Leyland headlines managers on the hot seat and more league notes
Leyland's Tigers finished last in the AL Central despite a $138M payroll
Yankees' manager Joe Girardi better make the playoffs this season or else ...
A-Rod pulled a boneheaded play by having his cousin pick him up from the park
LAKELAND -- Jim Leyland, the legendary Tigers manager who's practically never been on the hot seat, may be on the hottest seat of all this season.
Leyland, easily one of the game's best managers over the past couple of decades and the special leader of Barry Bonds' early '90s Pirates team as well as a World Series winner with the Marlins and World Series qualifier with the turnaround Tigers, failed miserably in 2008, along with the rest of the Tigers organization.
Now it appears Leyland's the one who's under the gun after a disastrous 2008 season in Detroit. It may yet take a second straight disaster for Leyland to lose his job, but Leyland didn't exactly get the desired response when he sought an extension this winter. (His bosses quickly rejected the idea.)
Extensions are what managers look for heading into their walk years. Leyland's timing, though, could not have been worse.
His Tigers turned the wrong way last year, finishing in last place with the third-highest payroll in baseball ($137,685,196) and sky-high expectations, even below the small-market, no-expectation Kansas City Royals. The Tigers began the year 0-8. And it didn't get much better from there.
Leyland's request for an extension even surprised some folks within the Tigers organization, coming as it did after such a debacle. With that disaster fresh in everyone's mind, and a year to go on his deal, Leyland knows the score. The pressure's on him. And that's OK by him.
"It's always a good pressure," Leyland said. "You're always supposed to do something. I like that. We didn't handle it real well last year, the entire organization. I love entering spring training with expectations. Because that means we've got a good team. That doesn't bother me. I'm really looking forward to it."
During the course of the season, Leyland's 2008 Tigers lost most of their bullpen and a good part of their rotation. Plus, there was underperformance all over the diamond. Justin Verlander went from one of the best young arms in the game to ordinary. Dontrelle Willis looked like he forgot how to pitch.
Leyland touched on the injuries but said, "I'm not making excuses. That's just a fact."
Yet, he also understands the other pertinent fact regarding 2008.
"We didn't play good," he said. "We just had a bad year."
He can't afford another one like that. And he's going to need his players to play better for him to get another contract.
"I don't worry about stuff like that," Leyland said. "That won't ever come into play. We're going to give it our best effort. If it's good enough, fine. If it's not, well, they're supposed to get somebody else."
It's an unusual year where few managers appear to be on the hot seat, but here are a few more who could be (the order is based on the heat being felt) ...
2. Joe Girardi, Yankees.
Girardi's $200 million Yankees team won 89 games despite injuries and underperformance. Yet, it was the first empty October after 12 straight year of postseason play under his legendary predecessor Joe Torre (and 13 straight playoff appearances overall). And while Girardi has two years to go on his three-year, $6.8-million contract (chump change compared to what Torre turned down, but still pretty good money), he knows he better make the playoffs this year to return for the final year of his deal.
"There's a mandate every year for the Yankees (to make the playoffs), and I understand that. I understand if you don't win, you don't usually stay," Girardi said. "It's win or go home. You understand when you accept this job that if you don't win there's a good chance you won't be here. That's the nature of this job."
The nature of the Yankees' Boss was well known, but George Steinbrenner isn't running the day-to-day operations anymore, and it remains to be seen what kind of temperament and patience are shown by Steinbrenner's sons. Younger son Hal, who seems to be the one in charge now, is more circumspect and even-keeled than his father, while his older brother Hank, who talks a big game and last spring compared Girardi to Billy Martin and other great Yankees managers before he managed one game for the storied franchise, appears publicly invested in Girardi.
And yet, with the payroll again near $200 million, a second straight quiet October presumably would still put Girardi in peril.
Girardi earned Manager of the Year honors in his managerial debut with the Marlins in 2006. But managing in New York for the Yankees and replacing a legend aren't things that can be learned on the fly. "You imagine what it's like to sit in that chair, but it's different once you're actually sitting in it," Girardi said.
Girardi is generally thought to be at least Torre's equal in terms of on-field strategy, and truth be told, he's probably ahead of Torre on that score. He prepares like crazy and doesn't miss too many tricks. The place where he still has work to do to catch up to Torre is in the clubhouse. Girardi seems relaxed again this spring (just like last spring), but he must learn to maintain a composed manner once the season starts. While it's impossible to match Torre's calm, mature demeanor, Girardi needs to come closer to it. His bosses will site improvement needed in his relationship with the media, but it wouldn't hurt to establish a better rapport with more players, especially some more of the stars from the dynasty teams, stars that were once his teammates.
"You can't expect when you come in to have the same relationships as Joe, who had been here a long time," Girardi said. "They have to get to know me, and I have to get to know them. That's something I'm working on."
He should have at least a year to work on it. But he would be advised to work fast.
3. Ron Washington, Rangers.
He's been on and off the hot seat for a couple years. While he still doesn't appear to have the pitching he needs to contend and may be a victim of bad timing (Texas has great prospects, but they may be a year or two away), he needs to outstrip expectations one of these years.