x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

The MLB manager shuffle

Thirteen skippers will be on the market at season's end, looking for new clubs, writes Sean McAdam.

Joe Girardi, centre, is one of several managers rumoured to be interested in the Cubs job.
Joe Girardi, centre, is one of several managers rumoured to be interested in the Cubs job.

This winter, the most fascinating free-agency battles may have nothing to do with players and everything to do with managers. Like no recent off-season, this one looks likely to include more shuffling of the men who make out the line-ups than the players whose names are on the line-ups. Thirteen managers are finishing the final year of their deals this season, auguring lots of changes and movement.

Included in that group are some of the biggest names in the business, including Joe Torre (Los Angeles Dodgers), Joe Girardi (New York Yankees) and Tony LaRussa (St Louis Cardinals). Together, the trio have won seven World Series titles. Lou Piniella's decision to retire from the dugout last week, effective at the end of the current season, puts a plum job in play, manager of the Chicago Cubs. Already, Torre, LaRussa and Girardi have been linked the opening. Torre is said to be unhappy with the messy divorce the Dodgers ownership is caught up in, fretting that it will again restrict spending this winter.

LaRussa is a high-profile manager who would seem a natural fit for a franchise in search of its first championship in more than a century. And Girardi, a former Cub and a native of Illinois, is another seemingly natural fit. Girardi did not rush to take himself out of contention for the Cubs' job, noting that it was not something he was thinking about "right now". At the very least, he might be in a position to start a bidding war between two of the game's wealthiest franchises. And should his Yankees win a second consecutive World Series this October, Giardi's value would skyrocket.

Piniella is not the only big-name manager heading for retirement. Atlanta's Bobby Cox is also in his final year on the job, creating yet another opening. The situation is the same in Toronto, where Cito Gaston has announced that he, too, has had enough. Those three openings, coupled with the handful of teams which are employing interim managers - Florida, Arizona, Baltimore, Kansas City- mean a minimum of seven managers could be hired.

Add those whose job security is tenuous, at best - Don Wakamatsu in Seattle, Jerry Manuel in New York, John Russell in Pittsburgh, Ken Macha in Milwaukee - and the number begins to creep towards a dozen changes at the top. At a time when fewer elite players are reaching the free-agent market, managers could well command the off-season spotlight. In contrast to the NFL, where coaches are handsomely rewarded and given much more power, baseball managers have long been underpaid and underappreciated.

That may be about to change. sports@thenational.ae