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Boone leads rookie managers

The Yankees haven’t been led by a manager not named “Joe” since Buck Showalter (real first name William) finished up his tenure in 1995. Aaron Boone, the hero of the 2003 ALCS, is holding his first Spring Training camp as the Yankees’ manager. As a player, Boone and his brother Bret were part of three generations of Major Leaguers with their Dad, Bob Boone, and their Grandfather, Ray Boone. In leading the Yankees, Aaron becomes a second-generation Boone to manage in the Bigs, along with Bob, who skippered the Royals and Reds.

Boone, 44, spent the last seven years as a broadcaster and baseball analyst for ESPN television and radio. He inherits a youthful team that includes last season’s Rookie of the Year, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez, who finished second in the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year voting. Add to that the offseason acquisition of NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, and Boone has one of the most impressive and imposing lineups in baseball.

They also have the third-place finisher in the AL Cy Young voting last season (Luis Severino) and a bevy of guys in the bullpen that can hit 100 MPH on the radar gun. Expectations are high, especially after the Yankees’ surprising 2017 season that saw them come within one game of reaching the World Series.

Joining Boone as first years managers are Mickey Callaway (Mets), Dave Martinez (Nationals), Gabe Kapler (Phillies), and Alex Cora (Red Sox). In addition, former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire takes over the Tigers after a three-year absence. Here’s the low-down on them:

The Rivals

Like Boone, Callaway and Cora have no previous managerial experience, but both have been part of Major League coaching staffs.  Callaway enjoyed a five-year MLB career as a pitcher for the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Angels (2002 World Series Ring), Rangers, and another three years in China and South Korea. After coaching in the minors, Callaway became the pitching coach for the Cleveland Indians in 2013. He was instrumental in changing the pitching staff’s approach to the game by having them rely less on their fastball. The Wilpons and Sandy Alderson are hoping he can get Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, etc., back on track.

Cora’s name had been mentioned several times over the last few years as a managerial candidate. Cora’s only coaching experience to date was serving as the Houston Astros’ bench coach last season, in which he earned a World Series ring. He spent 14 seasons in the Major Leagues with the Dodgers, Indians, Red Sox, Mets, Rangers, and Nationals. His lineup got a major boost recently when the Red Sox signed outfielder J.D. Martinez to a five-year $110 million contract.

What’s Old is New Again

Gardenhire managed the Twins to six division titles in 13 seasons (2002-2014) but the team averaged just 66 wins in his final four seasons. Now, he takes over a Detroit Tigers squad that is in the process of retooling and rebuilding. A lot of what happens this season will depend on the health of and output from veterans Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Nick Castellanos. “V-Mart” is back for one more season and will be trade bait at the deadline. The big question is: will two-time AL MVP and Triple Crown achiever Miguel Cabrera also be moved?

The Tigers were rumored to be hearing offers on him, but with Cabrera about to turn 35 and still owed at least $184 million, they may be stuck with him for good.

City of Champions?

Philadelphia is still basking in the glow of their first Super Bowl victory a few weeks back. With the Flyers and 76ers not looking like a team that will win a title anytime soon, Phillies fans are hoping they are next. Kapler, a veteran of 12 Big League seasons and six Major League teams, hopes to be at the helm when the Phillies’ time comes. You can add Kapler’s name to the list of those new hires that have never managed before.

After his playing days, Kapler was a coach on the Israeli team in the World Baseball Classic and spent the last four years as Director of Player Development for the Dodgers. He takes over a very young team that won just 66 games last year, but the team has high hopes for the future with the signing of Carlos Santana and a number of good prospects.  It won’t be an overnight success, however.

Finally Hired

You can’t blame Dave Martinez if he was ready to give up his dream of being a Major League manager. Between 2010 and 2015 he interviewed for openings on the Blue Jays, Indians, Cubs, White Sox, and Nationals. Each time he came away empty and remained bench coach for the Rays, a position he was hired for prior to the 2008 season. When Rays’ manager Joe Maddon left the team after the 2014 season, Martinez was the favorite to fill the position. Veterans Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist were among the players that endorsed him for the job, but he wasn’t even a finalist for the job.

That’s when Martinez decided to follow Maddon to the Cubs to be their bench coach. Now with a Cubs’ World Series ring in his trophy case, Martinez hopes to bring the Nationals their first title. The Nats won 97 games last year but lost to the Cubs in the fifth and final game of the Division Series. It helps to inherit a team with Max Scherzer, Bryce Harper, and Stephen Strasburg.

The AL Incumbents

While there are a number of first-year hires this season, there are also plenty of holdovers. Here’s the American League returnees:

AL East

How would you like to be Kevin Cash (Rays) right about now? Yes, you have a job in spite of a three-year record that is 30 games under .500. Of course, not all of it is Cash’s fault, but plenty of it is the fault of cash, or the lack thereof. Coming off an 80-82 season, the Rays traded their best player (Longoria), a 2017 All-Star (Corey Dickerson), a 30-home run producer (Steven Souza), a starting pitcher (Jake Odorizzi), and a reliever who saved 41 games three years ago (Brad Boxberger). The Rays are supposedly listening to offers for current closer Alex Colome as well.

John Gibbons‘ (Blue Jays) lineup has changed quite a bit since he began his second stint as Toronto’s manager in 2013. Gibbons, who has been on the bench for 1,420 games in Toronto, can no longer turn to Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Colby Rasmus, or R.A. Dickey. Third baseman Josh Donaldson‘s name ran rampant in trade rumors this offseason as well. The Blue Jays will need their young ace, Marcus Stroman, to pitch to his potential, fellow-starter Aaron Sanchez to stay healthy, and they have to get some kind of production out of an eroding Troy Tulowitzki.

With the Yankees and Red Sox looking like divisional powerhouses, time is running out on Buck Showalter (Orioles) to produce a winner in Baltimore. Time is also running out on superstar Manny Machado‘s contract. A free agent after this season, the third baseman wanted to go back to his old shortstop position this year and the team acquiesced. The Orioles got a scare on Monday when starter Kevin Gausman suffered a gash on his head in a collision at home plate. Thankfully, he said he was fine afterward. But the Orioles will be without closer Zach Britton until at least April or May following a ruptured his right Achilles tendon in the offseason.

AL Central

Paul Molitor (Twins) turned a 59-game winner in 2016 to an 82-game winner and Wild Card entry in 2017. He took home the AL Manager of the Year Award for his work. The addition of Odorizzi will help to bolster a rotation that will be without the team’s ace Ervin Santana, until late April following surgery on his right middle finger. That puts a lot of pressure on youngster Jose Berrios, and a slew of mediocrity in the rotation. The Twins will have a hard time going back to the playoffs without some late free-agent additions and Byron Buxton completely breaking out of his offensive shell.

It was just three years ago that Ned Yost (Royals) hoisted the World Series trophy, but so much has changed since then. The team hoped to retain one of their three big-name free agents, but two are already gone (Eric Hosmer to the Padres and Lorenzo Cain to the Brewers), and it’s unlikely that unsigned third baseman Mike Moustakas will be back. They’ll be lucky to reach the 80.5 wins they averaged over the last two seasons. Yost is happy to be alive right now after a 20-foot fall from a tree this past November nearly killed him. But does ownership want to rebuild with him? Yost is in the final year of his contract.

Rick Renteria‘s (White Sox) squad managed to win just 67 games last year. If they reach 70 wins, it will be because of the emergence of nearly-rookie starters Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. The offense will lean hard on Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia, and former no. 1 prospect Yoan Moncada, who must live up to his full potential. After they traded David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to the Yankees, the White Sox were left with a shaky pen. Someone(s) needs to emerge with an impressive performance from a group that includes veterans, Nate Jones and Joakim Soria. Will ownership show patience with Renteria, who is in the second year of a three-year contract?

Terry Francona‘s (Indians) squad is the odds-on favorite to run away with the AL Central title. After losing to the Cubs in the 2016 World Series, everyone expected the Indians to battle the Astros for the AL pennant. But after winning the first two games of the ALDS, the Yankees rallied for three straight victories to advance to the ALCS. The Indians 1-2-3 punch of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer will be tough to beat, as will the 1-2 punch of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen from the bullpen. The lineup is deep and the team is as solid defensively as they come. It’s been tough going thus far though for Francona, who lost his dad, the original Tito Francona, just as teams were reporting to camp this month.

AL West

Jeff Banister (Rangers) is in his fourth year running the northern Texas team. After a pair of division titles, the Rangers won 17% fewer games last year and finished third in the AL West. Among the things the Rangers need are a healthy Adrian Beltre, Rougned Odor to greatly improve on his .252 OBP, Joey Gallo to make more contact (196 strikeouts) without sacrificing too much power (41 HR), and Nomar Mazara to continue to blossom. The starting rotation is full of questions, as is the bullpen (can Alex Claudio close full-time?). Don’t count on the Rangers to improve upon last year’s 78 wins.

Dating back to their 1977 inaugural season, the city of Seattle has yet to a see their team play in a World Series. Unfortunately for manager Scott Servais (Mariners), they are in the same division as the defending-champion Houston Astros. While the M’s will field a competitive team, it isn’t likely to be a squad that could catch the superior Astros and there will be a ton of competition for the league’s two Wild Card spots. In order to get late into October, one-time ace Felix Hernandez has to show some semblance of his old self. “Kids” Mitch Haniger, Mike Zunino, and newly-acquired Ryon Healy must produce to add depth to the lineup.

Bob Melvin (A’s) is about to do what no one else has done while in the employ of Executive VP of Operations Billy Beane – begin his eighth season as Oakland’s manager. In fact, it’s been over 20 years since Tony LaRussa’s nine-year stint as manager ended. The A’s finished last in the AL West with 75 wins last year, but considering their roster in comparison to the other teams in the division, it was quite an accomplishment. Outside of slugger Khris Davis (85 HR in the last two seasons) and Matt Olson (24 HR, 45 RBI in 210 ABs), Oakland doesn’t offer much offense. They’ll rely heavily on a young starting rotation and bullpen as the keys to success.

Mike Scioscia (Angels) is about to begin his 19th season as the skipper of the AL’s Los Angeles franchise. That’s quite a remarkable feat, especially when you consider the Angels have only topped 89 wins once in the past eight years.  The Angels won 80 games last year and should improve on that total since they will have Justin Upton right from the beginning of the year. He’s part of a lineup that features the best player in the game (Mike Trout), a future Hall of Fame member (Albert Pujols), and newcomers at second base (Ian Kinsler) and third base (Zack Cozart). But, many eyes will be on pitcher (and possibly hitter), Shohei Ohtani, as he makes the transition from Japanese baseball.

Only one AL manager – A.J. Hinch (Astros) – is sitting in the catbird seat. The manager of the defending World Champions is starting the season with an even better team than last year. He’s got pitcher Justin Verlander for an entire season, and the Astros added onetime phenom Gerrit Cole to the rotation in an offseason trade with Pittsburgh. And, they still have former AL Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel. The lineup is a modern day “Murderer’s Row”. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Marwin Gonzalez, Yuli Gurriel and their teammates will beat you with power, speed, and defense. It’s no surprise they are favored to repeat. If they have any questionable area, it is the consistency of closer Ken Giles and their bullpen.

There you have it, and though the regular season hasn’t even begun yet…the managers on the hot seat in the AL are Renteria, Yost, and Cash (and it’s not really that hot of a seat).

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