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The Miami Marlins raised a lot of eyebrows in May when they fired their manager and had general manager Dan Jennings take over the team even though he had not coached in 30 years. Four months later, it appears they have already decided that was a mistake.
Sources have told Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports that the Marlins will ask Jennings to resign as manager and resume his role as general manager after the season. Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reports that Jennings “will almost certainly not be returning” as manager and that his future with the team is “up in the air,” noting that he could return to the front office in a role other than general manager.
The decision to have Jennings step down as general manager and move to the dugout was a controversial one and had far-reaching implications beyond just being the latest outside-the-box move by owner Jeffrey Loria.
Unlike other sports, there is typically a very clear line between the manager and the front office in Major League Baseball. Rarely does one person try to be both the coach and the person in charge of player personnel.
The last team to attempt the move was the Atlanta Braves in 1990 with Bobby Cox who had previous managerial experience. Jennings’ previous coaching experience came 30 years ago with a high school team.
But more importantly for the sport of baseball, Jennings’ performance had become a referendum on the managerial position in general, and a lot of people have been watching very closely.
There is an old theory that of the head coaches in the four major sports (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL), the baseball manager that is the least important and that only a select few can actually have a positive impact on a team. This is a theory that has gained more steam in recent years with the use of advanced metrics, where many decisions can be mapped out ahead of time based on simple probability of what the most likely outcome will be.
Buster Olney of ESPN explained the thinking in a column earlier this year:
“For [team executives], there is a recognition that [Bruce] Bochy has distinguished himself in his work with the Giants, as had Buck Showalter and Terry Francona. But there is also the belief that the majority of managers are like mediocre starting pitchers – you can always find somebody to do that job, to implement the strategy generated and laid out by front offices that are increasingly filled with really smart people who understand the chances and odds built into each decision better than the manager. A lot of folks in the front offices just hope that the guy in the manager’s chair doesn’t screw up – by doing something stupid and ad-libbing off the script honed by the staff above them, by failing to be direct in presenting a decision, in saying something really dumb on camera or into a microphone. As written here early last year, a lot of folks in front offices look at the manager perhaps in the same way that Barack Obama views his press secretary: Stay on message, please.”
By moving Jennings from the front office to the dugout, the Marlins, intentionally or not, were testing this theory. According to Olney, other managers were “appalled and believe it to be an insult to the profession.”
One coach told Olney that Jennings would be terrible. “He won’t know how to react,” the coach said. “I kind of feel bad for him.”
Other managers have been openly critical of Jennings’ in-game decisions, something unheard of among MLB managers. Spencer chronicled a couple of examples for the Miami Herald.
- After one game earlier this year, Arizona Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale, who had previously called the hiring of Jennings “frustrating,” pointed out that his team beat the Marlins in large part because Jennings did not have a right-handed reliever ready when Hale brought in a pinch-hitter who eventually hit a game-deciding two-run home run. After a loss to the Marlins, Orioles manager Buck Showalter was critical of Jennings for overusing his bullpen, saying, “They used what, three guys three days in a row out of the bullpen to get it done? We’ll see how that works down the road.”
Well, it hasn’t worked. The Marlins are 39-57 (.406) under Jennings which is the equivalent of a 66-win team over a full season. Meanwhile, the guy he replaced, Mike Redmond, had a .465 winning perception from the start of last year through the time of his firing, the equivalent of a 75-win team.
And now it appears the experiment is over and other managers can breathe a sigh of relief, at least until the next owner gets a clever idea.