“This year the managers, next year the GM purge.”
These were the words of a top official from an AL team shortly after learning Gabe Kapler had been fired by the Phillies. Eight teams are pursuing a new manager, more than one-quarter of the league.
Just the Red Sox are looking to fill their head of baseball operations department after the dismissal of Dave Dombrowski less than a year after Boston won the World Series. The Giants could hire a GM, but that title no longer assures authority over the baseball department. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi will have the final say on the hire and personnel decisions.
So who is on the hot seat clock as the offseason begins for the baseball version of “The Purge?” Here is a top 10:
Kapler was the sacrificial lamb this season. GM Matt Klentak signed a three-year extension through 2022, but he cannot feel safe. Aggressive owner John Middleton might have inspired a more aggressive approach than Klentak wanted, but it is still on his watch that the Phillies guaranteed $572.2 million on seven free agents (notably Jake Arrieta and Bryce Harper) the past two offseasons plus made big trades for Jean Segura and, especially, J.T. Realmuto. That resulted in 80 wins, then 81 this year. They have not had a winning record since last making the playoffs in 2011. October play is badly needed here.
Manager Brad Ausmus was fired, and the sense around the game is that was much more owner Arte Moreno’s call than that of GM Billy Eppler, whose option for 2020 was picked up. Thus, he enters a lame-duck season having signed six major league free agents the past two years for a total of $71.8 million, who have done more harm than good (think Zack Cozart and Matt Harvey). There is a familiar theme — the Angels have the great Mike Trout and not enough otherwise, especially pitching. There has not been a winning record in Eppler’s four-year regime.
A.J. Preller beat out Eppler for San Diego’s GM job. He tried to win right away by taking on payroll and stars (think Matt Kemp, Craig Kimbrel, etc). Kemp nicknamed him the “Rock Star” GM. That failed, so has extending Wil Myers and signing big free-agent deals with Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado. That trio will cost $70 million, plus Garrett Richards, coming back from Tommy John surgery, and Ian Kinsler, who might have played himself out of the majors in 2019, will cost $82.5 million toward a perhaps $100 million payroll. Owner Ron Fowler already has said, “heads will roll” without improvement. No playoffs since 2006, no winning records since 2010, 112 games under .500 in Preller’s five years, Andy Green was fired as manager after a season in which Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack broke through from a strong farm system.
Neal Huntington was named GM in September 2007 and has had just a three-year wild card oasis from 2013-15. Like the Phillies, Angels and Padres, the manager (Clint Hurdle) was fired in Pittsburgh. Perhaps the unprofessional/unseemly infighting (and worse) in the clubhouse falls under Hurdle’s purview. But not horrible trades of Gerrit Cole and for Chris Archer (Austin Meadows/Tyler Glasnow). The ability of small-market clubs such as the A’s, Indians and Rays to regenerate success multiple times during Huntington’s reign reflects poorly on the Pirates’ regime.
Owner Jerry Reinsdorf is known for loyalty to his employees, and that perhaps explains sticking mainly with a braintrust, including GM Rick Hahn, that has seen the White Sox go without a winning record since 2012 and without the playoffs since 2008. Credit is due for turning Chris Sale and Jose Quintana into potential cornerstones Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez. But lots more talent is needed. The White Sox dabbled in Harper and Machado last year, and it would be no surprise to see them aggressive this offseason, perhaps with opt-out candidates Aroldis Chapman and J.D. Martinez.
Colorado made the playoffs in consecutive years in 2017-18 for the first time in its history. But fell to 71-91 in 2019 for many reasons, but the free agent signings of Jeff Bridich’s reign have been almost uniformly putrid: Think Ian Desmond, Bryan Shaw, Mike Dunn, Jake McGee and Daniel Murphy. DJ LeMahieu, Adam Ottavino and Mike Tauchman went out the door to just the Yankees. Like with Trout and the Angels, the Rockies have been unable to construct a consistent winner around face-of-the-franchise Nolan Arenado.
Brodie Van Wagenen called the Mets the team to beat in his first year. They weren’t, in part because his biggest acquisitions — Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia and Jed Lowrie — underperformed. Van Wagenen will hire his own manager now, but will almost certainly have less money to spruce up the roster, so ingenuity and creativity (finding, say, benefits in trading one problematic contract for another) will become more important. Would Cano/Diaz continuing to struggle and Jarred Kelenic fulfilling lofty prospect status weaken Van Wagenen’s status with the Wilpons? Not if there were a playoff stopover in 2020. If not …
If you no longer consider Billy Beane the main baseball power in Oakland, then only Brian Cashman (1998) has served longer in charge of baseball operations for the same team as Jon Daniels (2005). He has overseen five playoff teams, but the past three years have been rough, in part because expected young cornerstones such as Nomar Mazara and Rougned Odor have not flourished. The Rangers move into a new stadium next season, and the expectation is they will be among the majors’ most aggressive teams this offseason.
Would the leadership duo of Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer be in job-losing peril if Chicago missed the playoffs again next year. Probably not after delivering the long-awaited title in 2016. But the manager of that team, Joe Maddon, is now gone, and the failure of his past two teams includes a bunch of dubious free agent signings (Jason Heyward, Tyler Chatwood, Craig Kimbrel, etc.) that has created a lack of payroll maneuverability while the system has done a poor job of producing pitching. There would be little surprise if Chicago tried to change the dynamic with a significant move — say, trading Kris Bryant.
The Reds have to begin to show some greater improvement or their GM, Nick Krall, could be in peril. The Blue Jays under Ross Atkins have to find pitching, and not just promise success in a distant future. The Tigers’ Al Avila, despite a recently signed extension, must demonstrate he can unearth positional impact. But Jerry Dipoto in Seattle has gotten lots of chances to try lots of avenues to success. No franchise in the four major sports has gone longer without the playoffs (since 2001). That is not all on Dipoto. But the latest U-turn was to a more complete rebuild. The playoffs are not needed in 2020, but benefits from that U-turn are necessary.
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