Major League managing is a tough gig. You get blamed for things you have little control over, your every move is scrutinized and second guessed by people who've never so much as managed Little League, you work insane hours and travel incessantly, most of your supposed employees get paid more than you -- and even if you were as good at your job as you possibly could be, it likely would only make a few games' difference in the standings. It's not coal mining or anything, let's not get carried away, but it's no picnic. And the job security is notoriously lousy.
Of the 30 major league managers, nine are in the last year of their contracts. But how much does being a "lame duck" actually matter? The vast majority of manager salaries are low enough, by baseball standards, that it's not a huge impediment to firing them anyway -- as the recent fates of Ozzie Guillen and Bobby Valentine remind us.
Still, the looming end of a contract makes it almost painless for teams to can a manager, if things aren't going well, in the name of a fresh start. And, while this part is impossible to quantify, it makes it easier for any player so inclined to tune out his skipper. It's enough of an issue that most teams take pains to avoid the situation; new Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has an unusual contract designed to prevent him from ever achieving lame duckhood.
What follows is a largely unscientific attempt to rate managers' job security from 0 lame ducks (it would take a felony conviction to get him fired midseason) to 5 lame ducks (gone if the wind blows from the west).
Contract info via Baseball Prospectus and Cot's Baseball Contracts.
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Jim Leyland, Tigers
Leyland makes the list because he's in the last year of his contract, but the one-year extension appears to have been largely his choice. After taking the Tigers to the World Series in October, he's not going to get fired; the question is whether the 68-year-old will decide to retire at the end of the season.
Lame ducks: 0
Walt Weiss, Rockies
Can you be a "lame duck" if you were never anything else? This is Weiss's first go-around as a manager, and he signed a rather unusual deal, even for a first-timer, of just one year. What could be interpreted as a lack of confidence or trust in their choice raised some eyebrows around the game, but Rockies owner Dick Monfort has said "This is Walt's job as long as he wants it." (Of course, the last guy had an "indefinite" handshake agreement, and he isn't around anymore).
Weiss could be ditched at will and at basically no cost, but you have to figure he'd need to screw up pretty spectacularly to be gone in less than one year -- even Bobby Valentine made it through the season -- if only because of how unstable it would make the Rockies look. That's not something the franchise needs right now.
|Lame ducks: 1.5|
Joe Girardi, Yankees
Counting John Gibbons' magic Contract of Many Extensions, Girardi is the only manager in the AL East without an extra year left on his deal. He's not especially vulnerable, however: he has a World Series win under his belt, a solid track record, good relationships with most of his players as well as with his GM and owners, and -- for the first time in a long time in Yankeeland -- lowered expectations for his team this season. The Yankees are certainly playoff contenders, but if they don't make it, the blame will fall on old players, injuries, bloated contracts and their sudden adherence to a budget, not on Girardi. Things could conceivably get ugly if all the things that could go wrong do go wrong, but it would take a lot of ugliness -- 1980s Yankees levels of ugliness -- for Girardi to get fired now.
|Lame ducks: 2|
Charlie Manuel, Phillies
As is the case for many of the teams and managers on this list, the Phillies probably won't be that good this year (it's going to be a fierce battle for third in the NL East), and it won't be Manuel's fault. Unlike some of the other names here, however, Manuel has had enough recent success to keep him from being properly scapegoated -- five playoff runs and a championship in the last six years. The Phillies may not bring him back for another season if 2013 goes poorly, but with that kind of track record, they at least owe him a dignified exit. (At 69 years old, he may be nearing retirement age in any case.) General manager Ruben Amaro Jr., at whose feet much of the blame for recent woes could be laid, is under contract through 2015, proving once again that we live in an unjust and unfeeling universe.
|Lame ducks: 2|
Terry Collins, Mets
It would take a lot of gall for the Mets to fire Collins after giving him so little to work with. The Wilpons have done plenty to anger fans, but that kind of low blow seems unlike them, and unlike general manager Sandy Alderson, who knows better than anyone the tough spot Collins has been put in, sans a real outfielder and with his ace shipped off to Canada. Canning him at the end of the year, before Alderson's rebuilding efforts can bear fruit, would be bad enough. So I expect Collins to last the season, despite the fact that Wally Backman is all but publicly drooling over his job.
As for Collins, he told the Star Ledger, "I don't need no guarantees," before offering the following rather confusing statements: "I can't worry about the future, I don't care about the future. I only care about today. When something happens today, we'll worry about it tomorrow."
"I'm going in here with a great frame of mind," Collins concluded.
|Lame ducks: 2.5|
Eric Wedge, Mariners
The Mariners probably aren't going to be that good this season, at least not in the now-stacked AL West, but on the plus side (… well, for Wedge), most observers do not expect them to be, given that the roster consists of Felix Hernandez, a so-far disappointing (but still young and promising) Jesus Montero, the defensive stylings of Brendan Ryan, and 37 right fielders*. Seattle fans are frustrated, and Wedge hasn't wowed anyone, so there's certainly a chance he gets the boot if things go poorly. But under him, the team improved from a dismal 61 wins in 2010 to 67 his first year and 75 last season. Mediocrity in 2012, which is achievable, would probably be enough to get Wedge through.
Unfair side note: I always think of this web site when I see Eric Wedge and now you will, too. Something to do with the way he sets his mouth when the games get intense.
|Lame ducks: 3|
Don Mattingly, Dodgers
The Dodgers are paying a lot of money for this team -- now the most expensive in the majors -- and anything short of a playoff appearance could mean the end of Mattingly's managerial stint in L.A. In fact, given the team's decision not to pick up his 2014 option, you can upgrade "could" to "probably will, barring a plague of injuries heretofore unmatched in modern times." Mattingly himself was surprisingly open to the L.A. Times about his feelings on the matter:
"It was a 30-second conversation about the option, they said that wasn't the plan for me or my coaches, it was a moot point, and I'm fine with that… But you would have liked for them to pick up the extensions so the players could be shown confidence. You never want it to be like, after a couple of bad games, people are saying, 'Oh, are they gonna change managers now?'"
He also took responsibility, saying, "If I don't get my guys to play well, it's on me, it's my fault." I'm not at all sure that's true, but that's just part of the joy of managing; it's too expensive to fire the players. On the plus side for Mattingly, concerns about his team not respecting his authority due to his lame-duck status are likely undercut by him being Don Mattingly.
In any case, he's definitely set up to take the fall -- but there's no reason to expect a fall will need to be taken. You don't have to be Earl Weaver to successfully manage a roster that stacked. Mattingly has to hope for a hot start, though.
|Lame ducks: 3.5|
Ron Gardenhire, Twins
Gardenhire, an avuncular baseball gnome of a man, has long been near the top of my list of Managers I'd Like To Have a Beer With. Unfortunately, the correlation between that list and the list of managers I'd want to actually manage my team is not high (see also: Ron Washington).
This is Gardenhire's first year as a lame duck, and he seems to know what he's facing. He has managed the Twins for more than a decade now, and in that time they've had a lot of very impressive success -- six playoff appearances, though admittedly five of those were first-round exits -- for which he absolutely deserves a share of the credit. But all good managerial runs must come to an end. After 94 wins in 2010, the Twins plummeted to 63 in 2011 and 66 last year. They'll be bad again this year, barring a turnaround even more shocking (and lucky) than the Orioles' 2013. No, it won't be Gardenhire's fault; no one could turn the current roster into a contender, and his bunting fetish isn't the reason they'll be under .500. But if this continues Minnesota will have to make a change, and if things get really bleak, they may not wait. That the Twins have so much respect and affection for Gardenhire after all these years is the only thing keeping him from topping the list.
|Lame ducks: 4|
Ned Yost, Royals
Failure to turn all that farm system talent into viable major leaguers has led to frustrating times in Kansas City. The Sporting News preview magazine actually predicted Ned Yost could be Manager of the Year. That seems like a stretch, but it's true that the Royals could pleasantly surprise people if their many young talented players start to click, and Yost would benefit from that (he might even deserve to).
On the flip side, trading Wil Myers, one of the best prospects in the game, for pitcher James Shields indicates that the Royals think they're close to contending. I don't think they're right about that. And while it doesn't matter what I think, if ownership and GM Dayton Moore believe their team is a contender that's merely underachieving -- even with the shiny new starter they got for their manager at great cost -- this could be the last straw for Yost, whose in-game strategizing and player usage has not been particularly inspiring. Of all the managers on this list, he seems the one most set up for the chopping block. And this is a man who once managed to get axed on the way to a playoff spot.
|Lame ducks: 5|