The Marlins way

MLB

Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria finally gave in and did what he’s clearly wanted to do by firing manager Mike Redmond. My prediction was off by two-and-a-half weeks.

Let’s not treat Redmond as a victim here. Yes, he got caught in an Oliver Stone-conspiracy style of triangulation of crossfire between the demanding owner, the roster that was thought to be better than it actually is, and the fact that he is, at best, an average manager. He didn’t do a particularly good job, doesn’t have the resume to say that he should have been given more time, and the team is floundering. High expectations can cost a manager his job and if the expectations are reasonable, then the firing is deserved. Unreasonable expectations will get a manager fired, but that doesn’t mean that the firing isn’t justified.

These ambiguities can be viewed as unfair, but they’re part of the landscape when choosing managing a baseball team as a vocation.

When a manager takes a job offered by Loria, it’s not hard to predict how it’s going to end. Like Al Davis with the Oakland Raiders, the manager/head coach is a supporting character in the drama. That said, many clubs in sports treat their field bosses as disposable entities and have been far more callous about it than Loria, doing so with the tacit protection of a starstruck gallery of supporters and media factions invested in selling a myth.

Billy Beane – considered a “genius” – has gone through four managers in his time. Some were fired for cause; others were fired just because he felt like firing them; others were tossed overboard with Beane blaming the media, not the manager, for his failings. Theo Epstein fired both Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria and was given a widespread pass for it from the same people who are unloading on Loria now. Because Epstein got the so-called “best” manager in baseball Joe Maddon, his tactics are somehow more honorable because there’s a reason behind them rather than emanating from Loria’s reflexive response to fire the easiest target: the manager.

It’s partisan nonsense hidden behind analysis and excuses.

Loria is an easy target because he’s the one who was investigated by the SEC, hoodwinked the State of Florida into building him a new stadium, was slapped on the wrist by Major League Baseball for pocketing revenue-sharing money, and fires his manager when things don’t go the way he thinks they should. This is how he does business and he’s successful at it. Who’s to say he’s wrong?

Redmond joins an eclectic group of past victims buried in the body orchard of Loria’s impatience, petulance, anger and blameworthiness that includes respected GM Larry Beinfest; one of the best current managers in baseball Joe Girardi; an underrated baseball lifer Jack McKeon; the mediocre Fredi Gonzalez; the missing in action Edwin Rodriguez; and the magnet for self-inflicted, intentionally-created controversy Ozzie Guillen.

With the daylong speculation as to where Loria was going to go to replace Redmond, the names that popped up included Dusty Baker, Jeff Conine, Wally Backman, and Bo Porter. In a tactical move seemingly designed to surprise, general manager Dan Jennings will take over in the dugout. Jennings has been a respected scout and front office man, but has never managed or coached at the professional level.

While unusual, this is not completely unheard of in today’s game. Former Marlins manager John Boles didn’t play professionally. Nor did former Baltimore Orioles manager Dave Trembley. Their results when managing were poor and while there was limited talent on the teams they managed, it’s naïve and ignorant to dismiss their lack of professional playing experienced as irrelevant.

Playing for a year or two as a low-level minor leaguer with zero chance of making it any further than the bottom rung or professional baseball shouldn’t add any more credibility than someone who worked his way up through the minors. But that ignores the macho, testosterone-fueled nature of baseball.

Hiring Jennings might craft greater organizational continuity between the field staff, president of baseball operations Michael Hill, and, naturally, Loria. Some are questioning the decision, but Loria has – intentionally or not – shielded himself from criticism by a large portion of the viewing public by doing what the stat people say should be done more often and ignore the “experience” factor when making a decision on whom the manager should be. They can’t critique it in anything more than a nitpicky fashion because doing so inadvertently chips away at their own belief system and its tenets.

Jennings might think that since he’s been a longtime confidant and is a trusted member of Loria’s baseball operations staff that he’s safe. If this was a short-term attempt on the part of Loria and Jennings to get a close look at what’s happening on the field and in the clubhouse, then it makes sense on all ends. That may yet be the case. The Marlins run their club differently than other teams do in which the general manager is the ultimate face of the franchise and runs the club on a day-to-day basis. The Marlins have Hill, Loria’s stepson David Samson, Jennings, and Loria himself taking part in how the team is run with numerous advisers and kibitzers jockeying for position. In theory, Jennings can do what he was doing as the GM and still manage the team.

The players are the keys here. They didn’t hate Redmond, so his departure won’t be viewed with a sense of relief. There’s a very real possibility that the team really isn’t much better than a .500 team, so it won’t matter who the manager is unless structural changes to the roster are made. Players, being the entitled, blame-shifting, “nothing’s my fault” entities that they are, will look at Jennings and raise an eyebrow if (when) he simply looks out of place in uniform. Ostensibly, Jennings is the players’ “boss,” but in sports that’s largely meaningless unless the owner himself is taking over the team. Sharing an office with a boss is uncomfortable no matter how good a person is at his or her job; no matter how secure within the terms of employment he or she is. The idea that the “boss” is with them 24/7, watching, judging assessing, scrutinizing is awkward.

The players are the ones with the power and the larger paychecks. They’re the ones who should be blamed, but rarely are. Now Jennings is on the field. Undoubtedly, given the flawed nature of the Marlins’ roster, he’ll learn the same thing that Redmond did: there’s not much he can do to fix it unless the players play better. The biggest problem with this team stems from the thought that they were going to be a World Series contender when they are, in reality, a mediocre team who can make the playoffs if everything goes right. Since it didn’t go right, it cost Redmond his job and put this odd chain of events in motion.

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Miami Marlins *may* fire manager Mike Redmond

MLB

On Saturday, after their third straight loss to the New York Mets, I wrote the first draft of a post entitled “Miami Marlins fire manager Mike Redmond.” The reasons for this were three-fold:

1) I expected him to be fired that Monday if the Miami Marlins lost on Sunday

2) I wanted to have the post ready to go needing little more than tweaking when it happened

3) I wanted to specifically say that I’d written the first draft of the post on Saturday to establish my prescience

This wasn’t an example of jumping on the bandwagon based on the swirling rumors as to the tenuous nature of Redmond’s job security. I saw it coming before the season started when there was an inexplicable number of “experts” who predicted a Marlins playoff run with a few going so far as to say they were going to win the pennant.

My tweet on this subject from April 1 is below.

For the most part, this isn’t to denigrate the predictions of others. In many cases, there are extenuating circumstances for a reasonable projection with a strong foundational basis to have ended up wrong. Injuries, tragedy and good or bad luck all play a role. Since the post was essentially written, I’ve chosen not to wait for Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria to finish sharpening his well-worn axe and swing it at Redmond, but to point out that those who are defending Redmond now are just as misguided as those who looked at this team and thought they were a rising threat.

Loria has spent his time as a baseball owner earning the image of George Steinbrenner-lite. He’s overseen significant upheaval on his roster, with the coaching staff, in the managerial office, and front office. Often seen as petulant, impetuous, demanding, irrational and bullying, Loria has made nine managerial changes since taking over the organization prior to the 2002 season. Some were misguided tantrums like dumping Joe Girardi. Others were questionable in blaming Fredi Gonzalez for a flawed club that the manager somehow coaxed to 87 wins in 2009 and firing him in 2010. Ozzie Guillen was a “this was the wrong guy hired for the wrong reasons” mistake.

In true Steinbrennerean fashion, he’s recycled Jack McKeon twice, the second time being when McKeon was 81-years-old. If McKeon were 10-15 years younger today, he’d already be managing the Marlins again for 2015.

But he’s not.

So barring a miraculous turnaround from their current record of 3-11, Loria will be looking for a new manager within days. Speculation has centered around the “fireplug” type whose personality is diametrically opposed to the cerebral and outwardly calm Redmond; someone who will come in, flip the food table, get in the faces of players (his own and opposing), umpires, and anyone else who dare draw his ire.

Loria wants his Billy Martin and with McKeon too old to fill the role, he’s looking elsewhere. Mets Triple A manager Wally Backman’s name has come up. A carbon copy of Martin with a turbulent off-field life, rampant controversy, the flammable reputation in personality, alcohol-fueled ignitability, baseball nerve and savvy, Backman would be a risk that could pay off big or really blow the thing up.

All of this is independent of whether or not the Marlins’ slow start falls at the feet of the manager.

Objectively, it’s hard to blame Redmond for what’s happened thus far with the Marlins. But to absolve the manager of all blame and say that injuries have undone the club is misrepresenting the facts and issues that have caused this atrocious start. With the players retreating into the embrace of team meetings, a vampire-like side effect of inability to see one’s reflection in the mirror, and Giancarlo Stanton saying that they don’t have “fire”, it’s only a matter of days (hours, minutes, seconds) until Loria holds someone responsible for this catastrophe. The easy target is the manager.

And he’s not wrong.

For all his volatile behaviors, ruthless businessman trickery, political machinations, and Lex Luthor-style evil persona, Loria does have baseball knowledge. Trouble arises when he thinks he knows better than everyone else and because one bout of interference worked that they’re all going to work. The Marlins are certainly dysfunctional, but the Marlins under Loria have always been dysfunctional. This was true when he gutted the team after a large free agent spending spree and lost 100 games and it’s true now that they were a trendy preseason pick to go to the playoffs.

There can be a dozen excuses as to why Redmond’s not at fault. He’s without their best pitcher Jose Fernandez until mid-season when, instead of a glossy equivalent to a mid-season pickup of an ace, he might end up as a guy getting ready for 2016 rather than pushing it in 2015. Henderson Alvarez is also hurt. The injuries are not irrelevant, nor are the misplaced, oversized expectations that permeated the team and led Loria to believe they should have a record opposite to the one they currently do. The players they acquired before the season leading to the enthusiasm were more complementary than headliners. Mat Latos, Mike Morse, Dan Haren, Dee Gordon, Ichiro Suzuki, Martin Prado – all have use in one form or another, but to take their acquisitions as the finishing touches for a team that was mistakenly believed to be thisclose is compounding the problem: the team was overestimated from the get-go.

And that goes back to the blame game. Loria’s certainly not going to blame himself. The players can say they’re blaming themselves, but really aren’t. The baseball operations chain-of-command was just changed. There’s no one else to fire other than Redmond.

He’s a generic, replaceable, vanilla voice whose message isn’t getting through. For the owner to look at the situation and decide that he might as well bring in someone else is completely fair. In fact, it’s justified in that what’s happening now is not working and it’s better to act sooner when there’s still time to save the season than later when it’s not.

MLB managers starting 2015 on the hotseat

MLB

It’s never too early to speculate on managers that might be in trouble sooner rather than later. Let’s look at who’s going to open the season on the hotseat.

John Gibbons – Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays have a weird contract structure in which Gibbons’s contract rolls over with an option kicking on on January 1st each year, therefore he’s never a lame duck.

Gibbons is a good tactical manager, but he’s never had any notable success. It can’t be said that he hasn’t had the talent in his second go-round as Blue Jays manager either as they’ve spent and brought in big names and All-Stars. Some aspects of the teamwide failure – such as injuries to the likes of Josh Johnson in 2013 – are not his fault. In fact, it’s hard to blame him for the failures of the team. Even with that, someone has to take the fall if the Blue Jays stumble again with the American League East as wide open as it’s been since the mid-1990s.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos has been reluctant to blame Gibbons or anyone else for the team’s struggles since they became aggressive with their spending. After an extended flirtation amid questionable tactics and circumstances with Baltimore Orioles GM Dan Duquette their first choice to replace Paul Beeston as CEO and Beeston remaining as team CEO for 2015, Anthopoulos might be swept up in a housecleaning of the front office and on-field staff if this season is another mediocre one in Toronto. It’s easier to change the front office and manager than it is to clear out veteran players with onerous contracts. If the Blue Jays are faltering early in the season, Anthopoulos will have to take steps to fix it with a new manager.

A.J. Hinch – Houston Astros

No, Hinch isn’t on the hotseat because the current front office might fire him if the Astros get off to a bad start, but he’s on the hotseat because the front office might be on the hotseat if the Astros get off to a bad start.

Owner Jim Crane has high – you could even say ludicrous – expectations for this season believing they’re going to make a playoff run. He’s shown unwavering support to GM Jeff Luhnow and his blueprint, but the weight of Luhnow’s gaffes are becoming too heavy to ignore. If it’s late August and the Astros are again mired in last place in a very difficult AL West and the young players upon whom they’re banking their collective futures experience the often inevitable struggles young players experience, then the groundswell for wholesale changes will be too much for Crane to ignore. If Crane fires everyone in favor of Nolan Ryan, then no one, including the new manager, stat guy darling Hinch, will be safe.

Terry Collins – New York Mets

The Mets are expecting to contend this season and Collins is on the last year of his contract. The argument could be made that he’s served his purpose of steering the ship as best he could while the team rebuilt and waited for long-term contracts of useless veterans to expire. It’s not unusual for teams to have a competent, veteran caretaker manager who runs the club through the tough years and then bring in someone else when the front office believes they’re ready to win.

Collins will get the beginning of the season to see if they win under his stewardship. He’s earned that after playing the good soldier and keeping things in line for four years. However, if the team is off to a 9-15 start and there are calls for someone’s head before the season spirals out of control, Collins will be gone.

Mike Redmond – Miami Marlins

Just looking at owner Jeffrey Loria’s Steinbrennerean history with his managers is enough to say that even a successful manager shouldn’t feel too comfortable with his job status. He’s had seven different managers since he took over the team in 2002 and hired Jack McKeon twice. He fires people for a multitude of reasons and won’t hesitate before doing it again. When his teams have expectations, he’s got an even quicker trigger finger. Some believe that the Marlins are set to be legitimate contenders in 2015 putting Redmond in the position of being the obvious target if they get off to a poor start.

At the end of the 2014 season, Redmond signed an extension through 2017, but so what? Loria is still paying Ozzie Guillen for 2015. He’ll fire anyone regardless of contract status. Presumably, he won’t hire the 84-year-old McKeon to replace Redmond, but he’ll find someone to take the job and perhaps fire him at the end of the season too.

Ron Roenicke – Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers thought long and hard about it before deciding to bring Roenicke back for the 2015 season. They essentially collapsed over the second half of the 2014 season after a first half in which they were a surprise contender. That the team wasn’t particularly good to begin with and were playing over their heads when they achieved their heights in the first few months doesn’t matter. It’s the perception that the team faltered under Roenicke that could lead to a change. He’s got a contract option for 2016 and with the team set to struggle in 2015, he’ll be the scapegoat. He’s not a particularly good manager to begin with, so whomever they hire won’t have a tough act to follow.

Don Mattingly – Los Angeles Dodgers

It would look pretty stupid for the Dodgers to fire Mattingly after new team president Andrew Friedman ran from the idea of Joe Maddon taking over after Maddon opted out of his contract with the Tampa Bay Rays and went to the Chicago Cubs. Mattingly isn’t a particularly good manager, but the Dodgers failings in his tenure haven’t been his fault. They’re altering the way the team is put together and need a manager who will follow the stat-centered template they’re trying to implement. Having trained under Joe Torre and played under the likes of Billy Martin and Buck Showalter, it’s hard to see Mattingly willingly and blindly doing whatever the front office says in terms of strategy.

The Dodgers made some odd moves this winter and got worse instead of better. If they get off to a bad start, Mattingly could finally be shown the door for someone who’s more amenable to what Friedman was hired to create.

Bud Black – San Diego Padres

Amid ownership changes, general manager changes and constant flux in the way the ballclub has been constructed, the one constant with the Padres over the past eight years has been manager Bud Black. Black is lauded for his handling of pitchers and running the clubhouse. The media likes him. He’s terrible when it comes to formulating an offensive game plan and this Padres team, reconstructed under new GM A.J. Preller, will be as reliant on its offense as it will be on pitching. He has to actually manage the team this year and his strategies will be imperative to whether the team is an 80 win disappointment or an 86-90 win contender for a playoff spot. That’s not a small thing. Black has overseen two separate late-season collapses in 2007 and 2010 in which mistakes he made were significant influences to the Padres missing the playoffs.

Preller has been aggressive and unrepentant in getting rid of players that were present when he arrived and in whom he had no investment. Black falls into that category. Black is in the final year of his contract and in spite of his likability is hindered by his predecessor, lifelong Padres player and manager Bruce Bochy, having won three World Series titles with the rival San Francisco Giants.

He won’t have much time to show that he can run this sort of team and will be fired quickly if he can’t.

Loria’s Marlins Mistake

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Instead of the accusation that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria made the change, let’s say that the Marlins President of Baseball Operations Larry Beinfest or, preferably, GM Michael Hill called down to manager Mike Redmond and told him to switch the pitchers in the day/night doubleheader against the Twins and had Jose Fernandez pitch the opener rather than Ricky Nolasco. Would there be this huge uproar over Loria’s “interference?”

Loria denies that he did this, but given the allegations from Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle that Loria lied to their faces and his history of using the gray areas of business to justify his flexibility with the truth, believing him is impossible.

The angry reactions for this, however, are over-the-top. In the above-linked piece, Jeff Passan writes that Loria is guilty of “overstepping boundaries no other owner in baseball would dare.” How he would Passan know this? Is it out of the realm of possibility that owners across baseball are letting their opinions be known and that the employees are well-advised to, as Passan also put it in reference to Loria and manager Mike Redmond, “listen to the man who signs his paycheck?”

What happened to the front office running the team and having a pliable manager who does what he’s told as an implementer of the organizational plan? Whether or not the organizational plan meets the approval of the media and fans is irrelevant. Loria is the owner as he’s more than willing to say and act upon. He did it again in this case.

As for the potential undermining of Redmond, the threat of losing his job, and the unhappiness of the players, what was expected? Just as history has shown that Loria is willing to do anything at any time with gutting trades, lies, bloviating that would’ve embarrassed George Steinbrenner, financial shenanigans that Frank McCourt would feel are excessive, and arrogance that would lead Jim Crane to cringe, he’s also willing to fire managers and has no issue ignoring the feelings of players.

Redmond is in his first major league managing job and any job involving managing/coaching for the Marlins is rapidly turning into being hired by the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis to coach the team: a no-lose/no-blame situation. If good things happen, they were unexpected and a byproduct of the good work done by the manager; if bad things happen, they were a result of the endless dysfunction and impossibility of the circumstances. Redmond has a three-year contract and his salary is unknown, but given that it’s the Marlins, that he’s a rookie and they’re still paying former manager Ozzie Guillen the final three years of his four-year, $10 million contract, Redmond’s salary can’t be more than $1.5 million for the duration of the deal. For Loria, if he decides to make a change at some point for any reason, that’s a business expense he’s ready to absorb.

Respect of the players? How much respect was Redmond going to have from the start? The Marlins veterans know what’s happening and will go along to get along, waiting to be traded or allowed to leave as free agents; the young players have no power whatsoever to disrespect the manager, so it’s similar to Redmond still managing in the minor leagues: do what you’re told, keep your mouth shut or you won’t play.

Regarding the supposed “standard protocol” that Passan references when it comes to Nolasco having the option of which game he’ll pitch, it’s not in the basic agreement nor is it a gentleman’s agreement that Loria is beholden to adhere to. It’s a courtesy and Loria ignored it. Nolasco is in the last year of his contract and is going to be traded sooner rather than later. Why should the Marlins care what he thinks about anything?

In retrospect, what Loria should have done was to have Beinfest or Hill tell Redmond of the change. Speaking of protocol, the smart protocol for Loria would have been to use intermediaries to get what he wanted done. This would have insulated him and provided plausible deniability for his orders. It would’ve been known, but not known and the deluge of criticism mitigated.

Either way, what’s the difference? He’s the owner. He can do what he wants. And he’s proven that to be exactly what he’s going to do.

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Did Ozzie Guillen Deserve to be Fired and What’s Next for the Marlins?

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After his firing as manager, Ozzie Guillen will receive $7.5 million over the next three years under the terms of the 4-year contract he signed when the Marlins acquired his rights from the White Sox at the conclusion of the 2011 season. Since they waited two weeks from the end of the 2012 season to pull the trigger, I thought that Guillen might get another shot to start the 2013 season, but the Marlins cut the ties and it’s understandable.

When a person is known for his shtick and pushing the envelope with, “he did not just say that,” level comments, the line between candor and self-immolation becomes blurred. A vast chunk of what Guillen says is simply for the sake of taking the pressure off his players and bringing the spotlight onto him. He doesn’t know when to stop and this is how he gets into trouble with statements of “love” for Fidel Castro—a reviled figure in the town in which Guillen had just signed on to manage for four seasons. For a club that was struggling and desperate to bring fans into their new ballpark and whose targeted fanbase includes a large number of Cuban expatriates, escapees, and descendants of people who lived under the oppression that accompanies a communist, dictatorial state, the laudatory comments about their nemesis was a fireable offense when he said it. The Marlins suspended Guillen, gave him another chance and it wasn’t his comments that were the impetus of his dismissal, but that the team didn’t respond to him on the field.

The Marlins are now examining what went wrong in 2012 and the first two things they did was jettison the two most prominent instigators, Heath Bell—who was traded to the Diamondbacks—and Guillen. After a second half full of rumors and innuendo debating who owner Jeffrey Loria was going to fire among the front office and field staff; which players would be next to follow Hanley Ramirez, Omar Infante, Anibal Sanchez, and others out the door, they got rid of Bell and Guillen and kept Larry Beinfest and his baseball staff.

In defense of the Marlins under Loria, they’ve had remarkable front office stability and treat the manager as a disposable entity that can be quickly replaced. Because the Marlins have made their managerial changes in a ham-handed fashion and made headlines with the decision, for example, to hire the 81-year-old Jack McKeon in 2011, there’s a perception that the firing of the manager is an inherent problem with the team. But if they were winning after doing it, there wouldn’t be the negative connotations. Loria had fired his friend Jeff Torborg in 2003, hired McKeon and the team won the World Series. The criticism is always in retrospect and contingent on whether or not the decision worked.

“What did they expect from Guillen?” is an unfair question to ask. Loria knew his new manager was controversial and would say things to generate headlines, but no one in their right mind could have foreseen the immediate uproar from pro-Castro comments for someone who’d just taken a job in Miami no less.

A 69-93 season amid the lavish outlays for star players and the talent on the club was unacceptable even if the team was injured and gutted at mid-season. Before they cleaned out the house, they were in mid-plummet and had widely become an industry-wide laughingstock. So yes, he deserved to be fired.

Guillen is young enough (48) and has a resume to get another managing job, but it won’t be in a new age situation where the GM is the boss and the manager is a mid-level functionary there to implement edicts coming from above. It would have to be a situation like that of the Dodgers where the front office is willing to take risks and wants to, as the Marlins did, generate buzz. Guillen is not an empty vessel designed to attract attention like a talentless sing-and-dance act that is created to sell a load of songs, records, and tickets, get the money and get out. He’s a good manager. We didn’t see that in Miami for a multitude of reasons, but most of those reasons were that the players didn’t perform.

The Marlins are rumored to be taking the young and cheap route when it comes to a replacement manager, probably with one of their minor league managers, Mike Redmond. Redmond was a member of the 2003 Marlins’ championship team and was also a respected backup to Joe Mauer with the Twins for a long time. He won’t take any nonsense, but with Bell gone the only nonsense he’ll presumably be dealing with will come from Loria himself and the speculation of when Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle are traded.

Even though they wound up 12th in the National League in attendance, the Marlins still drew over 2 million fans to their new park and experienced an increase of 700,000 in the number of people that came to watch them play. Had they been any good and contending, that number would probably have approached 3 million. If they’re retooling or rebuilding will determine what they’ll look like in 2013. Eliminating Bell and Guillen from the equation was a necessary first step back toward respect and respectability.

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