This is an unusual offseason for managerial changes. Currently, there are five clubs looking for a new dugout boss — Cleveland Guardians, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Angels, New York Mets, and San Diego Padres — and only one of those was a true firing. (Technically, the Angels moving on from Phil Nevin was the team declining an option.)
One of the other openings was created when Bob Melvin was allowed to leave the San Diego Padres and return to his native Bay Area and become the San Francisco Giants‘ skipper, replacing the fired Gabe Kapler. There was also a retirement and another had health issues.
There is one more unknown and that is Craig Counsell’s future with the Milwaukee Brewers. Counsell’s contract with the Brewers expired this week and was given permission to interview with the Guardians and Mets while still an employee of the Brewers. There is a chance he will stick with the Brewers or choose any of the openings he wants as he is the best candidate on the market.
Who knows if there will be another unusual move by either one of these teams or by one not on this list?
Honorable mention: Milwaukee Brewers
Who is being replaced: The job is Counsell’s until he says otherwise.
Overview: If this job does become available, it would be the second-best opening this offseason and could draw a variety of high-profile candidates. But as I laid out in this article, I don’t believe Counsell is leaving the Brewers. He does appear set on managing next year, which seemed in question entering the offseason, but virtue of interviewing with the Guardians and Mets this week. Could it be time for a new voice in the dugout? Not based on what the players say about Counsell, who is one of the most communicative managers in MLB. There is no BS with Counsell, who doesn’t make excuses for his players, takes responsibility for his decisions, and doesn’t throw anyone under the bus. What is guaranteed is Counsell will be well-paid, perhaps the best-paid, among MLB managers in 2024. Counsell made $3.5 million in 2023. Manager salaries have been depressed with analytics becoming more prevalent and Counsell is looking to buck that trend.
Key candidates: Brewers bench coach Pat Murphy would be a top choice as he would provide continuity with a trusted dugout voice. But Murphy, Counsell’s coach in college at Notre Dame, is also Counsell’s top adviser, which means he could follow him wherever he goes.
Who is being replaced: Phil Nevin was let go by the Angels after his first full season as manager, going 73-89. He also served as interim manager in 2022, going 46-60.
Overview: If you had to rank all 32 franchises based on how attractive they would be for a new manager, the Angels would be in the bottom five (I did rank the best managers entering this season back in February). The Angels were a complete mess from the trade deadline on this season, first acquiring players and then trying to get rid of those same acquisitions less than a month later after falling out of contention. Now the Angels are unlikely to have Shohei Ohtani and don’t feel like they will use this offseason to rebuild. There are a few young players who could be part of the future, but pitching still remains a big question mark. As has been well-documented, even with Ohtani and Mike Trout on the same roster for the last six years, the Angels failed to make the playoffs. Oh, yeah. And the owner, Arte Moreno, briefly put the team up for sale last offseason.
Key candidates: The only name that has really been connected to the Angels’ opening has been Buck Showalter. The four-time Manager of the Year would be a home run for the Angels for a couple of reasons. Not only does he have the patience for a team that is at best retooling, but his vast experience would help the organization as a whole. More likely, the Angels are going to choose from a group of bench coaches or other position coaches. On that list would be Angels infield coach Benji Gil, while other former managers such as Atlanta bench coach Walt Weiss and former Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays manager John Farrell will be in the running.
Who is being replaced: Bob Melvin was allowed to leave for the Giants after just two years with the Padres and a 161-153 record, including 82-70 this year.
Overview: Next to the Mets, the Padres were the most disappointing team in MLB based on the size of their Opening Day payroll and expectations. The Padres have plenty of stars in Manny Machado, Juan Soto, and Fernando Tatis, but there have been rumors of issues in the clubhouse. Now, whether that was just between Melvin and A.J. Preller, the president of baseball operations, remains to be seen. The Padres should again be a contender in 2024, but they will have some work to do in free agency with Blake Snell, a top NL Cy Young candidate, and closer Josh Hader hitting the market. But how much will the Padres spend? That became a bit murkier with a report the team needed a $50 million loan to meet payroll and other obligations late in the season. How does that impact the managerial search? With Preller seeking yet another manager, bigger names might be a little wary of the job, meaning the Padres could be shopping for someone with little to no experience as an MLB manager. But that avenue hasn’t worked out well for Preller, who hired Andy Green and Jayce Tingler as manager first-timers.
Key candidates: Mike Shildt, who joined the Padres this season as senior advisor to player development and major leagues after being fired as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, could be the favorite to land this job, with Padres bench coach Ryan Flaherty not far behind. External candidates include the Angels’ Gil as well as Nevin.
Who is being replaced: Terry Francona stepped down due to health reasons after 11 seasons and a 921-757 record, including 76-86 this season. He has managed for 23 seasons.
Overview: This is a sneaky-good opening, even if the Guardians did take a step back this season. There are a few questions that some shrewd moves could answer, namely finding a shortstop. The Guardians have no trouble producing pitchers, which could mean a trade of Shane Bieber. Playing in the American League Central also doesn’t hurt. The division was the worst in MLB in 2023 and a return to form by the Guardians from 2022 could result in a more competitive product.
Key candidates: Counsell would be an ideal fit for the Guardians, who also present some of the options Counsell could be looking for if he takes a managing job outside of Milwaukee. Chicago Cubs bench coach Andy Green, Los Angeles Dodgers first base coach Clayton McCullough, Seattle Mariners bullpen-quality control coach Stephen Vogt, New York Yankees bench coach Carlos Mendoza, Giants bullpen-catching coach Craig Albernaz and internal candidates John McDonald (organizational coach) and Chris Valaika (hitting coach) are among the top people in contention. The Guardians are big on analytics, so any candidate will not only have to embrace that but be able to communicate that with staff and players.
Who is being replaced: Buck Showalter was fired after his second season with the Mets. He compiled a 176-148 record, including 75-87 this year, and was named NL Manager of the Year in 2022.
Overview: How attractive is this opening? That is really up for debate. First, owner Steve Cohen has shown that money is no object for any transaction. After all, he ate a bunch of cash to acquire better prospects in dealing a pair of three-time Cy Young Award winners in Justin Verlander to the Astros and Max Scherzer to the Texas Rangers after putting forth the highest Opening Day payroll in MLB history. Second, David Stearns has been brought in to take control of baseball operations after a successful run with the Brewers. Stearns is still learning what he has to deal with, but there will be two big keys: His relationship with Cohen and how much the owner will let him do his thing, and then his relationship with the manager. Stearns had a terrific give-and-take with Counsell in Milwaukee. Will Cohen give Stearns the final say in choosing the field boss? You would hope so considering how much Cohen coveted Stearns. There is still talent on the roster, but the Mets are no longer considered a ready-made contender — at least until Stearns fills the holes in the rotation and works his magic on the roster.
Key candidates: Speculation has centered around Counsell reuniting with Stearns in the Big Apple. From a relationship standpoint, that makes sense as they seemed to either be on the same page or being the ying to the other’s yang. But Stearns needs to have a backup plan in case Counsell doesn’t jump from a small market to the biggest media market in the world. Green and Mendoza, candidates for the Guardians’ job, have been interviewed by the Mets. Due to Stearns’ recent hiring, the process isn’t as far along as other teams, but the Mets will catch up quickly.
Who is being replaced: Dusty Baker retired following a 26-year managerial career, including the last four with the Astros. He was 320-226 with the Astros, including 90-72 this season and the AL West title.
Overview: There is no sign the Astros will be slowing down after two World Series appearances (winning once) and two AL Championship Series Game 7 losses under Baker. In fact, the Astros have made seven straight trips to the ALCS, with four trips to the World Series and two titles. There is enough of a mix of youth and veterans on the roster, with a good farm system ready to plug a gap. Baker was a perfect choice when hired in 2020 as the Astros fired general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch just prior to spring training following the cheating scandal. The low-key approach worked just fine, so whoever replaces Baker is likely to have a similar approach.
Key candidates: You would think this would be bench coach Joe Espada’s job to lose. Espada has interviewed for other managerial openings the last few offseasons and, for one reason or another, was never offered the position. His loyalty to the Astros and knowing that Baker was not going to be there long-term could have been a factor, which could lead to his hiring now. Another interesting candidate would be former Astros catcher Brad Ausmus, who has managerial experience with the Angels and Detroit Tigers. Counsell could also be a dark-horse choice.