The ways that most or all of the teams in the NL East will eventually fail in 2015 are not yet known, but we do know who is likely to get the blame when they do: the managers. So in what standing with their respective organizations are the skippers beginning their 2015 campaigns?
Hired: September 2013
Record with Phillies: 93-111
"I didn't think we had a good clubhouse last year."
Nobody liked watching Charlie Manuel shuffle out of Citizens Bank Park with a Wawa bag full of his belongings, creating an image you can recall so easily I will not even bother to insert it here. Sandberg was bumped into the job seemingly by default, but had his "interim" tag dropped only 34 games into his tenure in 2013 when he agreed to a three-year extension with an option for 2017.
So, this is the Sandberg Era we're in right now, and at the moment, things are grim.
It's nice that the Phillies are moving in the right direction philosophically, but there was not a lot of actual movement this offseason; at least, not as much movement as their plans require. That leaves Sandberg with a clubhouse full of players who by his own admission were not 25 best friends, recently noting that the team needed "a better atmosphere" to find its place. But the players didn't keep the grumbling quarantined to the locker room this past season - multiple times players seasoned and green alike complained in the papers about a particular Sandberg decision.
Amaro cited Sandberg's six years as a minor-league manager as a reason for his initial selection, presumably factoring him into the Phillies' plans to reload with a slew of younger players and prospects. However, this early on, Sandberg still has a lot of veterans on his roster to manage who are probably more eager to find a contending team to join in the twilight of their careers (Except for Chase Utley, who apparently just wants to stay forever.) Whatever issues Sandberg was having last year, many of the players who were involved in the more public issues - save Jimmy Rollins - are still around.
Hired: October 2010
Record with Braves: 358-290
"Obviously, I think the organization giving me another opportunity is terrific. We'll see if we can get back to our winning ways."
On the eve of the Nationals' 2014 NL East division-title clinch, it was not hard to find a Braves fan who would welcome Fredi Gonzalez's departure.
It was tough for Gonzalez in Atlanta from the start, coming in to take over for Bobby Cox. Gonzalez took control of what was a vigorous, if inconsistent, offense, but refocused its main power threats to try to make more contact (and cut down on strikeouts). This backfired and the team's run production suffered. Some things are not his fault – no one in the Braves front office could have foreseen the dumpster fire that is B.J. Upton, injuries dented the roster as the Nationals stayed healthy, etc. - but Gonzalez's oft-cited bullpen management and lineup construction have left him in poor standing with fans.
With the Braves, though, he is somewhat embedded. Not contractually; last year, Gonzalez was said to receive an extension, but the length was left a mystery. It turns out it was only for a year, making this the final year of his deal. Where Gonzalez's support does lie is with his predecessor, Cox, who is still involved with the organization, and John Schuerholz, Atlanta's team president.
Chances are that Gonzalez is the most likely NL East manager to be fired, but with the Braves' current phase, he may not be going anywhere just yet. Atlanta appears content to play out the stretch in Turner Field, sending key players like Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and Evan Gattis away in trades, making the team worse, and priming to fully retool for the move to Cobb County in 2017. Gonzalez's role might be reevaluated as the team goes through its coming changes.
Hired: November 2012
Record with Marlins: 139-185
"If you ask any guy on that team about that, they'd all say the same thing -- it did its job. It kept us loose, and as crazy as it is, it worked."
Mike Redmond's NL Manager of the Year campaign likely ended in September of last season, when his best hitter, Giancarlo Stanton, took a pitch to the face and was lost for the rest of the season. His absence was felt up and down the lineup, as the Marlins' recovery from their 100-loss 2013 ended sourly. Obviously, Redmond not winning an award was not the most critical aspect of Stanton's injury, but that he was in the running does indicate how much Redmond has helped to turn the Marlins around.
On the last day of the 2014 season, a microcosm of the NL East was visible as Miami was no-hit by Jordan Zimmermann of the Nationals; the Nats, in a golden age, have plans to steamroll the playoffs as the division champs, but Miami, which extended Redmond's contract two years that same day, had no problem looking to the future. Redmond knows he is in Miami as part of a reconstruction project and Jeffrey Loria seems to understand that enough to not can his manager and trade everybody.
And with players such as Jose Fernandez and Stanton leading the rebuild, Redmond has every reason to be excited about what's happening in Miami. A laid-back manager who is not afraid to scream at an umpire and then stomp into the clubhouse missing his hat and having his jersey untucked tends to fit well with passionate young players who aren't too cool to try.
Redmond was part of the Marlins contingent that greeted Ichiro with open arms and explicitly laid out plans for him and the team. The 41-year-old, Hall of Fame outfielder goes a long way in the team's plan to deepen the roster, and was readily convinced. Whatever the Marlins are doing, Redmond has become a strong advocate.
Hired: October 2013
Record with Nationals: 96-66
Reporter: "Are you crazy?"
Not everyone liked the Matt Williams hire in Washington.
Davey Johnson, Williams' predecessor, maintained a fairly relaxed clubhouse in which the mix of elite young talent and grizzled veterans could stay comfortable while pounding the division. When Williams was brought in, the team now had a manager in play who wasted no time in demanding more hustle from Washington's franchise player whose main issue is probably that he hustles too much.
Multiple outlets had Williams gone at the first sign of trouble, but here he is, the 2014 NL Manager of the Year, on the cusp of his second spring training with the Nationals and an NL East division flag jammed in his back pocket.
Unlike Terry Collins, Williams has been gifted yet again with the assets to not just make the playoffs, but also strut into them, picking competitors out of his cleats. The Nationals outfield is set, the infield is rearranged and solid, the rotation has, if anything, too many worthy pitchers after the acquisition of Max Scherzer, and the Casey Janssen signing was seen as the solution to any bullpen concerns.
So it's tough to see what exactly Williams could do wrong enough to mess this up. Granted, baseball always has the capacity to ruin somebody's life at any moment, but on paper, the 48-year-old is sitting on the most productive team in all of the sport, set to defend its 96-win domination of the league.
However, this has been considered the Nationals' division for several years now, and they had little trouble taking it in 2012 and 2014, but 2013 featured a stumble, and neither playoff berth surrounding it has resulted in even a World Series appearance, despite certain promises from ownership. With nothing but Cardinals and Giants World Series rings to show for it, this Age of the Nationals has been underwhelming from a championship perspective. Already there is talk of contracts ending, players leaving, and windows closing, especially with the Marlins and Mets on the rise. From the look of things, all Williams can do - as has become his mantra this winter - is make sure everybody shows up to camp ready and go from there.
Hired: November 2010
Record with Mets: 304-344
"…if we played Ping-Pong, I'm going to try to kick your butt."
Things didn't go exactly as Collins had envisioned before coming to the Mets. He had been in line to take over the manager's role with the Dodgers in 2005, with his player-development skills being praised by then-L.A. GM Paul DePodesta. The move never happened, but it was the young Dodgers core at the time that had excited Collins, and he should be equally jovial about the youthful assets boasted by the Mets (mostly in the rotation).
In the past few years, the Mets haven't even clung to the edge of contention, leading to frustration and rumors of Collins' demise. But the franchise has stuck with him as he put culpability into New York's clubhouse, shouting at team meetings rather than continuing the background-dwelling of his predecessor, Jerry Manuel.
At the start of his fifth year, Collins has the closest thing to a contending team he's ever had in St. Lucie. He feels like he isn't missing any more pieces (even if he is), bubbling over the Mets' meager signings of Michael Cuddyer and John Mayberry. He is not afraid to heap expectations onto David Wright (whose resurging bat he knows he will need) and Matt Harvey (who he says has the competitiveness of "a stinkin' bear") and is even thinking about how he will set his October rotation, but the Mets' few moves this offseason while other teams took major leaps is objectively troublesome for their chances.
The Mets want to believe that their rebuild is complete and that they are entering the next phase, and an NL East-heavy April schedule will be an early proving ground as they square off against only one non-division rival all month (the Yankees). Without a hot start, they may find themselves buried in June and Collins could feel the heat – just not the kind he wanted.