Fired manager Mike Redmond; named general manager Dan Jennings manager. [5/17]
This much is clear: The 16-22 Marlins, six games from first place, are not where they wanted to be nearing Memorial Day. What isn't clear is how much blame Redmond deserves for the slow start, and whether this change will get them swimming in the right direction.
The Marlins have experienced many misfortunes throughout the young season. Jose Fernandez and Henderson Alvarez, the best pitchers in the rotation, have started three games total; closer Steve Cishek has tied his career-high in blown saves after 14 appearances; offseason additions Mat Latos and Mike Morse have been messes; ascending star Christian Yelich has missed time due to injury; neither Opening Day catcher is on the 25-man roster; and so on. Put Cishek on Redmond if you must, but it's hard to hold him responsible for the rest.
Of course, few managers are culpable for injuries, poor performance, and the like. Redmond isn't unique in that regard. The difference is, unlike the average manager, Redmond works for an owner who changes skippers as often as traffic lights change colors. Redmond—largely indistinguishable from the pack, yet seemingly promising—was good enough for Jeffrey Loria last September, when the two sides agreed to an extension through the 2017 season. What changed?
Marlins Managers During the Loria Era (2002-Present)
Expectations, for one. Jennings spent the offseason trading youngsters for veterans and assembling a roster that was a plausible contender. It was an aggressive play (and perhaps an overzealous one given the results thus far), and the Marlins entered 2015 with their best shot at the postseason since Ozzie Guillen held the managerial reins. Unfortunately for Redmond, his tenure ended like Guillen's did: with Loria proving once more that perceived under-performance is not tolerated in Miami.
Obviously Loria is the owner and can do as he pleases, but it would seem counterproductive to dismiss the skipper only to replace him with the GM, who has no previous managerial experience. Jennings is a quality talent evaluator who had done a fine job since taking over. He boasts an impressive track record as a scouting director, most notably nabbing Fernandez, Yelich, and Giancarlo Stanton without using a top-10 pick, and helping to build Tampa Bay's farm system before then. But the skill sets required for those jobs and managing are as different as it gets; one is about player evaluation, projection, and roster construction; the other is about human and game management, as well as roster implementation.
When healthy, the Marlins have enough talent to get back into the race. In fact, things are looking up in that department: Yelich and Alvarez returned last week, and Fernandez has began facing live hitters in anticipation of a mid-June return. Additionally, underlying indicators suggest the Marlins have played better than their record indicates (their third-order winning percentage is the second best in the division). While their playoff odds are slim (about 12 percent entering Monday night), they're not so out of it as to flush them down the toilet.
Which is another reason why Jennings' promotion is dubious—a bubble team should seemingly prefer a steady hand at the wheel rather than an on-the-job trainee. Perhaps Jennings proves to be a quick study, but there's no guarantee he's better than Redmond or any other option the Marlins could have installed. Worse yet, at least for Jennings, is how he went from a fairly secure position—Loria has demonstrated more patience with his front office than his managers, which is good news for Mike Hill and Mike Berger, the two presumably calling the roster shots now—to one of the shakiest in the game.
Marlins fans, on the other hand, have to be concerned about how this sequence reeks of Loria. He'd seemingly backed off after putting Jennings in charge, but this process has been handled sloppily. Hence Redmond being fired five minutes after a game, hence the Wally Backman rumors despite Backman being under contract to the Mets, and hence the decision to insert Jennings.
As a result, Redmond seems to have the brightest future of the bunch. Expect teams with managerial vacancies to consider him in the coming months, as those in the past did with Joe Girardi and Fredi Gonzalez. The surprise won't be Redmond succeeding away from Loria's reach; the surprise will be anyone succeeding near Loria.