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Most everyone in baseball will be feeling quite a bit warmer when they get to Florida or Arizona for spring training in the next couple of weeks. But some will actually be feeling not warmth but rather heat, and they'll be feeling it right from the start.
According to my count, no fewer than eight managers will find the undesired hot seat when they reach their office.
Here they are, based on interviews with several major-league executives, the eight who'll have to hustle to remain employed through this season and into next season (and incidentally, the first five were pretty close to unanimous hot-seat picks):
1. Mike Hargrove, Mariners.
Seattle ownership has made clear that the small improvement the team made last season, from 69 wins in 2005 to 78 in '06, wasn't exactly what they were looking for. Hargrove, an all-time survivor and one of baseball's nice guys, got a reprieve when few figured he would. But he won't get two.
Mariners GM Bill Bavasi didn't get Barry Zito, despite offering close to $100 million and finishing second, but he did rebuild the rotation with the additions of Miguel Batista, Horacio Ramirez and Jeff Weaver. While none of the three is Zito, improvement will be expected. The Weaver signing could prove especially worthwhile, with a superb left side of the infield of third baseman Adrian Beltre and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt.
Hargrove's strategy has come under fire in all three of his managerial stops, but he did right by moving Ichiro Suzuki to center field. What he needs most, though, is improved production from Beltre and Richie Sexson.
Odds to remain manager into 2008: 3-1 against.
2. Eric Wedge, Indians.
Hardly anyone overachieved like Cleveland in 2005. But nobody underachieved like the Indians in 2006. While Wedge's team outscored opponents by 88 runs, it only found a way to win 78 games, which if you think about it, is difficult to do. Worse for him, his strict ways annoyed some of the Indians' young players (even if they haven't said much about it aloud yet). Worse still, Buck Showalter has been hired as a "consultant." Who wants to bet Showalter's first suggestion is to replace Wedge, with say a certain, shall we say, more experienced, blond-haired Floridian fellow known for his controlling ways?
Odds to remain into 2008: 5-2 against.
3. Clint Hurdle, Rockies.
Colorado's upper management already has been talking publicly about how the futures of Hurdle and GM Dan O'Dowd aren't necessarily linked, which from here isn't such a great sign for the manager, who's taken his knocks lately. O'Dowd's organization has produced some great young players (up-and-coming sluggers Troy Tulowitzki and Ian Stewart will join Matt Holliday and Garrett Atkins), and he's the one who wrangled three valuable commodities (Jason Hirsh, Taylor Buchholz and Willy Taveras) for Jason Jennings, who had zero chance of staying past this year. Hurdle, who's viewed as no strategic whiz, doesn't have a great chance of staying past this year either.
Odds to remain into 2008: 2-1 against.
4. Buddy Bell, Royals.
Bell is a kind and steady man, the sort that's needed for a desperately awful team to keep spirits up. And he did a pretty good job of that last year. But the Royals will expect to win a lot more games in 2007 after spending $55 million on Gil Meche. And from here, they probably overachieved last year.
Odds to remain into 2008: 8-5 against.
5. Charlie Manuel, Phillies.
GM Pat Gillick will surprise like almost no one else, and he shocked by keeping Manuel this long. The pressure couldn't be dialed up any more now, however. The Phillies have as exciting a young duo as anyone in the game in Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, and they have great expectations. They also have two new coaches with managerial experience: Jimy Williams and Davey Lopes. (Art Howe was hired also but then left to coach with the Rangers.) None of the three exactly set the world afire in their last stop. But the guess here is that Williams, who has known Gillick for decades, will get the nod if Manuel or the Phillies falter. This team can save Manuel, though, as it looks good enough to win.
Odds to remain into 2008: 6-5 against.
6. Sam Perlozzo, Orioles.
A favorite of owner Peter Angelos, Perlozzo lost a few brownie points last year when Baltimore underachieved in his first season. He needs to improve his handling of the pitching staff. And by the way, wasn't that supposed to be the specialty of boyhood buddy Leo Mazzone, the pitching coach who didn't exactly perform his usual magic last year? Seventy-six million was spent on free agents, not unwisely either, and Perlozzo will have to do better.
Odds to remain into 2008: Even money.