The Nationals took some grief earlier this fall for firing an experienced manager like Dusty Baker and handing over a 97-win team challenged to win a World Series right now to a first-time skipper like Dave Martinez.
Who knew they’d actually end up hiring one of the most experienced guys of the six who filled major league managerial openings this fall?
The Yankees’ surprise hire of Aaron Boone over the weekend was the final piece to the puzzle, yet another inexperienced managerial hire for a team that made the playoffs this year and expects itself to contend for a title next year.
Boone, of course, has zero prior managerial or coaching experience. The 44-year-old former infielder retired as a player in 2010 and spent the last seven years with ESPN, ascending to the network’s top analyst position on “Sunday Night Baseball.” He’s universally liked and respected around the sport, and he’s an excellent communicator, all of which makes him well-suited for the daunting task of managing the Yankees.
But Boone has never made a pitching change before, never sent a pinch-hitter to the plate, never filled out a lineup card. And the first time he gets the opportunity to do that, it’ll be in a major league game involving the sport’s most storied franchise.
Are the Yankees taking a big gamble here? You bet. A gamble even bigger than the one the Nationals are taking with Martinez.
Then again, pretty much everyone with a new manager in 2018 is going to be taking a gamble. Six teams made changes this fall. Only one hired someone with big league managerial experience: the Tigers, who selected former Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire.
Two other clubs hired men with minimal previous coaching experience: the Red Sox (Alex Cora, one year as Astros bench coach) and the Mets (Mickey Callaway, five years as Indians pitching coach).
And in addition to the Yankees, the Phillies also hired someone with zero big league managerial or coaching experience: Gabe Kapler, who managed a Single-A team for one year and spent four years as the Dodgers’ director of player development.
Against that backdrop, Martinez actually comes across as something of an experienced hire for the Nationals. The former outfielder may not have managed a big league club before, but he spent 10 full seasons bench coach for the Rays and Cubs, serving as Joe Maddon’s right-hand man in the dugout.
By today’s standards, that’s a wealth of experience.
Such is the new trend in baseball, where the managerial position has been devalued from its once lofty perch. Nowadays, teams look at the position as something of a middle manager, someone to serve as a conduit between the front office and analytics crew and the clubhouse.
In-game strategy is less important than communication skills, communication not only with players but with the media as well. That’s why the Yankees went with Boone. And, to a lesser extent, that’s why the Nationals went with Martinez.
Whether any of these hires will be successful in the long run remains to be seen. Front offices can take a lot of responsibilities away from their managers, but they can’t walk to the mound with two out and two on in the bottom of the seventh of a playoff game and decide whether to leave a tiring starter in the game or turn to the bullpen.
We have no way of knowing yet how Martinez, Boone and the other newcomers will handle that situation. All we know is that the baseball world has decided they’re the best people to make those calls, for better or worse.
That may be difficult for Baker, Joe Girardi and other longtime managers currently out of work to watch. But they can’t do anything about that now. Whether you like it or not, this is baseball today.