Replacing Buck Showalter

My last post invoked quite a mixed reaction from the Orioles fanbase, but one of the things I saw come up in the comments the most was:

Who is going to replace Buck Showalter if you fire him?

This is a fair question, and one that needs it’s own post to explore potential candidates.

First let’s look back at the managers that replaced him in each setting where he was fired:

New York Yankees – Joe Torre

Joe Torre was picked as Buck’s replacement after the 1995 season and it will go down as one of the most successful manager changes in baseball history.  Not only did the Yankees win the 1996 World Series, but they went on to win the 1998, 1999 and 2000 World Series and appeared and lost in 2001 and 2003 under Torre’s management.

Torre had just been fired as the Cardinals manager in 1995 part way through the season and he had managed the Cardinals since 1990,  and the  Braves (1982-1984) and Mets (1977-1981) before that.  Between managing jobs with the Braves and Cardinals, Torre worked as a color commentator for NBC and the California Angels.

Torre played for the Braves, Cardinals and Mets in his MLB career and was a 9-time All-Star winning the NL MVP in 1971.

Arizona Diamondbacks – Bob Brenly

The D’Backs chose Bob Brenly to replace Showalter in Arizona. Brenly of course guided the Diamondbacks to an improbable win over the Yankees for a championship as Showalter’s two former teams met in in the 2001 World Series.

Brenly had never managed before and had last coached with the Giants in 1995 before becoming a broadcaster with Fox, where he remained until hired by Arizona after the 2000 season.

Brenly was a catcher for the Giants and Jays during his MLB career finishing his career with the Giants in 1989.

Texas Rangers – Ron Washington

The Rangers picked Ron Washington to replace Buck Showalter after the 2006 season.  Like Brenly, Washington had never managed before but had served as a third base coach with the Oakland A’s helping to develop young stars like Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez.

Unlike Brenly and Torre, Washington didn’t have immediate success until 2010 when he managed his team to back to back World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011, both losses.

Washington was a former journeyman MLB shortstop that played with the Dodgers, Twins, Orioles, Indians and Astros.

So all three teams chose managers with a variety of backgrounds. The Yankees chose to go with an experienced manager that had to see any real success, while the Diamondbacks and Rangers chose to go with former coaches that had never managed.

Who is the best fit for the Orioles?  I’ll go over a few candidates that the Orioles could pursue:

Jason Varitek

Varitek is my number one choice to be the Orioles’ next manager.  He really doesn’t need much of an introduction for Orioles fans because he tormented the Orioles for his playing career, including catching two of the four no-hitters he caught in his career against the Birds.

Varitek knows pitchers, as he has caught some of the best in the modern era – so there’s no doubt to me that he could help fix this weakness that the club currently has.

Coming from the Red Sox organization, he also has an appreciation for hitters that get on base, instead of the free-swingers that Buck Showalter continues to advocate to acquire and put in his lineup night after night.  He would be a much better fit for Dan Duquette in that regard as the two would see more eye-to-eye on the need to increase the Orioles’ on-base capability.

Speaking of Duquette, there already is a connection there as Dan Duquette brought Jason Varitek to the Red Sox  originally in a 1997 trade with the Mariners.  Needless to say that move set up the Red Sox success over the next decade as Varitek became the team captain and was the symbol of their success.

It would be great to see Duquette bring Varitek to the Orioles to start another era of championships and success.

Currently Varitek is serving as a special assistant to Red Sox GM Dave Dombrowksi, and actually turned down an offer from the Mariners to manage after interviewing for the position in 2015.

Varitek has said he wants to manage a team in the future so why not the Orioles if the opportunity came up?

There are thoughts that he may be waiting for the Red Sox managerial post as Farrell’s contract is up after 2018 so he may only accept that role, but it’s certainly worth pursuing him.

Jim Thome

Thome briefly played for the Orioles in 2012 under Buck Showalter after he was acquired by Dan Duquette at the deadline, so there is already a tie to the organization.  Unlike Varitek, Thome’s ideal managing spot in Cleveland is likely going to be tied up for the near future with the success of Terry Francona, so he would be more likely to take the job in my opinion.

Thome would be ideal to work with this ballclub because of his success as a hitter, with his approach and on-base ability something he could pass on to the Orioles’ hitters.  Just like Varitek, he’d be a better match for Duquette because of that approach being important.  He’s well liked enough throughout baseball that he could likely put together a good coaching staff as well.

Here’s what his former teammate Paul Konerko had to say in 2014 about Thome possibly managing:

“Jim is probably the most positive guy I’ve been around,” Konerko said. “Whether it’s a person in baseball or on the street, he handles people right. That’s more of the bulk of the work now because you have a lot of people helping you make decisions.”

I doubt you’d see a situation like Hyun Soo Kim’s with Thome in the dugout.

Thome is currently working for the White Sox as a special assistant and as an analyst for MLB Network.

Billy Ripken

I honestly hadn’t thought of Billy Ripken as a manager until somebody asked me about it on Twitter.

After giving it some thought, the other Ripken would be a good managing candidate as he grew up with “The Oriole Way” with his father and brother and has deep ties throughout MLB with his job as an analyst at MLB Network.   His most recent coaching experience came as a coach for the 2009 World Baseball Classic United States team.

He would be a longshot though, as he’s said that managing doesn’t currently interest him in an interview with Thom Loverro earlier this year, but if the Orioles came calling?

If you want to restore “The Oriole Way” hiring a Ripken would be a good start and I think Billy actually would do better than his more famous brother.

Chris Hoiles

Chris “Tractor Man” Hoiles is arguably the franchise’s best overall catcher, backstopping the Orioles during their mid-90s playoff runs and former Orioles ace Mike Mussina always wanted him behind the plate when he was on the mound.

Hoiles managed the Atlantic League’s York Revolution for three seasons before stepping down for personal reasons in 2009 and is now a roving catching instructor in the Orioles’ minor leagues and owns and is a hitting instructor with Gold Glove Sports Academy.

Here’s what he had to say in 2012 before re-joining the organization:

“The job I’d really enjoy is working in-game with pitchers and catchers, and with the pitching coaches, and having a plan before the games like we used to do. Go over the opposition and have a game plan, and then work with them in-game, talk to them,” Hoiles said. “I could help with their hitting, too. I think I have a lot to offer with that.

A manager does all of these things, and while he hasn’t any major league experience, neither have many managers lately before they’ve been given a shot.

Hoiles would definitely be an outside-the-box choice, but perhaps that may be all it would take to flip the switch into the Orioles being a World Series contender.

Brady Anderson

Anderson is viewed as an heir to Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette when Duquette’s contract expires, but he has a much more personal relationship with the players than any front office executive would normally have.

He’s not high on my list at all, but he has the trust and support of Peter Angelos already, so one would think he’d be high on the list of candidates if he wanted it so that’s why his name has to be put out there.

Frankly, Anderson as manager might be the best move for the Orioles moving forward if he stays with the the organization as the last two contracts he’s been involved with (Darren O’Day and Mark Trumbo) seem to already be albatrosses.

So those are a few candidates that I can see realistically replacing Buck Showalter.

Any candidate the Orioles pick needs to improve on the weaknesses that have shown up under Showalter’s tenure – an inability to get consistent starting pitching and a lineup that is poorly constructed and favors free-swingers with power over professional hitters with on-base ability and solid plate approaches.

Now you can say Dan Duquette acquires the players, but Showalter has a big say and decides playing time so the next manager must have a better relationship and kindred thought process on how to build the roster.  Right now that’s a big missing link in Baltimore and it has shown up over the past few seasons.

Fix that missing link, and the Orioles will be one step closer to the World Series.

Top images:  CC Images courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr

Bucked: Why the Orioles need to fire Buck Showalter

Yes I said it, and it shouldn’t be a shock for those that have been following me on Twitter and reading my articles at Eutaw Street Report.

Seriously, it’s past time fellow Orioles fans.  There are reasons that teams fire Buck Showalter, and those reasons have been showing up far too often, especially this season and last.

I wrote for Eutaw Street Report last year about how Showalter heavily influenced the Orioles’ collapse at the end of the 2016 season culminating in their loss to the Blue Jays in the AL Wild Card game, and it seems Buck still hasn’t learned from that and is doubling down on the same type of managing.

There’s plenty of evidence to show exactly that and I’ll go into depth on each one:

1.  Hyun Soo Kim is still a benchwarmer.

If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to read my “The Hitter vs. Slugger II” article over at Eutaw Street Report.  I would hope you would also agree there is no way that Hyun Soo Kim should have only 15 starts at this point in the season when the team is struggling to produce runs.   He’s being benched against RHPs as well as LHPs and the team is now 14-16 when he doesn’t start and 11-4 when he does.   Kim’s been on base in almost every game he’s started as well and his defense has also been superior than his competition so that can’t even be used as an excuse.

It is just asinine the way Buck Showalter has treated Hyun Soo Kim since Spring Training 2016 and I really hope Kim’s next team makes Buck look like the petty, stubborn and idiotic person that he has been in this situation.  Perhaps it might serve as a wake-up call for him and for others in terms of his supposed superior talent evaluation skills.

Kim’s treatment alone should get Showalter fired, but if you don’t think so there is more evidence to go through…

2.  The lineup construction is still poor

Adam Jones went from being the leadoff hitter in 2016 to the #2 hitter in 2017 instead of lower in the lineup.   Jones has been abysmal against LHP (47 wRC+)  as well and yet he’s still hitting 2nd when facing them.   Also as mentioned, the 18th best OBP in MLB in 2016 has been benched for a free-swinging RH hitter against RHP and when he does play, he’s batting in the bottom of the lineup.    Why Welington Castillo isn’t batting much higher vs. LHP is also a mystery as he’s been very good against them for his career (126 wRC+) and is again this season (120 wRC+).

It really doesn’t take a ton of effort to put a good lineup together and yet Buck makes the worst lineup decisions night after night and sticks with them no matter the result.  He also never tries to adjust with PHers until very late in the game if at all.  It really is maddening and it’s likely costing the Orioles precious wins early in the season.

3.  Buck is still leaving his starters in too long.

Everybody probably remembers the Wade Miley incident in Game 2 of the final series against the Yankees on October 1, 2016.  If you don’t, you are probably better off, but let’s recap those events anyway:

Buck leaves Miley in with a lead in spite of having been hit well in the 6th inning before and Miley having a pitch count of 108.  The best description to use is that Miley survived that inning so why bring him back out for the 7th when you have an expanded bullpen?   That decision lead to the bullpen ultimately imploding with the final nail in the coffin a 2-run double by Brett Gardner off of Oliver Drake and the Orioles lost a game they should have won.

The Jays also won that day, so that ended the Orioles chance to clinch the 1st Wild Card spot and home field advantage at OPACY where the Jays could have never hit a walk-off HR and where the Orioles had had more success against them instead of the Rogers Centre.

The Orioles have already experienced at least two games with a similar scenario in 2017.  One which I will go through below ended up in a horrific loss, but the other the Orioles managed to win in extra innings.

Anyway, it’s time to re-live the horror that was April 28th against (of course) the Yankees.

Kevin Gausman had made it through 6 innings against the Yankees. He had just gotten touched up  for 3 runs in the 6th inning and 1 in the 5th after pitching 4 shutout innings.  The Orioles got 2 more runs in the top of the 7th and still had a commanding 11-4 lead though and could have easily won.

Buck Showalter brought Gausman out for the 7th inning though and that’s when everything unraveled just like it did months before.

Gausman gave up an infield single to Austin Romine, and that seemed harmless, but then Buck decided to bring in Vidal Nuno instead of one of his other trusted bullpen arms like Givens, O’Day or Hart.

Buck also could have brought Nuno in with nobody on to start the inning and that one baserunner who seemed harmless could have been an out and then the Orioles would have only given up 3 runs instead of 4 when Ellsbury hit his HR, or perhaps Nuno would have been able to pitch a shutout inning without having to worry about any baserunners to start.   Anyway you look at it, Gausman should have never started that inning just like Miley never should have started the 7th inning of Game 2.  But he did, and Nuno had to pitch with a runner on and it didn’t go well.

Nuno got the first out, but then gave up a double to Chase Headley and walked Matt Holliday and then Jacoby Ellsbury with one swing made it an 11-8 game.

Givens came in and was able to get the Orioles out of the inning but the damage had been done as the Yankees had new life with Ellsbury’s grand slam.

Showalter summoned Brad Brach in the bottom of the 9th to close the game out, but Brach had just pitched 2 innings a couple of days ago, so he wasn’t exactly fresh.  Brach walked the first batter and then gave up a single to Matt Holliday to bring the tying run up in Ellsbury.  Luckily for the Orioles, Ellsbury grounded to SS but a run scored and now one swing could tie the game.  Wouldn’t you know it but the very next batter did – with Starlin Castro hitting a 2-run HR.  The game was tied but Brach was able to get the final two outs and avoid a walk-off for that inning.  In the 10th inning however, Buck turned to Jason Aquino who walked the first two batters, struck out the second and finally gave up the walk-off 3-run HR to Matt Holliday. The epic collapse was complete, and you can argue the team hasn’t been the same since.

A Wild Card berth and home-field advantage wasn’t on the line this time but the script and result was all too familiar.

4.  The regression of Manny Machado

The regression of Manny Machado has certainly been frustrating to watch.  In 2015 it seemed he’d finally turned a corner, and then in 2016 and especially 2017 he’s swinging for the fences and now making too many mental mistakes in the field.

At least he’s not swinging his fists, but whatever motivation he had from the Boston series that fueled him is gone now.  Now he looks disinterested at times and is acting like a player who already has the $400 million contract.  At least A-Rod showed up most nights.  Why has Buck allowed this to continue?  Sure he benched him one game with a “finger” issue, but why not send a clearer message?

Manny is supposed to be a leader, but the only place he is leading the Orioles is straight to mediocrity or worse.

5.  Not managing the bullpen to win every game.

Buck has shelved relievers for days on end and instead tried to win games with the likes of AAAA pitchers like Tyler Wilson and Vidal Nuno,   At some point, you can’t keep going to the AAA well and expecting the next guy up to shut out the opposition.  That’s a ton of pressure on those guys and the Orioles’ bullpen has folded under it.   Now some of it has been due to injuries, but if guys aren’t healthy, then Buck should take advantage of the 10-day  DL and get Dan Duquette to find more depth instead of trying to pitch with only 3 or 4 relievers for multiple days.

6.  Using only 3 players from an expanded 5 player bench

This is probably the most damaging offense so far because in theory this was a great idea to start the season to take advantage of the lack of a need of a 5th starter.   Buck could match up hitters with pitchers in the later innings and have some speed off the bench.  The only problem was that the only hitters he used as replacements were Rickard and Gentry during a game and most of the time it was to pinch run or act as a defensive replacement while Hyun Soo Kim and Ryan Flaherty rotted on the bench most nights.  Rickard and Gentry were also hardly ever pinch hit for when they faced tough RH relievers at the end of a game.

The worst part about this arrangement carrying further into the season though, is Buck weakened his bullpen by only carrying 6 relievers, yet he still didn’t take the advantage of having that ability to match up hitting late to end tie games for example, so he didn’t have to use them in extra innings.   Instead, while Kim and others rotted on the bench, Buck burned out his best relievers night after night in extra innings and used the Norfolk to Baltimore option shuttle to rotate in the freshest AAA pitcher to try to eat innings which hasn’t worked out well at all.  Now the Orioles are stuck with a bunch of burned out relievers when their starters can’t go the distance instead of the more fresher bunch they had in 2016.

That’s very reminiscent of the managing style of Dave Trembley who had 3 no-hit shortstops rotating on his bench and 13 pitchers for months and only used 12 of the 13.  I think we all know that Trembley’s managing is not an example to emulate.

7.  He’s more Hargrove than Weaver.

Buck also gets a lot of Earl Weaver comparisons, but he has nowhere near the emotion that Weaver showed in games.  Weaver got ejected 98 times in his career, an American League record and was never afraid to show up an umpire when he felt the team was getting screwed over.  Buck has only been ejected 14 times in his Orioles tenure.   Sure he’ll have animated conversations, but he is a little too respectful of the umpires that make terrible calls against his team, and there have been many as of late since the MASN dispute.

Mike Hargrove had a similar temperament but he got ejected 13 times in his 4 seasons with the Orioles so Buck is actually cooler tempered than Grover which is hard to imagine.

An ejection doesn’t seem like it does much, but it shows the players that you have their back and in spite of all the terrible calls and player ejections, Buck only had one ejection himself in 2016.

So that’s 7 current reasons to fire him.  Let’s look at a few more that transcend only the Orioles:

8.  Lack of postseason success

Showalter has a career 9-14 managerial record in the postseason. The 2014 ALCS was the furthest he’d taken any team and in the roughly 7.5  seasons that Showalter has managed,  the Orioles still don’t have a World Series appearance and don’t look to have one anytime soon.  Competitive baseball should no longer be the bar for a team that’s reached the postseason 3 times in that tenure, and that’s all Buck can seem to deliver.

On the other hand, teams that have fired him have almost immediately tasted success after with the Yankees and Diamondbacks winning their championships the season following his firing.  With the right moves, the Orioles could easily follow the same script IMO.

9.  Mancrushes and doghouses

Buck’s mancrushes are well known, and he seems to have an undying loyalty to those he has that mancrush on.  Buck has gone to bat for both players and coaches in his career, and it’s gotten him fired everywhere but in Baltimore.

He was first fired after a second place finish with the Yankees in 1995 in part when he refused to fire two of his coaches, Rick Down and Brian Butterfield.

David Lough, Delmon Young, Joey Rickard and Craig Gentry are a few players that stick out as being Showalter favorites as players in spite of their performance as regulars.  One should note that Buck usually comes to his senses as these players eventually became role players, but not until a few months into the season when wins have likely been sacrificed.

Buck’s doghouses though are another tale, and  many players have found their way into them over the years.   Also once they do, it is almost impossible to get out.

Alex Rodriguez is probably the most famous case as Buck wanted him gone so the Rangers dumped him for Alfonso Soriano who Buck also clashed with as he moved Soriano from his customary leadoff spot and then when that failed, he was traded to the Nationals for a package with Brad Wilkerson as the main return.   Kevin Mench is  another Rangers player who was there in 2006 and also eventually was traded to the Brewers in a blockbuster deal for Carlos Lee and Nelson Cruz.    Steve Pearce was in there early in 2014 until an injury to Chris Davis forced Buck to play Pearce at 1B but only after he was DFA’d, waived and re-signed with the team.

Henry Urrutia, who was just released by the Orioles, only got a short cup of coffee in 2013 in spite of hitting well at stops in Bowie and Norfolk .   Buck started him for about two weeks at the end of July before relegating him to PH duty only in the beginning of August and then sending him back to Norfolk and only getting him in 3 games after calling him back up in September.  He was originally a find of longtime scout Fred Ferreira, who had previously found talent like Vlad Guerrero and Bernie Williams so there was some excitement about Urrutia’s potential.   However,  Buck didn’t seem to like his defense nor the fact that he only seemed to hit opposite field singles instead of showing the power that was touted when he was signed.   Urrutia was sent to the minors again in 2014, was injured and only got one more call up in 2015 before being banished for good until his release this year.

Now of course the most recent case is Hyun Soo Kim, and who knows what his situation will be?  Will he get traded or released as well before the season ends?

Unless there is an injury, it’s a good bet seeing as Buck has been able to get rid of just about every player he hasn’t liked.  Considering Kim is one of the best professional hitters on the team, that would be a huge mistake.

10.  Teams “outgrow” him

This was the take when he was fired by the Rangers and Diamondbacks before that.  Well the Orioles are certainly a veteran team and Buck’s message doesn’t seem to be resonating any more given the sloppy play and mental mistakes.

Buck was the perfect fit for the Diamondbacks’ as the manager of an expansion team, and went from having one of the worst records in baseball (65-97) in 1998 to one of the best (100-62) in 1999.  However, that record slipped to 85-77 in 2000 as Showalter now was overseeing a team of veterans like Luis Gonzalez, Steve Finley and Randy Johnson instead of 20-somethings.  Buck was fired after 2000 and the Diamondbacks went on to win the World Series in 2001.

Buck took over the Rangers in 2003 with young talent like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Kevin Mench and Hank Blalock.  He took the team from 71-91 in 2003 to 89-73 in 2004 after famously shipping Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees for Alfonso Soriano and Joaquin Arias, but the Rangers regressed to below .500 in the last two years of his tenure before Buck was fired after the 2006 season.  It took longer than the Yankees or Diamondbacks,  but the Rangers eventually returned to the playoffs and had back to back World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011.

And with the Orioles, Showalter had an immediate impact on a young team when he took over from interim manager Juan Samuel finishing 34-23 to end 2010.  The next season the Orioles regressed back to 69-93 but at the very last game of the season they played spoiler and knocked the Red Sox out of the playoffs in a come from behind thriller.  That was a turning point as the 2012 Orioles built on that momentum and came out of nowhere to win an AL Wild Card spot with a 93-69 record, the reverse of 2011, and advance to the ALDS before losing to the Yankees.  The Orioles regressed back to an 85-77 record in 2013 before having their best record since 1997 going 96-66 and winning the AL East title and ALDS before being swept by the Royals in the ALCS.

Since then the Orioles finished a disappointing 81-81 in 2015, rebounded to a 89-73 record in 2016, but fell out of the division title down the stretch after leading the AL East for most of the season and barely claimed the 2nd AL Wild Card spot before being eliminated by Toronto in the biggest blunder of Buck Showalter’s managing career.

Seeing how this season is going with injuries and disappointing performances, the Orioles have likely already hit their high point with Buck Showalter.   They may sneak into the playoffs again, but there is no domination like there was in 2014 or magic like there was in 2012.    The bullpen is already burned out and veterans young and old seem unfocused and sloppy at the plate and on the field.

There’s simply no point in seeing what he can do the rest of the season because if we’ve seen the very best we are now are  seeing the regression just like the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Texas Rangers did.  The only difference is that Peter Angelos and most of the fans that support Buck seem content with just playing competitive baseball again instead of doing whatever it takes to take the team to the next level and end the 34-year World Series drought.

Now with that said that doesn’t take away any credit from Showalter from turning this team around after 14 losing seasons.  He had a major role in building this team’s confidence back up again so that they were no longer a doormat.  Managers don’t usually last as long as Buck has though, especially in the Angelos era, and as much as continuity is important, continuity for continuity’s sake is not a good enough reason to keep Showalter as the manager.

The goal needs to be to appear in and win the World Series.  The window is slamming shut (if it hasn’t already) after 2018 and Buck has never been able to get it done and likely won’t after looking at all the evidence against him.  So it’s time to do what all of Showalter’s other previous teams have done and move on to someone that can.

Orioles fans have waited far too long and don’t deserve to see their team get Bucked again.

Top image:  CC Image courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr