Technically, today’s move to part ways with manager Lloyd McClendon has to be the least-shocking decision new GM Jerry Dipoto will face, but it had some competition: the M’s are also in the market for a new player development coordinator following Chris Gwynn’s resignation. Given the cirumstances of his departure from Anaheim, that Dipoto would want to *pick his own manager* seemed like a foregone conclusion, and may have been a condition of his accepting the job in Seattle. That, of course, tends to make the Dipoto/McClendon “meetings” of the past week or so look like an odd form of theater than a real job interview. Dipoto said today that McClendon didn’t share his philosophy, which seemed fairly obvious, but perhaps it’s nice to at least pretend there was some sort of appeals process before Dipoto went and hired someone he knew and trusted.
At this point, most of the speculation falls on Tim Bogar, the Rangers’ interim manager in 2014 and a finalist for both the Rangers job (he lost out to Jeff Bannister) and Tampa (where he lost to fellow Rangers-finalist, Kevin Cash). After failing to land either job, Dipoto hired him as an assistant GM. Dipoto mentioned that he’s got a short-list of managerial candidates, but I’d imagine that other candidates might have to really impress for him to pass over the known quantity in Bogar. Of course, that was the operating assumption in Texas, but Jeff Bannister flew over the bar and has the Rangers very close to the ALCS.
I understand that McClendon wasn’t a fantastic tactical manager, and that his chances of staying in under Dipoto were essentially zero, but we need to remember that judging managers is a difficult endeavor – witness Matt Williams’ fall from grace as the first defending “manager of the year” to get canned the year following. McClendon’s 2014 squad seemed to come out of nowhere, but they were 4 games below their pythagorean record. This year’s club finished two games *ahead* of their pythag, which I think underscores how limited a tool it is to understand managers. Ultimately, I think the problem was just how few players seemed to really step forward and make the leap under his tutelage. That sounds damning and all, and I don’t really mean it to. It’s the job of the GM to get players who will develop with proper instruction or who are good enough not to need further development. There is a hell of a lot of blame to go around for Dustin Ackley’s Mariners tenure, and I think McClendon should be allocated less than 1/1000th of it. But all the same, seeing Ackley slug .654 with New York was a good (if statistically unfair) reminder that Seattle wasn’t getting him to tap into his potential. The same could be said for Chris Taylor, the Ketel Marte of 2014, or, obviously, of Mike Zunino. I think the bulk of the blame there goes to the GM and the Player Development head, but you’d like your major league field staff to have some influence, too.
Pretty much every club in the playoffs had someone who’d struggled mightily *in the majors* take a large step forward this year. The Rangers got command-challenged Jake Diekman, who was walking 6 per 9 and had an ERA of 5.85 on the worst team in baseball, and after some Mike Madduxing, he’s pitching in high-leverage situations in the playoffs. Rougned Odor’s 2nd half looks nothing like his first – after a year and a half of playing like a perfectly fine (and very young) contact-and-defense 2B, Odor is showing some remarkable power. That would’ve been nice. JA Happ left the M’s and turned into a death-dealing strikeout pitcher after a mechanical tweak from Ray Searage. Delino DeShields was a Rule 5 pick this year, and is batting leadoff in the playoffs. Collin McHugh, Dallas Keuchel, etc. The M’s didn’t have that, as nice as Nelson Cruz’s non-decline was.
And again, more of the blame for that might properly go to Gwynn, who was responsible for a minor league system that utterly collapsed this year. Clinton was one of the worst teams in recent MiLB history, and Jackson and Tacoma were both developmental black holes for pitchers. Tacoma, who play in the closest thing the PCL has to a pitcher’s park, actually led the PCL in HRs-allowed, and watched guys like Jordan Pries take a step back after solid 2014 campaigns. Jackson had by far the worst ERA in the Southern League, and while their FIP was slightly better, they couldn’t keep their team in games. Edwin Diaz’s introduction to AA wasn’t great, but he fared better in 2015 than Alex Jackson and DJ Peterson. While the M’s Jackson and LHP Luiz Gohara remain on the NWL’s all-prospect team, they are there despite their 2015 seasons, not because of them. Everyone agrees that the M’s have some high-ceiling talent in the org, and everyone agrees they underperformed. Moving on from Gwynn was inevitable.
Again, there’s an obvious candidate waiting in the wings, Dipoto’s Player Development guy in Anaheim, Scott Servais. Servais worked in Texas for many years, where he helped develop some of the players who led the Rangers to the pennant a few years back. That said, his tenure with the Angels wasn’t as rosy, as prospects from Kaleb Cowart to Hunter Green to Taylor Featherston to Alex Yarbrough have fallen a bit short of expectations (or, in Green’s case, struggled to stay healthy). That may not be Servais’ fault, but it’s a cautionary note after the success he had with Texas. As hard as it is to gauge a manager’s success, it’s nearly as hard in player development. The responsibility is shared between a small army of minor league coaches and instructors, and physical and mental trainers probably play a huge role as well. But you look at Houston and St. Louis and you know that it isn’t just a crapshoot. The M’s have *needed* a young core to develop and they’ve cycled through a few of them without much success. Every year, it looks like they have a bit of depth in the minors, and every year, that talent seems to take a step back just when the M’s need it. I have no idea how much responsibility Chris Gwynn owns for that, but I’m glad we can blame someone else next year.