Throw in some expected roster turnover in Toronto and the division will have quite a different look.
Jose Bautista‘s time with the Blue Jays is likely over, while Josh Donaldson, J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada each have one year remaining on their contracts. If any or all of them are not traded this offseason, their names are near certain to be popular around next season’s non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Ditto in Baltimore, where Manny Machado, Zach Britton and Adam Jones are currently set to hit free agency at the end of the 2018 season. That leaves Tampa Bay, which also has a number of free agents (Logan Morrison, Lucas Duda, Alex Cobb and Colby Rasmus) set to explore the free-agent market in the coming weeks.
One thing won’t change with the Yankees and Red Sox: Their respective rosters remain young and talented, setting up what should be another entertaining and competitive season between the two longtime rivals.
Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, Luis Severino and Sonny Gray present an impressive young core for the Yankees, while the Red Sox counter with a group led by Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Chris Sale, Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts.
But who will be leading that group in the Bronx? The first thing the Yankees must do before sorting through candidates is sign general manager Brian Cashman to a new contract, as his current deal expires at the end of November.
The fact that Cashman was quoted in the Yankees’ announcement of manager Joe Girardi’s dismissal is a clear sign that he will be back to begin his 21st year in the GM office.
“Everything this organization does is done with careful and thorough consideration, and we’ve decided to pursue alternatives for the managerial position,” Cashman said in a statement on Thursday, sounding like a man who was going to lead that managerial search.
Then again, once Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner approved last summer’s trades of Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman and Carlos Beltran that kickstarted the club’s youth movement, he might as well have signed Cashman to an extension right there and then. You don’t authorize your GM to begin a rebuilding project if you don’t plan on keeping him around to see it through. The Yankees’ success this season only emphasized that those moves put the team on the right track moving forward.
Once his own situation is settled, Cashman figures to have three primary criteria for his next managerial hire, only his second in two decades in the job: someone with whom he has a prior connection, assuring a good working relationship, an analytically inclined manager willing to work with the front office, and lastly, someone who can relate with the players and manage personalities in the game’s biggest media market.
For the Yankees, Red Sox and Nationals to make managerial changes following what were widely considered successful seasons — not to mention Terry Collins’ dismissal by the Mets just two years after a World Series appearance — every Major League skipper around the game now has something to think about as they decorate their office. The Blue Jays made consecutive AL Championship Series appearances in 2015-16, yet as we enter the offseason, there are already rumblings throughout the industry that John Gibbons is on the hot seat.
The demands — or at least the expectations — of big league managers have become far more complicated than ever before. Given the recent managerial dismissals, it’s clear that winning in the postseason is all that matters.
Girardi won 91 games in what was supposed to be a transition year for the Yankees, getting them all the way to Game 7 of the ALCS before falling to the Astros. John Farrell and Dusty Baker won their division titles for a second straight season in 2017, but they found themselves without jobs before the World Series started.
While managers were once considered the generals of their teams, there has been a power shift in recent years. Team presidents and GMs now wield control both on and off the field, in some cases determining lineups and in-game moves based on analytics rather than relying on a manager’s gut.
These changes, of course, are part of an analytical movement within the game that has been moving fast and furious in recent years.
It has become commonplace for front offices to send starting lineups down to the manager’s office with analytics dictating such decisions. A modern manager’s job has become as much about managing the 25 personalities in the clubhouse as managing the game on the field.
That’s not to say it’s an easier job. We’ve seen plenty of teams splintered by in-house turmoil, whether it’s a clash of personalities or the fallout from an off-field incident such as the one between David Price and Red Sox broadcaster and Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley earlier this season in Boston.
After 10 winning seasons that included three division titles, six postseason appearances and one World Series championship, the Yankees decided Girardi was no longer the right man for the job. The next manager will have big shoes to fill, though so did Girardi, who took over for Joe Torre after a dozen straight playoff appearances, six AL pennants and four World Series championships.
The Yankees’ next manager will inherit a team that surprised the baseball world with a lengthy postseason run this month. As Cashman recently said, they’re no longer hunters, but rather the hunted.
Astros bench coach Alex Cora will take over a Red Sox team that won back-to-back division titles under Farrell, which means expectations will be higher than ever on Yawkey Way.
Beginning next April, we’ll see just how important these managers will be in helping their teams get to the next level.
Mark Feinsand is an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.