When you have a rookie manager, your expectations have to be toned down, because what a manager says he’s going to do and what he actually does are often quite different. Wakamatsu said a lot of intelligent stuff during spring training, and he impressed a lot of smart people, and I had hopes that he’d be a pretty good manager, but there was always that nagging feeling of “you never know”.
A few weeks in, and while we still don’t know, we actually have some evidence of what Wak values and what kind of manager he is. And I couldn’t be any happier.
At the end of March, I wrote that the measure of Wakamatsu would be how he handled the Griffey situation. It was an exaggeration, but not a huge one. In seeing how he dealt with a beloved superstar who the fans adored, who simultaneously had an inflated sense of his defensive value, was a pretty big litmus test for what kinds of things Wakamatsu valued. As we wrote about extensively, Griffey could help the team as a DH vs RHP, but would hurt the team in pretty much any other capacity. Whether Wak would be able to convince Griffey of that was going to tell us a lot about him.
He gets two thumbs way up on that so far. Junior played 23 innings in the outfield while Ichiro was on the DL and hasn’t touched a glove since he returned. Despite telling the media that he wanted to play the OF regularly and would only DH once in a while, Junior hasn’t said one peep about his relegation to bat-only player, and has reportedly been nothing short of fantastic in the clubhouse. For those that were afraid Griffey’s return would lead to Ibanez 2.0 in left field, I think those have been chased away.
While the Griffey scenario was the biggest challenge, he’s also proven adept in other areas. His handling of the bullpen has been very good so far, finding the right options for high leverage situations and relegating Batista to a back-up role despite his vast experience lead over the rest of the relief arms. He’s shuffled the line-up depending on opposing pitcher handedness, something the previous managers simply weren’t willing to do. He’s stuck with struggling starters when the team needed innings and managed the workloads without riding anyone excessively hard.
He hasn’t been perfect – the team is bunting too much for my tastes, especially Lopez and Gutierrez, and I’d like to see him be a bit more willing to pinch hit for platoon advantages late in games – but he’s been very, very good. After a short period of reservation when Zduriencik was hired, we all justifiably got excited when he gave us reasons to. I think it’s time to get excited about Wakamatsu as well. It’s hard to think of anyone I’d prefer as manager of this team.