Major League Baseball’s 2018 season kicks off with six new team managers. That number is not unusual, but this might be the first time five new hires are true rookies and manage their first MLB game on Opening Day.
It is reasonable to think those teams are kicking off rebuilding schemes as they take a chance on unproven leaders. The reality is that all five managers will be under pressure to win right from the start. Three could even be on the hot seat by 2019 if they miss the playoffs in their rookie seasons.
Veteran coach Ron Gardenhire will guide a full rebuild in Detroit, where they are under no delusions of contention. But let’s take a look at the five rookie managers and the situations they inherit.
Philadelphia’s surprise choice boasts one losing season managing at the “A” level and running Israel’s World Baseball Classic team. But Gabe Kapler brings considerable player assessment skills and analytical savvy. His resume includes three seasons as the director of player development for the Los Angeles Dodgers and writing for Baseball Prospectus.
But let’s face it. The Phillies lost 96 games last year. They will be more competitive with Carlos Santana in their lineup and an improved bullpen; but Kapler’s task is to make the Phillies good enough that free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado consider joining them in the City of Brotherly Love for 2019.
Would winning a World Series make Bryce Harper happy enough to re-sign with his current team? That is the pressure rookie manager Dave Martinez faces with the Washington Nationals. Harper has made no secret of his desire to test free agency in 2019, but the Nationals believe they can hold onto him if they break through in the playoffs.
Washington has failed to get past the division series four times this decade, including the past two seasons under veteran manager Dusty Baker. Perhaps a rookie manager like Martinez, after ten years of tutelage as Joe Maddon’s bench coach, can finally bring what is arguably the most talented lineup in the National League to the promised land.
Terry Collins lasted seven years and brought the Mets to the World Series not long ago. But right from the start, fans complained about how he managed pitchers. Hiring former Cleveland Indians’ pitching coach, Mickey Calloway, was a no-brainer if New York wants to win back fans.
Calloway has already shown how his style contrasts with Collins’ in comments about limiting warm-ups, a short leash for starters the third time around the lineup, and no designated closer. Met fans are sold on their new manager, which will make the repercussions harsher if things don't go well.
Red Sox fans might be the most passionate in all of baseball. Weddings, vacations, Bar Mitzvahs, and even surgeries are scheduled around the Red Sox’ schedule and sometimes cancelled if things aren’t going well.
So even a smart, young, bilingual former player who happens to be an analytical guru would have his hands full meeting expectations in Boston. GM Dave Dombrowski hired one anyway in Alex Cora. Then, Dombrowski gave him JD Martinez' 45-home runs to add to the Red Sox sixth-highest-scoring offense and solid pitching. Everyone still predicts the Red Sox to come in second in their own division, which means the most pressure must be on the New York Yankees’ new manager.
Joe Girardi led the New York Yankees for ten seasons when they were mostly a venerable team of veterans and a perennial participant in the MLB playoffs. Last season, they morphed into a venerable team of youngsters destined to be perennial participants in the MLB playoffs. The transformation was completed when the stone-faced and tight-lipped Girardi was replaced by the younger and more affable Aaron Boone.
Then the Yankees added slugger Giancarlo Stanton to their roster. It is World Series or bust for Boone and his charges in 2018.
Boone and Cora will manage in the spotlight of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. With talk of challenges from the Blue Jays, Rays, and Orioles long forgotten, their teams are expected to run away with the AL East and the first wild card slot. Anything less will be surprising and possibly hazardous for their managing careers.
Dave Martinez has much lighter competition in his division. An injury-free season for the Mets gives them the best shot at derailing the defending NL East champions, but even that is a longshot. Failing to make the 2018 playoffs would be a disastrous premier for Martinez.
In Philadelphia, fans are excited about Santana and the continued improvement of their younger stars. But an excellent season for Gabe Kapler and the Phillies would involve fighting for second or third place with a rising Atlanta Braves team and a disappointing Mets’ club.
Which brings us to the Mets. At first glance, it looks like Mickey Calloway is managing the same team that only won 70 games in 2017. However, all their injured pitchers and Yoenis Cespedes claim to be healthy right now. With better luck (and maybe training), the Mets will take advantage of the NL West clubs’ playing each other and sneak into the second wild card.
That means four rookie managers will face off in the 2018 MLB playoffs. Will it happen? I’ll be sure to remind you of this prediction in October. Unless the Mets fail me, in which case, you'll have to look it up yourself.