Latest news on D-backs, Orioles and Marlins (cont.)
The Diamondbacks' late Thursday shakeup was shocking. Yet, in a way it wasn't. Word had been circulating that owner Ken Kendrick was very upset by his last-place team's underachievement this year, and that manifested itself with the tandem firing of GM Josh Byrnes and manager A.J. Hinch. Hinch so much as admitted the team "wasn't responding'' to him weeks ago, but Byrnes' ouster was a bit more surprising -- though word was going around in baseball circles about a week ago that he could be removed, as well, despite having a contract that runs through 2015. There was definite tension at the upper levels of the Arizona front office with the team slipping since the second half of the 2008 season. One source said that while Kendrick is well-liked, he has a "bit of Steinbrenner in him,'' for good or bad.
Byrnes is extremely well-respected in baseball circles, and was one of the GMs most willing to take risks and make big trades. But Byrnes paid for a bad bullpen, the roughest schedule in baseball (they had only 17 games so far against losing teams, their interleague slate was against the AL East and their extra NL team was the Cardinals) and also his hand-picked choice of Hinch, an intellectual Stanford man never truly accepted by baseball's oldtime folks.
There was a lot of whispering behind Hinch's back regarding alleged too-late calls to warm up relievers. And whether it was true or not, there's no doubt that kind of talk got to Byrnes' bosses. Byrnes' pick of Hinch, an outside-the-box call from the front office, was controversial from the start. Hinch seems to have the potential to be an excellent manager of men and games. But in baseball, where there's a way of doing things, that may not be enough.
Oldtime baseball people disliked the hiring of Hinch and denigrated him as too intellectual for the job, and underqualified as a first-time manager. Kirk Gibson, the interim choice to replace Hinch as manager, brings opposing qualities. Arizona wanted a grittier team. Well, now they have a gritty manager and an oldtime baseball guy who starred on the field. Both Gibson and interim GM Jerry DiPoto are said to have a chance to keep their jobs, depending on how things go. DiPoto has been a candidate for a number of GM jobs around the game and is well-liked, and will surely be given an opportunity. But Kevin Towers' name could come up as a candidate at some point, according to a baseball source. Towers did a nice job as GM in San Diego but was fired by new Padres owner Jeff Moorad, the same man who gave Byrnes a contract through 2015 in Arizona well before he left for San Diego.
Some baseball people think Orioles president Andy MacPhail may lean toward Eric Wedge for the Orioles' managerial opening. The players absolutely love the very lovable Juan Samuel (they liked the recently fired Dave Trembley, too), so that's a factor. Buck Showalter provides an interesting alternative, but it's believed Showalter favors a lot of change, bordering on overhaul. Wedge, who managed the Indians from 2003-2009, is thought to fit MacPhail's low-key personality better.
Everyone in baseball was shocked when the Marlins abruptly called a halt to their talks with Bobby Valentine to take over as manager. Valentine had to be surprised, as well, after being courted for quite a while by Florida owner Jeffrey Loria. Something didn't click between Valentine and club president David Samson, and sources say the conversations got quite "heated.''
Valentine went on Sirius XM's Mad Dog Russo show on Thursday and said, "You know, I mean, I was reading in the paper I wasn't a candidate, you know? And I don't really like that stuff. You know, we did have conversations and then the next thing I know their leaks have people writing things that I'm no longer a candidate and they're going in another direction. Well, you know, if that's the case tell me. I'm a big boy. It's real easy.
"To tell you the truth, the in-season stuff where you have all the rules and regulations that are set forth -- rightfully so, I guess -- by the commissioner that you have to interview so many different types of people from in and outside your organization before you're allowed to hire a person you want to, it's a pretty tough process. I don't know that it's tough. It doesn't seem like it's the way most industries do it."
Valentine would have been perfect for the young team. But while the Marlins make the most of their limited spending, they have an odd history with managers, having fired Joe Girardi in 2006 after he won the NL Manager of the Year award and Fredi Gonzalez a couple months into the season after he won 87 games with a $36 million payroll.
With interim manager Edwin Rodriguez, who was just given the full season to prove himself, the Marlins have had quite a run of hiring first-time managers. Florida also likes Bo Porter, the Arizona third base coach who worked in Florida under Gonzalez for three years. But Porter left when the Marlins took too long to decide on their coaches after what seemed to most to be a successful 2009 season. Florida has now fired or lost six coaches and a manager since last September while achieving well beyond their payroll and perhaps even their talent.
Braves manager Bobby Cox has been in contact with Gonzalez since the Marlins manager was let go, and Gonzalez seems beloved by Braves people. It may be tricky to utilize him in a big role in Cox's last season, as he'd appear to be a manager in waiting, but baseball sources say that is the likely reality. Gonzalez, a former Braves coach, is the overwhelming favorite to take over for Cox, who has said he will retire after this season.
Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos is expected to start weighing the replacement for manager Cito Gaston by August. One early report suggested Sal Fasano, who's managed in their system for a month, could be a candidate. But one person in the know said it's difficult to imagine Anthopoulos being "quite that bold" as to hire a 38-year-old who only finished his playing career in 2008 and has only been a manager for a few months at Single-A.
At least two calls shouldn't have been omitted by the recent list of the 20 best baseball decisions, and those were the Reds' decision to start 2009 draftee Mike Leake at the major-league level and the Mets' decision to promote rookie first baseman Ike Davis, who has made a major impact and is now used as the Mets' cleanup hitter.