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When Yankees general manager Brian Cashman showed up unannounced in Atlanta to meet his struggling $200 million team, alarms went off, and shrill headlines were created. But while Cashman did meet with manager Joe Girardi in Atlanta, there's no evidence whatsoever that Girardi's in any sort of trouble.
"Joe's doing an excellent job," Cashman said by phone. Cashman's similar words of encouragement in Atlanta silenced the alarm bells and headline writers, then the Yankees won two straight, ending the controversy -- at least until the next perceived mini catastrophe for the Bronx Bombers.
Two managers already have been fired this year -- Arizona's Bob Melvin and Colorado's Clint Hurdle. Those two men met in the 2007 NLCS, so that tells you how tenuous a managerial job can be. Concern is often warranted.
Here is an update on four managers who don't appear to be guaranteed a date to manage in 2010.
1. Joe Girardi, Yankees.
There still isn't any real evidence of a rift between Girardi and struggling superstar Alex Rodriguez, despite a report of tough words exchanged between the two. More important, nor does there appear to be any notable fracturing of support from the front office.
Although the conference call arranged by Cashman -- which didn't include Girardi -- is what finally got A-Rod to confess he needed time off, there shouldn't necessarily be anything negative read into that. (It is, however, thought true that some Yankees higher-ups blame the traveling training staff for not grasping that doctors wanted Rodriguez rested once a week.) Girardi likely trusted A-Rod's claims that he was OK too much. But that one miscommunication alone won't imperil the manager.
Girardi didn't have a smooth start last year with the old-guard stars of the dynasty era, but Cashman credits the manager for recognizing the need to loosen up. There are conflicting opinions about how popular Girardi is in the clubhouse now, but he certainly has tried harder, taking the troops on field trips to play billiards and watch the NCAA championships. Girardi will always be intense, but does seem slightly less tense. Cashman compares him to Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, who's a hero in New York after initially being perceived as too autocratic.
Girardi's going to get the year, at least, as he is Cashman's handpicked successor to the legendary Joe Torre. The question is whether he survives a second season should the Yankees not reach the playoffs, and the general perception is he won't. But Cashman suggested by phone that Girardi didn't do as poorly as portrayed last year. "He managed to win 89 games with a ton of injuries," Cashman pointed out. If it's up to Cashman, Girardi probably stays no matter what. But a lot of money was invested in this team (not to mention a $1.5 billion stadium), and that call ultimately may not be Cashman's to make.
2. Eric Wedge, Indians.
Indians GM Mark Shapiro is meeting with club president Paul Dolan in the coming weeks to discuss the state of the team, including the state of the manager. But no one in baseball believes Shapiro is anything but supportive of Wedge. Shapiro repeated Friday that he didn't believe the manager should be changed, and that support isn't expected to waver.
"If I felt a change would improve our team, I'd make a change," Shapiro told SI.com. "I think that's just a copout that's too often accepted in today's world. Yes, I'd like to see improvement from the coaching staff and manager, but I don't think that's the root of our issue. The accountability lies with me more than Eric."
Shapiro and Wedge have been close dating back to Shapiro's days as assistant GM and Wedge's formative years managing in the Indians' minors. Shapiro has been blaming the bullpen that he and the front office put together (the pen's 5.07 ERA is the third-worst mark in baseball; their overall 5.23 ERA is the worst). All the injuries (Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Asdrubal Cabrera, Aaron Laffey) haven't helped, either.
One person with ties to the Indians claims things have gotten "stale," and perhaps a change wouldn't be such a bad thing. At 30-43, they are surely one of baseball's most underachieving teams. "Maybe they need a new voice," that person said.
Shapiro disagrees: "I don't think a new voice is going to change the bullpen's performance."
Maybe so, and Wedge should be safe as long as Shapiro continues to believe Wedge isn't the problem. And even if Shapiro's bosses don't share that sentiment, the club-owning Dolans do believe in their GM, who is expected to eventually be promoted to club president. So it would be something of a surprise if they overruled Shapiro now.
3. Manny Acta, Nationals.
The GM and pitching coach are gone, and Acta's bosses appeared perilously close to axing Acta a couple of weeks back, before the Nats beat the vaunted Yankees in two out of three. The Nats still have baseball's worst record by far, at 20-49, but they ruined Cooperstown-bound John Smoltz's comeback effort Thursday night, as they continue to show flashes in recent weeks. Also, in an afternoon speaking engagement prior to Thursday night's win, club president Stan Kasten told the Washington Post, "In Manny's case, I happen to be a big fan of his. I think he has the demeanor to be a long-term solution as a manager. He has the demeanor of a Bobby Cox and others who have been successful.
"I can't predict whether it will work here, but I think he will. I think he's going to serve as a long-term manager here. That's my hope."
While Kasten said plenty of nice words about Acta, he has yet to offer any guarantees. Acta's friends say he is under the impression he's safe at least until the GM situation is settled, and with an "interim" tag still attached to Mike Rizzo's title, the GM issue remains anything but settled. Kasten said by phone that a permanent GM will be selected by the end of the year. Acta's still-tenuous situation will probably become clearer at that time.
4. Jim Tracy, Rockies.
He gets the year, but there are no guarantees.
Tracy impressed Rockies people by establishing roles for players and doing a good job of keeping them in the loop. But it's quite possible he was only hired because he happened to be there when Clint Hurdle's time finally ran out. So Tracy may have to keep making miracles.
Tracy's bosses, of course, are impressed he's led the previously underperforming team quickly back to respectability with a streak of 17 victories in 18 games. But they won't make any call until after they see how he handles adversity. That call will not come until after the season.
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