Sunday, July 14, 2024

Ranking five MLB manager openings from most to least desirable with Mets, Padres, Astros among vacancies

While the Hot Stove chunk of baseball’s calendar is most famous for splash free-agent signings and blockbuster trades, turnover in the dugout qualifies as a leading subplot. The winter of 2023-24 brings us an abundance of such turnover, as right now five of MLB’s 30 teams – data analysts will recognize that as a figure of 16.667% – are in need of a new manager. 

Given that there are, as just implied, just 30 big-league managerial posts in existence, any of these vacancies is necessarily coveted. Still, it’s not hard to order them based on how appealing the team’s skipper situation should be based on things like ownership commitment to winning, recent past, and future outlook. Given that, let’s try to get out in front of the next hire and rank these six current vacancies from most appealing to least. 

(Note: This list was originally published when there were six managerial openings. The Guardians — ranked No. 5 — hired Stephen Vogt on Monday).

1. New York Mets

The most important thing a big-league manager can have in a given situation is an owner who’s committed to winning and thus fielding the best roster possible. That’s a fleetingly rare quality among today’s class of owners, but Steve Cohen with the Mets is an exception. Throw in the fact that they have a skilled and accomplished new head of baseball ops in place in David Stearns, and the Queenslanders are poised for what should be better days ahead. To boot, the next manager will obviously be hand-picked by Stearns, which adds a layer of security and stability to the role. 

2. San Diego Padres

Bob Melvin’s leap to the division-rival Giants created this opening. Even though some payroll retrenchment may be in the offing, Peter Seidler is clearly an owner who wants to win and is willing to spend to that end. Again, that’s a point of distinction these days. On another level, the Padres are coming off a deeply disappointing 2023 season, which sets a low bar, at least for the near-term. Moreover, those disappointments were driven by the kinds of factors — a 9-23 record in one-run games, a 2-12 mark in extra-inning games, and poor offensive production in clutch situations — that tend to self-correct in the following season. Those factors alone could mean improvement in the standings, and it’s not too hard to imagine that credit for said improvement would accrue to the new manager. It’s not all flowers, though. General manager A.J. Preller may be on unsure footing, and if he loses his job then his replacement may be disinclined to stick with Preller’s latest hand-picked manager for the longer term. 

3. Houston Astros

The retirement of future Hall-of-Fame manager Dusty Baker created this vacancy, and on the surface it’s appealing. The Astros, after all, have made it at least as far as the ALCS for seven straight years, and over that span they’ve won a pair of World Series. That said, it’s fair to wonder whether the organization’s best days are in the past. This past season, the Astros had one of the oldest groups of position players in all of baseball, and the pitching staff was also older than the league-average mark. Also, while owner Jim Crane has generally run higher-end payrolls during the team’s extended stretch of excellence, there’s been a downward drift to those figures in recent years. It’s fair to question his level of commitment moving forward. On top of all that, there’s an exceptionally high bar in place, and the next Houston manager will — fairly or not — shoulder a hefty share of the blame if the Astros enter a period of descent. 

4. Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers are reigning NL Central champs and despite meager market and payroll status have clocked six winning campaigns within the last seven seasons. The rest is mostly downside for the next Milwaukee skipper. Said next skipper will be following up a Brewers dugout legend in Craig Counsell (he’s quite possibly the Mets’ next manager), and owner Mark Attanasio doesn’t distinguish himself when it comes to commitment to winning. On that later point, the team’s two linchpins — tandem aces Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff — are eligible for free agency after the 2024 season, and it seems highly unlikely the Brewers will extend either of them before that happens. That probable reality clouds the club’s outlook beyond next season. 

5. Los Angeles Angels

Because of their chronic inability to build a worthy roster around Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, the Halos have become a baseball punchline. Ohtani will almost certainly go elsewhere via free agency, and Trout’s best years appear to be behind him, especially in terms of his capacity to stay healthy (he’s also the subject of increasing trade speculation). Strip Ohtani away from this roster, and they could threaten 100 losses in 2024 and be spared from last place only by the hapless A’s. As well, the Angels’ farm system right now is probably among the worst in baseball, so the future isn’t much better than the present. Throw in an owner who meddles far in excess of what his decision-making faculties should allow and you have a thoroughly unenviable situation. Well, at least as major-league managerial jobs go. The team’s next manager will be its fifth since 2018. 

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