Spring is the time for baseball. The snow melts, the weather warms and folks look to break out of their houses to stop what may feel like cabin fever.
Never mind 26-man rosters, new rules, or what the starting rotations may look like. As the boys of summer return to their respective Spring Training camps this month, four teams with new MLB managers must first handle some serious damage control duties.
Chicago Cubs: David Ross
David Ross will enter the season as the Cubs’ new manager, replacing veteran skipper, Joe Maddon. Now age 42 (almost 43), Ross re-joins the Cubs’ clubhouse as a manager, but one with no experience. Fans question his ability to lead, especially with friends who remain as players.
After retiring from baseball after the 2016 World Series, Ross split his time between serving as a special assistant to baseball operations for the Cubs and a broadcast stint on ESPN. With the Cubs on the decline and Joe Maddon’s future in question, Ross began emerging as a likely replacement.
Chicago has now fallen from their perch at the top of the NL Central standings. In 2019, they failed to make the playoffs for the first time In five years (finished 3rd). The Cubs have failed to retain free agents this winter, while also failing to sign any major free agents.
Chicago has just two years until the majority of their young core gains free agency (Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, among others). Ross must now try to re-harness the energy and cohesion, that he shared with the team as a player in 2016.
Houston Astros: Dusty Baker
In the wake of Houston’s sign-stealing scandal, veteran manager, Dusty Baker has now been chosen to replace A.J. Hinch. The Astros fired Hinch, shortly after he was suspended by MLB for a period of one year, for his involvement.
Baker knows how to win and the Astros have a plethora of talent. The question will be whether Baker can help overcome the stigma of cheating. The team was found guilty of cheating during their 2017 World Series championship season. With the validity of the title now in question, Baker must now attempt to show that the Astros championship wasn’t a façade.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Derek Shelton
After enjoying three straight years in the playoffs, Pittsburgh has enjoyed the title of “cellar dwellers” for four consecutive years. Prior to the start of their short consecutive playoff run, the team hadn’t seen better than a fourth-place finish since 1999.
PNC Park has looked like a ghost town for years, with the team netting an average of just 18,413 spectators per game in 2019 (ranked 26th). Shelton would surely like to help pack the seats by producing a winning team, but that may the least of his concerns.
Pittsburgh fired manager Clint Hurdle with just one game left to play in 2019. Hurdle had just announced a few days prior, that he’s be returning for 2020. The team fired Hurdle just prior to the first pitch. Although he was offered to manage the last game, Hurdle abandoned the team, leaving the stadium.
Hurdle had completely lost the clubhouse in 2019. Morale was low, and in some cases, morals were lower. Teammates Felipe Vazquez and Kyle Crick engaged in a locker room brawl. Vazquez, the team’s closer, was also arrested on September 17th, 2019. Those charges included possession of child pornography and an inappropriate sexual relationship with a minor.
Pitching dirty? Several teams took issue with Pirates’ pitchers throwing up and in during 2019. Subsequently, the Pirates engaged in a brawl with the Reds on July 30. In fairness, the brawl was started by the Reds’ Amir Garrett. The Pirates’ Keone Kela‘s pitch choices (up and in) were the cause of the brawl.
To say the team suffered quite the public relations nightmare in 2019, would be grossly understating it. Shelton will still have to deal with Crick and his temper, but at least Vazquez is imprisoned.
Boston Red Sox: Manager Yet to be Named
Pitchers and catchers are ready to start reporting to Spring Training, although Boston is yet to hire a manager. Former manager Alex Cora was ousted for his role in the Astros’ cheating scandal, which he allegedly carried over to Boston. Cora served as Houston’s bench coach in 2017 before being hired to manage the Red Sox in 2018.
Much like the Astros’, Boston has been implicated in the scandal, this on the heels of their World Series Championship in 2018. Not a good look for Cora, as he’s now possibly guilty of cheating for two different teams. Both the Astros and Red Sox won the World Series with cheating in question. Cora was a rookie manager when he took over the team.
Boston interviewed several applicants but has yet to award the job. MLB continues to investigate the cheating allegations, with Cora awaiting his fate.
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