August 20, 2013
Manuel, 70 in January, was the second-oldest skipper in baseball, younger only than Davey Johnson, who is retiring from the wheel at season's end. He spent nine seasons with the Phillies and, in addition to winning two pennants and a World Series championship, recorded a W in 55 percent of his games. Including his three seasons in Cleveland, Manuel oversaw two losing teams, both in seasons he was fired.
The Phillies had faint playoff hopes heading into the second half. Alas, an eight-game losing streak did them and Manuel in. So the club made the change. Ruben Amaro Jr. cried after the announcement, and players spoke in somber tones. Manuel meant something to the whole organization. That may not matter anymore in Philadelphia, not from an employment standpoint, but it might mean something elsewhere. Manuel, for his part, wants to manage a few more seasons.
For Sandberg, who turns 54 in September, this has been a long time coming. The Hall of Famer began his managerial career in 2007, serving as the head man for the Peoria Chiefs. He left the Cubs organization after being passed over for the managerial job and joined the Phillies in 2011. Since then he's been in Lehigh Valley. Give Sandberg this much: not only is he a more accomplished player than most managers, but he put in minor-league time that other newcomers have not. In time he might prove mistaken the teams that passed him over in the past.
But first things first. Sandberg is an interim manager and the next six weeks could be crucial. The problem with Philadelphia's roster is an ongoing identity crisis: are they going all-in, rebuilding, or doing a little of both? Squint and the smallest signs of a youth movement are in place, like the 27-year-old Darin Ruf replacing the 27-year-old Delmon Young, or Cody Asche getting some big-league burn. This isn't a team with a clear identity heading forward, not yet. They'll show us more of their plan this winter, and by then that plan might include a manager other than Sandberg.
Of course Sandberg likely has a better feel for what management expects. Don't blame him if he encounters an internal dilemma, however. Raking in some wins over the next few weeks could convince the Phillies he's the man for the job, but so too might fostering what little youth is on hand. Does the team believe its veterans need a new voice to play to their standards, or is this about a familiar face breaking in the youth? Rebuilding is not easy. It requires a manager with that patience to endure losing and the mindset to demand winning. Sandberg may or may not be that guy. Let's give him a shot.
Acquired OF-L David DeJesus from the Cubs for a player to be named later. [8/19]
Released OF-L Roger Bernadina. [8/19]
Here is a surprise. Not because DeJesus is on the move—though at this stage that is unexpected—but because he is on the move to D.C. to join a team with three capable, healthy outfielders. True, each outfielder has warts: Denard Span has struggled to perform while Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth have performed while missing time due to injury. Still, the Nationals were not an obvious landing spot for the veteran outfielder.
At any rate, DeJesus will help Washington this season and perhaps next. He is an upgrade over Bernadina and should take well to the fourth outfielder role. While DeJesus is versatile, and able to play center field, the Cubs micromanaged his at-bats to avoid left-handers; his overall line is solid, yet the individual components are so-so; he is a smart baserunner, but not a big stolen-base threat. The sum outweighs the parts, and smart management by Davey Johnson should turn DeJesus into useful piece off the bench. After the season the Nationals must decide if they value DeJesus enough to pay him the $5 million difference between his 2014 club option and the buyout.
Bernadina, perpetually on the cusp of a breakout, enjoyed a mini-outburst in 2012. Life is about balance, yet his troubles this season are tough to understand. His mechanics, however noisy and unorthodox, never stopped him from making contact in the past. Check his contact rate this season, though, and the decline is jarring. Bernadina doesn't have the power or on-base skills to atone for a 26 percent strikeout rate, leaving his offensive production at his whiffing tendencies' mercy. A versatile defender and fast runner, Bernadina should find another job as a spare outfielder. At 29 with arbitration eligibility, he can ill afford another poor season if he wants to avoid the minors.