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June 19, 2011

The BP Broadside

Firing the Manager is the Last Refuge of the Incompetent

by Steven Goldman

Since 1996, when Rene Lachemann, the franchise’s first manager, was let go, the Marlins have had 10 managers, not counting one-game interim skipper Cookie Rojas, and considering John Boles’ two stints, separated by three years, as distinct administrations. Now they will be moving on to number 11. With today’s resignation of Edwin Rodriguez, the Jeff Loria ownership will be on its sixth manager.

Since winning the 2003 World Series (aided and abetted by spectacularly inept in-game managing by the Yankees’ Joe Torre), the Fish have gone 598-606 (.497). Their high in wins in those years was 87, their low 71. Their average record in that period was 81-81, and they finished third four times in seven years. In short, no matter whom the Marlins have had as their manager, there hasn’t been a lot of movement.

The reasons for that are as simple as the penurious decisions made by the front office, not the managers. Once Miguel Cabrera, one of the great young hitters of his generation, was traded after his age-24 seasons for a big bucket of parts the Marlins never got any use out of, they didn’t bother to find another third baseman, marking time with Jorge Cantu, Emilio Bonifacio, Wes Helms, and Greg Dobbs. They haven’t had a center fielder of note since Devon White; when Juan Pierre, Preston Wilson, and Cody Ross stand out as highlights among the Reggie Abercrombies and Alfredo Amezagas, you know you’re not trying. First base was thrown away on the extremely limited Mike Jacobs and Cantu until Gabby Sanchez came along. Catcher has been even worse, with the latest mistake being to sign journeyman John Buck off of a so-so career year,

On the pitching side, Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez (when healthy) have developed into reliable performers, but other hurlers, from Ricky Nolasco to Dontrelle Willis, Chris Volstad, and Scott Olsen, had moments in which they flirted with stardom only to give back their progress and never find consistency. That, perhaps, can be pinned on the various coaching staffs, but then again, maybe that is ownership too—Yahoo’s Jeff Passan reported this week that, “[team president David] Samson would approach struggling young players and threaten a trip to the minor leagues if they didn’t start playing better.” The line between major-league success and failure may be as thin as knowing that the owner’s nepotistic pick for president has drawn a target on your back.

This season, ownership has seemingly been more interested in gagging outfielder Logan Morrison than in its performance on the field. Heaven forbid that Morrison draw some attention to a team that is last in the National League in attendance, as it has been every year since 2005. Oscar Wilde said that the only thing worse than being talked about was not being talked about. The Marlins are the all-time leader in that latter category. For all their own attendance problems, the Rays get far better press.

None of this is to say that Edwin Rodriguez is John McGraw or that the Fish haven’t been in a miserable tailspin. Going back to the last time they won consecutive games, May 24-26, they are a jaw-dropping 3-20 with a 5.83 RA and .234/.301/.363 rates. Though they have played against good teams in that time, the record is still pathetic. The question is, what is the manager supposed to do about a team that has had Hanley Ramirez hurt and ineffective, that has seen both Morrison and Mike Stanton miss time to injuries, that traded for Omar Infante, that has had to play Bonifacio every day, and expected Javier Vazquez and Leo Nunez to play major roles on the pitching staff? What do Loria and Samson know about fixing this team that Rodriguez does not?

A look back at teams that have changed managers in-season shows that very few of them experience big turnarounds. Sure, there is a Bob Lemon here and a Buck Showalter there, but these are few and far between. Most of them just go on being miserable. Given the degree to which the Marlins had shut it down this month, perhaps letting Rodriguez go was necessary, yet given the Loria-Samson track record the move should be viewed with a jaundiced eye. After all, they have had so many managers and so many similar records. The skippers change, the players change, but ownership stays the same. Rodriguez may have been guilty of a transient losing streak, but he is hardly the author of the big-picture problems that plague the Marlins.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

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