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Top 5 Managers in Baseball, Mega-Contracts, Breaking Points



By Mike Silva ~ October 14th, 2011. Filed under: Morning Digest.

The playoffs have brought about much debate about managers and their impact. Every night you hear complaints on Twitter about a move someone made. It’s no different in the regular season since Terry Collins‘ and Joe Girardi‘s moves were dissected every night. I have stated numerous times that a managers greatest impact is in the clubhouse. His ability to communicate and manage personalities is what will ultimately dictate how long he stays on the job. The most important on-the-field chore is to manage a pitching staff, and with pitching coaches obtaining more power and organizational philosophies some of that is already blueprinted for the skipper.

The White Sox hiring of the inexperienced Robin Ventura and the issues Terry Francona had with the clubhouse have also created debate about managerial impact. Can Ventura, who never managed at any level, lead 25 big league ballplayers come spring training. Did Francona’s lax personality lead to a culture of complacency that ultimately was the beginning of the Red Sox collapse? All debatable points, which brings me to wanting to list the top five managers in baseball today.

I am not measuring any of this numerically. I am basing it on how long they have been successful, and the amount of success they’ve had versus their talent.

1. Tony LaRussa- How many times has the Cardinals possessed the best team in the National League? Maybe 2004-2005, but that is debatable. Since taking over St. Louis he’s won 7 divisions, 2 pennants, and one World Series. He could very well add another pennant and World Series by the end of the weekend. The Cards have always gone into the season with question marks. Dave Duncan deserves a ton of success because of his work with average pitching staffs. You may hate the “over managing” and constant matchups, but LaRussa’s teams always seem to be greater than the sum of their parts. Part of his success has to be his ability to evaluate talent, as the Cardinals seem to always reclamate veterans and minor leaguers that otherwise go unnoticed.

2. Joe Maddon – Seems to be a players manager, but not without the accountability. His teams play hard, loose, and always seem to maximize their talent level. This story in the Orlando Sentinel is probably the best way to describe Maddon’s style:

“Coming into the season I remember saying, ‘the demise of the Rays has been greatly exaggerated,’” Maddon said. “After a 1-8 start I looked like a fool. I understand that but I believed in our guys and I know what we’re capable of…We went on our first road trip and I bought some really good whiskey on that airplane. Everybody got a little cup and I toasted to the best 1-8 team in major league history on that first plane ride.”

3. Jim Leyland- Another skipper known for his honesty and solid communication skills. I think he might be one of the better in-game managers of the group. He seems to always know when to put a player in a spot that he will excel. He out managed both Joe Torre and Joe Girardi in his two ALDS victories over the Yankees. ESPN’s Jim Bowden called Leyland  ” an old-school, blue-collar warrior, a baseball lifer, who is a born leader who has extraordinary communication skills coupled with the intensity and intelligence of one of the game’s best managers.” I also like his direct and no-nonsense way of handling the media.

4. Ron Gardenhire – Was like Maddon for a number of years where he successfully won with a payroll-challenged team. Another players manager who transitioned from the popular Tom Kelly.  Gardenhire became the first manager in Twins’ history to lead the team to three straight division championships. This past year was the first black mark on his resume since the Twins lost over 90 games despite the highest payroll in team history. He also has been criticized for not getting his team out of the first round (lost to the Yankees 4 times) but once. Still, you can’t deny the work he’s done (6 division titles), and there are other teams in baseball that have been unable to beat the Yankees as well. Staying in one place 10 years is a testament to the job he’s done. It just doesn’t happen in the modern game.

5. Mike Scioscia- his teams always play scrappy and manufacture runs. They are probably the one team that has given the Yankees the most trouble the last decade. He seems to have a good grasp on his personnel and has them play to their strengths. During his 12 seasons as manager of the Angels, Scioscia has guided the team to its lone World Series victory in 2002, won five division titles in six seasons, was named Manager of the Year twice (2002, 2009) and broke the franchise single-season win record with 100 wins in 2008, breaking his own mark of 99 set in 2002. Players will say they love a manager that shows trust in him, and Scioscia is known to stick with his veterans even when they are struggling. That faith in a player has paid dividends in the long term. This year, he needed to adjust and rely on youngsters like Jordan Walden and Mark Trumbo. The Angels nearly made it a 3-team Wild Card race late this season.

I think the top two, LaRussa and Maddon, are a notch above 3 to 5. The remaining are probably interchangeable and preference is probably going to be decided in terms of personality and style of play.

I will say that Terry Francona would have made the list if he were still employed. Some other honorable mention goes to Bud Black in San Diego, Bruce Bochy in San Francisco, and Ozzie Guillen down in Florida.

***

Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston has both Jose Reyes and David Wright as solutions improving the 2012 Red Sox.

Reyes is an interesting signing for them because it would show no fear of long-term deals after the 7-year Crawford contract.

Again, exploring the possibility of trading David Wright is something that I am very open to. in my opinion, the Sox would have to part with Josh Reddick, a top pitching prospect, and shortstop prospect Jose Iglesias in such a deal.

***

As for signing Reyes to a long-term deal, I discussed earlier in the week how deals of more than 5 years for pitchers never work. Outside of the Red Sox signing Pedro Martinez to a 7-year deal in 1998, there aren’t any other pitchers that were effective for the majority of that type of contract. What about, however, positional players?

Alex Rodriguez‘s first deal certainly was productive (2001-2010). Even if he didn’t opt-out after ’07, the productivity he provided until 2010 makes that original 10 year, $275 million dollar deal pretty decent. Derek Jeter‘s 10 year, $189 million dollar deal also worked out well for the Yankees as he was productive through the entire pact. Manny Ramirez was a pain in the neck, and it appeared the Red Sox were willing to give him away at various points of the deal, but from an on-the-field standpoint you can’t argue with his 8 year, $160 million dollar deal signed in 2001. Even though the Mets received 5 of the 7 years of productivity you can say the Carlos Beltran deal was worth it. Not like the A-Rod, Jeter, or Ramirez deals, but it wasn’t a bad move.

Will a team be receiving the same type of productivity from Reyes? Hard to say, since he hasn’t put together more than a 3-year stretch of productivity in his career. Reyes’ career best came from 2006-2008 when he averaged 157 games, .292 batting average, 16 HRS, 69 RBI, and 66 stolen bases. For as good as he was this year he didn’t produce an all-around season like that.

If you receive the 3-year Reyes peak for 5 of the 7 years of the deal, then a long-term commitment is worthwhile. Can you expect that? I would say you might get 3, maybe four, but not much more than that going into his 30s. That is why I make the breaking point a 5-year deal, and I suspect many teams will be thinking along the same lines. The Yankees were lucky that Jeter held up, since he is a worthless player if he doesn’t have his entire skill set. Ramirez and A-Rod had the ability to DH and hit home runs, giving their team the option to still use them in a productive way. Maybe not the intent, but there was value for their diminished game. The Yankees will probably put that to the test the next few years during A-Rod’s second mega-contract.

There are exceptions. Alfonso Soriano‘s 8 year, $136 million dollar contract looks terrible as he doesn’t hit all that well anymore, and has shown no interest in playing the field. The Cubs still have that albatross for 3 more years. Todd Helton‘s last 4 years of his 9 year, $142 million dollar deal have been sketchy. The Rockies have survived, but Helton is not the elite offensive player that front-half of that deal produced. That kind of contract can kill a mid-tier revenue team. The Reds can’t be criticized for giving Ken Griffey a 9-year deal in 2000 because who could have predicted the injuries. I don’t think I need to get into what a bad decision it was for J.P. Ricciardi to give Vernon Wells a 7-year, $126 million dollar deal.

The recent deals for guys like Joe Mauer, Mark Teixeira, Jayson Werth, Miguel Cabrera, and Carl Crawford are up in the air. Again, guys like Teixeira and Cabrera will hit home runs and can DH so they aren’t as risky bets as Mauer and Crawford. Mauer’s decline during the early portion of his 8 year, $184 million dollar contract. Werth could be a killer later on if his money hurts the Nationals chance to re-sign one of their young stars when they are heading towards arbitration and free agency.

Again, looking at history you just can’t feel comfortable giving Reyes a deal longer than 5 years since his skill sets doesn’t translate well over the long haul and into 30s.

***

Here is an interesting story that I did not know about.

Did you realize that Dave Stieb signed an 11-year deal with Toronto in 1985? Larry Stone wrote about it this past winter at The Seattle Times.

The Associated Press reported on March 9th, 1985 the contract was for 11 years, and the Blue Jays will pay out an estimated $16.6 million in salary. With deferred payments and incentives, the deal could be worth more than $25 million, Stieb’s agent, Bob LaMonte, said.

Pat Gillick called it a 3-year deal with 8 options, but the options were friendly to the team.

Stone goes on to talk about how the explosion of players’ salaries in the early 90s made Stieb’s contract obsolete. Here is the interesting twist via Stone:

“In spring training of 1991, the Blue Jays took the extraordinary step, at the behest of Gillick and team president Paul Beeston ,of tearing up the next three years of Stieb’s contract and reworking the terms. His 1991 salary was boosted from $1.3 million to $3 million; in 1992, he went up from $1.8 million to $3.25 million; and in 1993, from $1.9 million to $3.5 million. It was a total increase of $4.35 million, and entirely voluntary by the Blue Jays.”

That might be the only time a team blew up a contract in order to give a player a raise. That is the kind of behavior that gives a club equity and will payoff in the future with players wanting to come there. Of course, Toronto couldn’t capitalize on their success thanks to the ’94 strike, but that is another story. The process and intent was good, and it’s a practice that isn’t a bad idea if done with the right player. Stieb was essentially  ”Mr. Blue Jay.”

Not surprisingly, the Blue Jays wound up not getting much value out of the raise as Stieb started only 23 more games for them over the course of the remaining years of the deal. They did do the right thing rewarding Stieb for services rendered prior, and Gillick and Beeston should be applauded.

That is why when people say CC Sabathia‘s opt out is “just business” and “shouldn’t be taken personally,” they are right; but when business is mixed with common sense sometimes you get an even better result. I think that could be said in the case of that old Dave Stieb contract, but I realize it’s rare that you get two parties in baseball that are able to take the high road in that sort of situation. I doubt you would ever see that today.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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3 Responses to Top 5 Managers in Baseball, Mega-Contracts, Breaking Points

  1. Stu B

    Any discussion of 7-year contracts for position players here needs to include that of Mike Piazza. While health and age limited his productivity from 2003-05, the Mets had a good amount of success during those 7 years thanks to Piazza.

  2. Brien Jackson

    Did you miss the Angels entire season or something?

  3. Ken Bland

    Boy is top 5 managers ever a subjective thing. Even though it’s really hard to imagine anyone leaving Joe Maddon off their list. Even LaRussa seems hated beyond separating respect and popularity with some would be opinionists.

    I see a pattern to Mike’s list. Blowing a lead isn’t a knockout. As in Leyland with the Tigers last year, honorable mention Bud Black, same time but on the Padres channel, and would be Francona this year. Just an obvious visibility, not an agreement or disagreement.

    I might include Ron Washington as an honorable mention. He’s like Charlie Manuel…doesn’t lead the League in articulation, but gets the job done on the bottom line. Both those guys are popular targets on a fair number of moves, as is Clint Hurdle (maybe more so), but even Hurdle won an NL flag, and did a lot of things right with the Pirates this year.

    It’s a tough list to develop, and walk away from without wondering if you have the right names, let alone in the right places.

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