Six new managers were hired for the 2018 MLB season, five of which had no managerial experience whatsoever. Another two were hired after the season began following poor starts for their teams.
With the regular season coming to a close in a week and a half, we decided that now would be a good enough time to grade all six of the full-time hires (and the two midseason replacements) on the jobs they’ve done in 2018. The eight managers are listed in alphabetical order by last name, so try not to read too much into the order.
Aaron Boone, Yankees: B+. A year after Joe Girardi led the Yankees to within one game of the World Series, following ten seasons at the club’s helm and six playoff appearances, Aaron Boone has increased the Yankees’ win total by at least two wins in his rookie season managing the club. Boone’s improvements on Girardi’s record come despite Aaron Judge missing seven weeks (and not being as good this year as he was last year when healthy), Giancarlo Stanton struggling (despite leading the team with 35 home runs) in his first year in the Bronx, and a dismal year from Sonny Gray. New York is on the verge of clinching another Wild Card berth, but the rampant success of Alex Cora in Boston has overshadowed Boone’s debut season.
Mickey Callaway, Mets: C-. This was going to be a lost year for the Mets, no matter what Callaway did. He ended up not doing much – New York got off to the best start in franchise history at 11-1, but fell to fourth place in the NL East (where they’ve been nearly all season) on May 8th. Callaway is in a tough situation in Flushing, with the Mets dealing with an uncertain situation in their front office, a season-ending injury to their current franchise player, and (as usual) a growing sentiment of disgust among Mets fans. On the bright side for the Mets and their fans, Michael Conforto leads the team in plate appearances this season and hasn’t been nailed to the Mets like he was for much of Terry Collins’ tenure with the franchise, Jacob deGrom and Zack Wheeler have both turned in healthy, excellent seasons, and Brandon Nimmo has had a breakout season and forced his way into the lineup on a daily basis.
However, that’s not to say Callaway has been a complete success – his handling of young potential building blocks Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith has been questionable at best, as has his affinity for struggling veterans like Jose Bautista, Jay Bruce, Austin Jackson, and whatever is left of Jose Reyes. A bunch of these issues can be pinned on the front office, but Callaway is the one that made the decision to give Reyes more innings in the field at both shortstop and third base than he’s given Smith at first base, his natural position.
Alex Cora, Red Sox: A+. There is not much to say about the job Alex Cora has done in Boston – he’s been fabulous. With nine games left, Cora has already topped John Farrell’s high win total by seven (the 2013 Red Sox won 97 games in Farrell’s debut season en route to a World Championship), and he’s just one win back of tying the franchise record for wins, set in 1912. The Red Sox under Cora have destroyed the American League, led by MVP-caliber seasons by Mookie Betts and JD Martinez, a Cy Young level season from Chris Sale (who has only made 25 starts), and another dominant season in the ninth inning from Craig Kimbrel. The crazy thing about this Red Sox team under Cora is that a lot hasn’t gone right – the team has lacked an effective fifth starter for most of the season, they’ve gotten next to nothing from the infield outside of Xander Bogaerts (and, weirdly, utility bench player Steve Pearce), and they might only have two pitchers qualify for the ERA title.
Ron Gardenhire, Tigers: D. Hiring Gardenhire, after four years of the disappointing Brad Ausmus, was a weird move for a franchise that desperately needed to shift into rebuild mode. The Tigers really haven’t done that, and only three regulars have posted above average seasons on offense: stalwart first baseman Miguel Cabrera (who played in just 38 games), outfielder in name only Nicholas Castellanos, and Niko Goodrum, a utility player who was outrighted by the Twins last winter. I still don’t know what the end game is here in Detroit – the Tigers had an awful year, just not as awful as the Royals and White Sox. Castellanos, their best player, is a free agent after 2019. Gardenhire probably won’t be with the Tigers after his contract expires following the 2020 season, and it’s hard to see many of these players sticking around into the 2021 season…except Cabrera, who is still owed (and I’m not making this up) $162 million. This was a completely lost year for the Tigers, and while it probably wouldn’t have changed much with a different manager, Gardenhire didn’t exactly provide much to be optimistic about.
Gabe Kapler, Phillies: B. It’s been a weird season for Gabe Kapler and the Phillies, who will remain in contention for a playoff spot (eventually falling short) until the final week or so of the season. It’s an encouraging step forward, given that they lost 96 games last year, but there are still moments of madness regarding the 2018 Phillies, Kapler, and the organization’s future. The $55 million (at minimum) investment in Jake Arrieta hasn’t gone as well as expected. Neither has the $24 million investment in rookie Scott Kingery, who hasn’t received consistent playing time and has looked completely out of place in the majors. The Rhys Hoskins experiment in left field hasn’t gone well, which makes the $60 million investment in Carlos Santana seem misplaced (though he’s done his part at the plate in every aspect except batting average). On the mound, Aaron Nola has turned in a phenomenal season, but Kapler’s usage of the bullpen and quick hook with many starters has driven many fans crazy.
This offseason will be a pivotal one for the organization – only six players are guaranteed money (just shy of $69 million), and Philadelphia has enough holes on their team to be a big player in the free agent market. If the team ends up spending nine figures, the pressure will be ratcheted up on Kapler even more, and some of his unorthodox techniques might no longer be as well-received.
Dave Martinez, Nationals: D. Dusty Baker was fired by the Nationals are winning back to back NL East titles and picking up a total of 192 wins in his two seasons at the helm of the organization. They replaced him with Dave Martinez, and things haven’t gone well for Washington in Bryce Harper’s final year before free agency – the Nationals are a game above .500 with nine to play, and are in danger of finishing in third place (and below .500) for the first time since 2011. It’s been a lost season for the Nationals, who have received just 20 starts from Stephen Strasburg (stop me if you’ve heard that one before), underwhelming seasons in the rotation from Tanner Roark and the now-departed Gio Gonzalez, and poor years from much of the team’s offense, including Harper (given his lofty standards), Trea Turner, Matt Wieters, and the oft-injured duo of Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Eaton.
Martinez himself has also received criticism for his handling of the bullpen, which led to a couple of weird situations, including reliever Brandon Kintzler being traded at the deadline for being a “rat,” and Shawn Kelley earning himself a release after a tantrum on the mound. On the bright side, Juan Soto has had an incredible rookie season, and Max Scherzer is still Max Scherzer, but evne that hasn’t been enough to rescue the Nationals and Martinez from a disappointing debut season.
Jim Riggleman, Reds: B+. Before Jim Riggleman took over, the Reds were 3-15 under Bryan Price, who never finished higher than fourth in his four full seasons as manager. Under Riggleman, Cincinnati has improved to 63-73, which isn’t fantastic, but is far better than where they were trending under Price. A lot of this is course correction – the Reds went 1-8 in games decided by one or two runs under Price, and that stretch wouldn’t continue all season. But Riggleman does have the team playing better and has rescued them from their downward spiral into hell, which is cause for celebration alone. Despite that success, it’s not as if Riggleman’s Reds will be contenders next year. Their rotation is not good at all (Matt Harvey, yes, that Matt Harvey, has a 4.46 ERA, best of any Reds starter with at least 100 innings pitched), and only three of the team’s offensive regulars are 26 or under (Phil Ervin, Jose Peraza, and Eugenio Suarez, though the injured Jesse Winker was a regular before he got hurt and is just 24).
I’m still not sure what the future holds for Cincinnati, and Riggleman’s future there, but he should be applauded at the very least for stopping the bleeding that began under Price. Whether or not he’s going to get the full-time job or even thrive with a full season under his belt is anyone’s best guess at this point.
Mike Shildt, Cardinals: A+. I’m giving Shildt the full monty after he took over from Mike Matheny at midseason and guided the Cardinals to a 37-23 record, taking them from third in the NL Central and four games out of the NL’s second Wild Card to…well, third in the NL Central and a game and a half up for the second Wild Card. Shildt’s Cardinals also have the best record in the National League since he took over, and the only reason they haven’t made up more ground is that the Cubs and Brewers (first and second in the NL Central, respectively) have posted the second and third best records in the Senior Circuit.
It’s almost like that under Shildt, the Cardinals flipped a switch and started playing like the team everyone expected. Matt Carpenter has continued his hot tear, while Marcell Ozuna finally resembles the player he was in Miami last season and Harrison Bader, Jedd Gyorko, and Kolten Wong all look like long-term starters in St. Louis. With Shildt leading the team, the Cardinals have gone from a franchise that looked to be in turmoil to…well, the St. Louis Cardinals, ready to provide fits to the rest of the National League this October. Shildt had his interim tag removed at the end of August, and he’ll be the guy going forward next season for the organization.