With the 2011 season heading towards August and the White Sox five games out of first place, talk on the South Side of Chicago has headed for the place it always seems to head at this time of year: to questioning Ozzie Guillen’s job security. The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting today that the relationship between Guillen and GM Kenny Williams is “beyond repair” and that there have been at least two known heated blowups” between the two men in the last seven months.
The White Sox seem to be siding with Williams, as the Sun-Times also says that they’re surveying the lay of the land when it comes to managerial candidates and possibly even rekindling last summer’s discussion about trading Guillen to the Marlins. It seems awfully early to worry about this with the White Sox still in the AL Central race and if you haven’t already, you can hit the link above for the usual no comments from the team. Guillen is also apparently seeking a contract extension before 2012, which is the last year of his current deal, but right now all of this sort of talk is likely posturing for the off-season. Because it’s so early, it also seems early to speculate on whether or not Guillen will be axed and whether Williams will be axed with him and we’re still light years away from pondering who might replace Guillen. There is something I am willing to speculate on, though, and that’s manager trades.
As far as I can tell, there have only been two manager trades in anything resembling recent baseball history. The most recent was when the Mariners sent Lou Piniella to the (Devil) Rays in return for Randy Winn after the 2002 season. Winn was the Devil Rays best player in 2002. He hit .298/.360/.461 and played solid defense in center field, which gave him a WAR of between four and five in 2002, depending on whether you’re using FanGraphs or Baseball-Reference. In the three years following the trade, Winn kept hitting (he had wOBAs of .342, .339, and .367 in 2005, which he split between the Mariners and Giants) and played even better defense. The Devil Rays, meanwhile, won 67, 70, and 63 games before they parted ways with Sweet Lou. The trade is generally mocked as one of the low points of the pre-Wall Street era in St. Petersburg.
The other trade took place right after the 1976 season. With manager Danny Murtaugh retiring due to health concerns, the Pirates traded catcher Manny Sanguillen to the Oakland A’s for Chuck Tanner’s services as manager. Sanguillen was approaching his 33rd birthday, but he was just a year removed from his third All-Star appearance and he’d had a solid 1976, hitting .290/.338/.378. He had a miserable year in Oakland in 1977 and was traded back to the Pirates after the season for the twilight of his career, which included winning the 1979 World Series. With manager Chuck Tanner.
That doesn’t give us a whole ton of evidence to work with, but I think we’ve got a pretty clear pattern. The only two manager trades in recent history have involved teams sending a pretty good player out for a manager, then promptly doing exactly what they’d been doing before they gave up a good player for said manager. The Rays were terrible in 2000 and 2001 and 2002 without Lou Piniella and they were terrible with him in 2003 and 2004 and 2005. The Pirates were good all through the early 1970s with Murtaugh and Bill Virdon at the helm, and they were good in the late 1970s with Tanner at the helm. The Pirates ended up looking good because Sanguillen came right back and they won a World Series with Tanner managing while the Devil Rays ended up looking bad because Winn turned into a good player for the Mariners and Piniella didn’t change Tampa Bay’s fortunes, but it doesn’t mean that the Pirates trade was that much better than the Devil Rays’ trade.
So what would it take to pull off a trade between the White Sox and Marlins for Guillen? Last summer, the White Sox reportedly asked for Mike Stanton, which seemed like an awful lot to trade for a manager before he hit 30+ homers as a 21-year old this season. Stanton’s got five years of team control left and he has the approximate strength of the Incredible Hulk, so if that’s what the White Sox want for Guillen, they’re probably going to either be stuck with him or end up firing him. Trading almost any player for a manager wouldn’t be that bright, but trading someone like Stanton for a manager would be excessively dumb.
Both recent manager trades have involved a fairly good player, though, even if not a young player of Stanton’s caliber. Still, giving up much of anything for a manager seems like a move born more out of desperation than anything (obviously that was true for the Devil Rays; it’s harder to figure out the Pirates’ motives now, but they probably had to do with Tanner being a Western Pennsylvania native). The Marlins, though, are pretty desperate to do something to prove to their fans that they’re serious about contending as they move into their new stadium in 2012, and trading for Ozzie Guillen would be a huge, flashy move that casual fans would love. Would it make the Marlins better? Probably not (DEFINITELY not if they have to give up anything of substance). Would it sell more tickets? Maybe a little bit at first.
Of course, if Guillen’s relationship with the Sox has soured as much as the Sun Times say it has, the Marlins would probably be best served to just sit back and wait for him to be fired, then hire him without having to give up anything for him. With Ozzie Guillen, the Marlins, and Kenny Williams involved, though, we may have a perfect storm for some off-season irrationality.