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Exactly a third of MLB clubs changed field bosses in the recent, unprecedented game of musical managers. Imagine the new guys, squaring off in 162-game prize fights…

Rookie of the Year Division -- Ken Macha vs. Bob Melvin

This one might go the distance; both are supposed to make the playoffs. Baseball’s best division has three great teams and only one returning manager – the fellow with the ring. Will the Angels catch lightning in a bottle two years in a row? If not, there’s a chance for both these freshmen to succeed. If either inherits a collapse, they’ll also get the blame, and the boot. Macha should benefit from his existing relationship with the players and Billy Beane; Pat Gillick might be yesterday’s genius. Split decision, Macha.

Past Their Prime Division -- Felipe Alou vs. Dusty Baker

If the Giants fail to repeat their NL title, it will obviously be the manager’s fault; the game passed him by. Tough assignment for a kindly old gentleman, with the likes of Neifi Perez on his roster. Dusty has to play Patterson, Gonzalez, Karros and Grudz – how smart will that make him? Both men should have quit while they were legends. Neither team makes the playoffs, both are disqualified because their GMs dropped the ball; the match is declared no contest.

Mission: Impossible Division -- Art Howe vs. Buck Showalter

It won’t be easy for Howe to adjust to the Big Apple, especially since the poor guy has to carry Mo Vaughn on his back. The Mets are an expensive mistake, and Steve Phillips can only fire so many managers before taking the fall. Buck's Rangers should improve on last year’s catastrophe, so he’ll get some of the credit. Watch for Showalter to keep a lower profile than his reputation suggests, allowing Grady Fuson to pick up the pieces after Tom Hicks tires of John Hart. Unanimous decision Showalter.

Not Right Now Division -- Eric Wedge vs. Ned Yost

Pity Ned Yost. He might be the greatest manager since John McGraw, but he’s got Bud Selig at arm’s length as owner, and the Brewers feature Exhibits A and B against hiring a Canadian to run your team: Doug Melvin and Gord Ash. Eric Wedge is the hand-picked choice of a GM who has quietly done a great job retooling the Indians, and isn’t all that upset about “losing” Jim Thome. Ignore the upcoming horrible season; the game's youngest skipper could guide Shapiro's phenoms to a renaissance. If the kids don’t all stub their toes, TKO Wedge.

Home Sweet Home Division -- Lou Piniella vs. Alan Trammell

Clever moves on the part of two horrible teams. The new manager as star, detracting from the lack of talent on the field. Trammell will end up a scapegoat; it will be a long time before his team is competitive. Lou's experience and savvy can only improve D-Rays management, and his team has some exciting young talent ready to blossom. Piniella could become the 21st-century Casey Stengel and own his home town if he turns this franchise around; Trammell is hung out to dry. Sweet Lou in a first-round knockout.

Championship Round

Of course, if I'm wrong about their teams, Baker and/or Alou would be canonized. Macha and Melvin have opportunities to become instant stars, but either could stumble, and for Wedge, success will take time. Piniella inherits an ideal situation, deserves it, and won't screw it up. Showalter also landed in a cozy spot. Along with the AL West survivor -- Macha? -- Lou and Buck win this year's elaborate Dugout Dance.
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_Jordan - Saturday, December 14 2002 @ 09:49 AM EST (#101292) #
Neat concept, Kent. I have to agree with pretty much all these predictions. I wouldn't have taken the Mets job for love or money: the fan base really does seem to think they're this close to a return postseason trip, when in fact they're closer to a 100-loss season. Howe will be battered and bruised by the time (mid-'04 at the latest) that Steve Phillips finally goes for the high jump. The new GM will either jettison Howe at the same time, or keep him on till the end of the season (because the owners don't want to pay someone to manage from his armchair at home), then replace him with, I don't know, Keith Hernandez or someone. Lots of pain, but also lots of gain for Art, whose four-year deal was yet another bad Phillips idea.

I can't help thinking that the Mariners are in trouble. Their 116-win season after losing the Big Three was immensely satisfying, but it was also remarkably fluky. This team is aging fast at every position, and their pitching depth has been hurt terribly by the injuries to their young hurlers, not to mention Chris Snelling. Ichiro!mania wasn't quite as successful the second time around, and I wonder if he'll make the necessary adjustments this year, or if he'll go on to have Willie McGee's career. Gillick is making more and more questionable moves, indicating a desire to reload rather than rebuild, which I think misidentifies the Mariners' position on the success cycle. Bob Melvin may yet be the first of the new managers fired when the team starts June in last place.

The Rangers, on the other hand, intrigue me. They're going to be bad for at least a couple more seasons, but by the middle of the decade, it will be impossible not to take them seriously. An infield of Blalock, A-Rod, Young and Teixeira will be frightening, while Laynce Nix and Ryan Ludwick could be patrolling the outfield along with whatever big free-agent centrefielder Tom Hicks picks up. As for the pitching, a 2006 rotation of Chan Ho Park, Colby Lewis, Ben Kozlowski and Doug Davis would at least keep the team in games. Showalter is a vastly underrated talent, and although he'll keep a low public profile, he'll also make it very clear to Hicks when John Hart has to go. A-Rod will get his MVP award yet.
_Kent - Sunday, December 15 2002 @ 01:05 PM EST (#101293) #
It's quiet here on the weekends. Someone more cynical than me might conclude that baseball fans aren't very productive workers from Monday to Friday, because they're blogging.

Good point about St. Pat, Jordan. He doesn't plan to be around for a rebuild, so he's rolling the dice on a "win now" scheme of dubious wisdom. I tagged him "yesterday's genius" but mean no disrespect to his Hall of Fame career; he's the Willie Mays of GMs and may have missed the opportunity for a graceful exit.

I also didn't mean to imply that the D-Rays have become instant contenders, just that Lou jumped from a leaky ocean liner into the most cozy liferaft imaginable. Tampa should pass Baltimore this year, but are light years from a .500 season.

Buck Showalter is a fascinating guy; I've had the pleasure of chatting with him. People forget why he was fired in New York -- he was stubbornly loyal to one of his coaches -- and his "micromanaging" reputation in Arizona came only from his reluctance to relinquish responsibilities that were his since before the team had players. So he's a perfectionist with inflexible principles; is that so bad? He will have to be a consummate politician, as his relationship with Hicks, Hart and Fuson will be complicated, whether Buck wants to remain in the dugout or slide into the inevitable vacancy in the GM chair.

I got an e-mail wanting to know where I graded Tosca, and it's a promising "incomplete" so far. In my ESPN columns, which are about the Jays from a fantasy point of view, I took a few shots at the Little General for costing my fellow Roy Halladay owners a W or three, but in the real world, Carlos was protecting his most valuable asset, according to the wishes of his employer. In contrast to what I just implied about potential infighting in Texas, or the obvious animosity that exists between dugout and front office in some organizations, the Jays have a skipper and GM on exactly the same page. I think a no-nonsense type was ideal after Buck Martinez, whose biggest "fault" was being too nice. Tosca certainly knows how to play the NL game, which isn't the team's primary philosophy, but helps in the late innings of close games. He will look much smarter going to the bullpen this year than he did handing the ball from Doc to the likes of Scott Eyre, which often led to Scott Cassidy. I wouldn't trade Carlos for any of the ten "new" managers straight up. Well, maybe for Showalter, and especially if they threw in Blalock.
_Geoff North - Sunday, December 15 2002 @ 02:28 PM EST (#101294) #
But Tosca never played professional! Shouldn't be a problem though.
Coach - Sunday, December 15 2002 @ 03:48 PM EST (#101295) #
Geoff is quoting that deep thinker, Raul Mondesi, from this infamous rant after Tosca benched him.
Dave Till - Monday, December 16 2002 @ 10:19 AM EST (#101296) #
The #1 skill that a major league manager must possess is the ability to earn the respect of his players, and Tosca seems to have that. It's a rare skill: Buck Martinez didn't have it, and neither did Bob Bailor, Garth Iorg or Doug Ault (all of whom have managed in Syracuse and been considered the heir apparent to the Jays' job).

What's even more impressive is that Tosca has earned this respect despite never having played in the majors.
_Casey Stengel - Monday, December 16 2002 @ 01:11 PM EST (#101297) #
Ya gotta keep the players that hate your guts away from the ones who are undecided.
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