the sluggish start, however, Callaway doesn’t appear to be first in the potential firing line. That uncomfortable spot belongs to the Nationals’ Dave Martinez, who like Callaway, is only in his second season on the job. So here at the almost-quarter pole is a look at some managers in danger — and, on the flip side, a few who should be asking for an extension. Records through Friday’s games.
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1. Dave Martinez, Nationals (15-23). It’s becoming a thankless gig in D.C., sort of like the other job nearby on The Hill. Only you don’t necessarily get a four-year stay as the Nats’ chief, and Martinez might not even make half that. Dusty Baker — popular apparently everywhere but D.C. — got shown the door despite making the playoffs in 2017, and Martinez is heading for a second straight season without October baseball. Bryce Harper, perpetually fingered as a manager-killer, is up in Philly now, and the Nats’ problems have worsened, with a minus-22 run differential and the worst bullpen ERA (6.24) in the majors. They’ve also been decimated by key injuries — Trea Turner, Juan Soto, Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Adams — and Anthony Rendon only recently came back from a bruised elbow. The front office already has fired its first warning shot by axing pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, so that would make Martinez next. Would Joe Girardi be interested?
2. Mickey Callaway, Mets (18-20). There’s two ways to look at Friday’s trouble-shooting meeting between COO Jeff Wilpon, Brodie Van Wagenen and Callaway. One, consider the manager on notice. Or two, Callaway should consider himself lucky he was still invited to such things for now. But you can bet patience is in very short supply in Flushing at the moment. The Mets have averaged 73 wins the past two seasons and the new general manager talked big this winter about returning to prominence in the NL East, something that only applies to the Phillies so far. It’s not great optics when Callaway, a former pitching coach in Cleveland, has a staff ranked 21st in ERA (4.57). The Mets don’t have a history of firing managers early in a season, with Davey Johnson and Willie Randolph the apparent exceptions, but Van Wagenen didn’t hire Callaway in the first place, so there’s not a ton of built-in loyalty there.
3. Don Mattingly, Marlins (10-28). Would Derek Jeter, the former Yankees’ captain, really be that cold, to fire another in Mattingly? Both are a long way removed from pinstripe glory these days, but you have to wonder. Plus, Jeter would be doing Donnie Baseball a favor at this point. No Marlins manager has ever made it through four full seasons, and Mattingly is now into his fourth, joining Rene Lachemann (1993-96) and Fredi Gonzalez (2007-10) as the only three to make it this far. Miami won only 63 games last year, and currently is on pace for 42, but that’s not Mattingly’s fault. Jeter already traded away the franchise’s biggest stars, and he’s recently been in a firing mood as hitting coach Mike Pagliarulo, another former Yankee, and president of business operations Chip Bowers have been shown the door.
1. Joe Maddon, Cubs (22-14). With Maddon in the final season of his five-year, $25-million contract, and PECOTA picking the Cubs for 79 wins, it seemed like this could be his final go-round on the North Side. So did a 3-8 start that emboldened the front office, which remained steadfast in saying there would be no extension talks during the season. But Theo Epstein & Co. may want to reconsider that stance as Maddon has the Cubs looking like World Series contenders again, rebounding to go 19-5 and climb back atop the NL Central. In some ways, Maddon, despite delivering that ’16 World Series title, is considered a dinosaur, a big-personality manager who plugs into his clubhouse vibe as much as the analytics. Also, teams don’t want to give mega-contracts to these types anymore. But Maddon may have some more magic left in him, and if the players continue to respond, the Cubs shouldn’t be so quick to dump their only manager to win a title since Ford produced the first Model T.
2. Aaron Boone, Yankees (23-15). After a tough October, when some of Boone’s more notable playoff moves blew up in his face, he’s found a comfort zone this season, keeping a cool (and competent) head amid the Yankees’ avalanche of injuries. It’s not like the Yankees underperformed with him at the helm in his rookie year; they won 100 games. But with the clubhouse’s revolving door this season — they’ve used 35 players in 38 games — you can’t ignore Boone’s role in helping to integrate so many new faces, both from inside and outside the organization. Brian Cashman runs a very hands-on front office, but not everyone can operate in that structure as seamlessly as Boone has, or with as much success. Though Boone’s three-year contract runs through 2020, and the Yankees have an option for ’21, he’s looking like a solid bet to stick around longer.
3. Craig Counsell, Brewers (24-16). Another manager who seems like a perfect fit for a franchise, as Counsell weathered the rebuild in Milwaukee to now pilot what is shaping up to be a perennial World Series contender. While GM David Stearns has proven to be a whip-smart architect, cultivating a clubhouse full of talent, Counsell has carried out the plan, and his near take-down of the mighty Dodgers in last year’s NLCS showed that the Brewers will be a force to be reckoned with in the years ahead in the extremely competitive NL Central. Counsell signed a three-year extension that brings him through 2020, but it would be surprising if he’s not soon locked up well beyond then.