Grading the 8 MLB managerial hires this offseason, from Ron Washington to Craig Counsell

Only one manager was relieved of his duties during the 2023 baseball season, and that happened in the last week, with Gabe Kapler getting the pink slip from the Giants. 

Who knew that would set the stage for an active stretch of managerial news, including one of the more dramatic days in the history of the MLB manager Hot Stove? Who will ever forget Nov. 6, when the Guardians hired Stephen Vogt, the Mets surprisingly hired Carlos Mendoza and the Cubs shocked everyone by poaching Craig Counsell from the rival Brewers with a jaw-dropping five-year, $40 million contract?

It was the first time in a long time (ever?) baseball fans everywhere were refreshing Twitter waiting for news to break. We might not see the likes of it again.

So now the dust has settled, and a total of eight new managers were hired. Obviously, final grades will be handed out a few years from now, but let’s take a stab at some preliminary grades for those eight hires.

MORE: Way-too-early MLB Power Rankings for 2024

Grades for new manager hires in MLB

Ron Washington, Angels

Grade: A

The Angels are a bit of an enigma right now, as they prepare to enter the post-Shohei Ohtani era. Should they trade Mike Trout and completely rebuild? Should they spend Ohtani’s money on multiple free-agents and make a push to contend in 2024? It’s hard to know what direction they will go. But here’s the thing: Ron Washington was a home-run hire, no matter what direction they go. Everybody loves Wash, and there’s a reason for that. He sets high standards, and he’s out there working with players to make sure those standards are met. He’s invested in his players’ success, on both a team and individual level. 

He’ll provide the positive jolt needed to change the fortunes in Anaheim. Whether they contend in 2024 or not, the young players on the roster (and soon to be on the roster) are the key to the franchise’s future. Working with Washington will be a big boost to position players like Jo Adell, Zach Neto, Mickey Moniak, Nolan Schanuel and Jordyn Adams. Ask Marcus Semien about Washington’s impact. Ask any of the Atlanta infielders. He was a great hire. 

MORE: Ron Washington uses fungo bat to teach defense, life

Joe Espada, Astros

Grade: B-plus

The hiring of Espada was more than the Astros just looking internally and picking the guy who worked closely with the retiring Dusty Baker. If Espada hadn’t been hired by the Astros, he would have landed a managerial job somewhere very soon. He’s respected around the sport, and has quietly played a huge role in Houston’s success recently. Espada’s hiring might not be the headline-grabber owner Jim Crane loves — like the TWO times he dramatically traded for Justin Verlander — but Espada is the right guy for the job. The Astros are facing a bit of a crossroads soon, with both Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman set to become free agents after the 2024 season, leading to the possibility that one will be traded and one extended. 

Pat Murphy, Brewers

Grade: C

Murphy brings continuity, sure, as a longtime colleague of departed manager Craig Counsell. If anyone can continue the smoke-and-mirrors show needed to succeed with the Brewers’ tiny budget, it’s Murphy, the guy who helped Counsell make it happen for years. Truth is, though, it’s fair to wonder what kind of team Murphy will have by the end of the 2024 season. Brandon Woodruff is already gone (injured, then traded), and Corbin Burnes, Willy Adames and even Devin Williams might be by the trade deadline (if not sooner). With the rest of the NL Central getting better, not sure even Counsell would have been able to keep Milwaukee at or near the top of the division. Tall task for a first-time manager.

Craig Counsell, Cubs

Grade: A-minus

Loyalty in baseball is a construct. Counsell wasn’t loyal to his hometown team, the Brewers. The Cubs weren’t loyal to their manager, David Ross, a hero from that 2016 World Series team. The whole thing just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

But at the very least, you understand why the move happened. Counsell had to work with one hand tied behind his back for years in Milwaukee, watching players get traded away for monetary reasons, and saw the opportunity to manage a team without such limitations. The Cubs saw a manager who worked wonders with those limitations and dreamed about what he might do with a roster built sans monetary restrictions. On paper, it’s a great match. 

MORE: Counsell burns bridges with Brewers to join Cubs

Bob Melvin, Giants

Grade: B-plus

No doubt, it always feels a bit odd when a manager leaves another job while still under contract, but it was clear the situation in San Diego wasn’t working with Melvin and GM A.J. Preller. But once the Giants decided to part ways with Gabe Kapler — whose methods were often a bit controversial but did a commendable job with the roster he was given — hiring Melvin made lots of sense, as a solution for both teams. 

Melvin’s from the area and played three of his best seasons with the Giants. Same as with some of the other managers on the list, though, his early success/failure with the new franchise will be about the level of roster improvement he’s provided. The Giants are targeting all the biggest names, but if they miss opportunities while waiting, then don’t get Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto or Blake Snell as free agents, or trade for Juan Soto, Melvin could have his work cut out for him in 2024. 

Stephen Vogt, Guardians

Grade: C-plus

I mean, Vogt hit just .161 in his last year in the bigs. How in the world can he be a good manager? I kid, I kid. And just to say it again, I’M KIDDING. Pretty sure the first time someone looked at Vogt as a baseball player and thought, “This dude will make a good manager one day” was his second year of little league. And no doubt, Vogt has all the traits a club would look for in a manager. He’s smart, he’s a teacher, he understands what makes a clubhouse work and all those things. 

But, still, this feels really early. He just retired as a player after the 2022 season. There’s a big difference between being a “coach on the field” and an actual coach, much less a manager. There’s value in having multiple years focused on the job of being a coach, being a manager. Ask pretty much any current/former manager and they’ll tell you exactly that, how much different/better they were in Year 5 of their coaching career than Year 2. 

Baseball players get better the more they practice. Coaches and managers are the same way. Vogt had just one year, as a bullpen/quality control coach with the Mariners before he was hired by the Guardians. There are going to be some bumps in the road. And he’s taking over for Terry Francona, a legend in the profession who constantly produced results with a roster that wasn’t quite as talented as the teams he was competing against. It’s a tall damn task. The good thing — and surely this was baked into the equation — is that longtime Cleveland coaches Sandy Alomar Jr. and Carl Willis are back for 2024. Both have decades of experience as coaches, which will help make up for Vogt’s lack of experience.  

How many managers were much better at their second (or third or fourth) stop? Francona’s one. A.J. Hinch had more success in Houston than Arizona. Joe Torre had just one playoff appearance in 13 seasons with three teams before he was hired as the Yankees’ skipper. That list goes on and on. You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t expect Vogt to one day be a good manager, but it’s fair to wonder if it’ll happen with Cleveland.

Carlos Mendoza, Mets

Grade: B

Mendoza might not have been the manager Mets fans thought they were getting — or wanted (Craig Counsell) — but he seems as ready as any first-time MLB manager could be, after spending four seasons as the bench coach for the Yankees. As much as any coaching position, the bench coach role is helpful in prepping for an eventual job as a manager, as the right-hand man who is involved in every aspect of the team. Skip Schumaker, the 2023 NL Manager of the Year with the Marlins, took the job in Miami directly off time as the bench coach in St. Louis, for example. 

Mike Shildt, Padres

Grade: B

Shildt did an excellent job in St. Louis, and the change made by the team is still rather shocking, even a few years later. The Cardinals were a better fundamental team under Shildt than they were with his predecessor, Mike Matheny, and his clubs did a lot of the little things right it took to win baseball games. The Padres are in need of those little things, though it’s clearly a different type of roster — much more star-driven — than he had in St. Louis. And having been in the organization for a while, there should be no sort of manager/GM clashes like happened during Bob Melvin’s time. Shildt has an eyes-wide-open view of that situation. 

Not to be a broken record, but there’s lots of roster work to be done for the Padres to show improvement next season, regardless what impact the new manager might make. Think about this: The Padres had eight pitchers throw at least 55 innings in 2024, and SIX of those seven are free agents expected to leave, including Cy Young winner Blake Snell and closer Josh Hader. Oh yeah, and Michael Wacha, Seth Lugo, Nick Martinez and Luis Garcia. Sheesh.

Source : ESPN.com

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