To continue our grading of the AL East for 2014, we now take a look at the man who runs the ship of all these teams in their clubhouses: the managers. These are the men who get all the credit during victories and receive the brunt of blame in defeats. This division is unique for managers with two World Series titles and three World Series appearances combined between the five managers. With that being said, here is how I rank the managers in the AL East:
5. John Gibbons (Toronto Blue Jays) – The Blue Jays were the team of the winter last year, but that success did not translate into the summer months. The first-year, second go around manager led his team to a 74-88 record in 2013. Gibbons’ second stint as Blue Jays’ manager has been filled with controversies in the past involving his own players. Gibbons has seen some criticism from the Toronto media and it doesn’t help that the team has been relatively quiet in player transactions this offseason. The editor of Jays Journal, Kyle Franzoni, told me that Gibbons is more laid back in his second tenure, but has an issue still with in-game decisions and how he communicates with his players. Clearly, the Blue Jays have a lot of progress still to make. They hope their manager in his second year will at least see relative improvement.
4. Buck Showalter (Baltimore Orioles) – One of the great qualities about Buck Showalter has been his ability to change the culture of any team he arrives to. His two years in Baltimore have seen a revival of the Orioles’ franchise. Two years ago, they gave the Yankees everything they could handle in the ALDS. He was AL Manager of the Year in 2012. Last year, Baltimore finished 85-77, including a 20-31 record in one-run games. I talked with the editor of Birds Watcher, Domenic Vadala, about his evaluation of Showalter. He said that Showalter is a loyal manager who sticks to detail, but sometimes he leaves in guys a little too long in games. Showalter has lit a fire under the Orioles and has worked well with the young teams that he has had.
3. Joe Girardi (New York Yankees) – When it comes to Joe Girardi, we all joke about the binder and his stats-driven way of managing a game. Last year, fans saw a different side of Girardi. Remember the emotion he had when Alex Rodriguez was plunked by Ryan Dempster. He handled the media last year as well as ever in the Bronx, dating back to becoming the manager in 2008. He did lead the Yankees to their 27th World Series title in 2009. New York got their busy offseason started this year by signing Girardi to a four-year contract extension. Some would argue that he deserved the Manager of the Year award last year for taking the Yankees to within a game of the playoffs at one point in September. Now, in 2014, he will be given a better cast of players, but still more questions to answer. That being said, the Yankees seemed to have found the correct guy at manager.
2. John Farrell (Boston Red Sox) – Farrell made his return to Boston last year after being the pitching coach under Terry Francona from 2007-2010. In his first year as manager, Farrell turned a circus-like atmosphere in Boston under Bobby Valentine into a World Series championship. One of the things Farrell is known for is his work with pitchers. His familiar voice helped a Red Sox rotation that improved its ERA from 4.70 in 2012 to 3.79 in 2013. Aaron Somers, the editor of BoSox Injection, mentioned that Farrell has been great with handling the media. So far, he has handled the pressure well in Beantown.
1. Joe Maddon (Tampa Bay Rays) – Before Maddon arrived in Tampa Bay, the Rays were consistently the doormat of this division. He has won two AL Manager of the Year awards and even took the Rays to the World Series in 2008. Maddon’s clubs have won 90+ games in each of the last four seasons. True, they don’t get the primary free agents, but they have players that always seem to excel when Maddon puts them into key situations. They play small ball, but it’s very effective. Drew Jenkins, staff writer at Rays Colored Glasses, told me that Maddon’s best qualities are that he keeps a clubhouse loose and utilizes the matchups. While his moves may not always seem to make sense, his way of managing has led to continued success in Tampa, regardless of the quality of talent on paper.