Dan Jennings is a great guy, so personable, so knowledgable, that I just couldn’t make myself come right out and say that any plan featuring him was poorly conceived. Now, though, a few days have passed since the Miami Marlins turned Jennings the GM into Jennings the on-field manager so there’s no use putting this off any longer.
In my opinion, Jeffrey Loria’s faith in managers is so shaken, and the concept of wasting big money on them has proven so counterproductive to him, that the Marlins owner figures he can just handle the job himself, by proxy.
By placing Jennings, never a manager, in direct command over in-game decisions, Loria eliminates the annoyance of pushback the next time he wants to bench somebody or write up a new lineup card or promote a minor-leaguer in response to a galling loss or string of losses.
That “new voice” that president of baseball operations Michael Hill spoke of is really an echo of Loria’s own.
Jennings has often stated how much he loves the owner and how he has been treated as a valued Marlins employee. He feels that he owes Loria for every opportunity with the organization, including this one. They talk pretty much daily about every facet of the team and that won’t change now just because Jennings is wearing a uniform instead of a suit.
Also avoided here is the need to dedicate another big-money budget item for a manager. Ozzie Guillen and Mike Redmond are old contracts that must be paid. Jennings is already on the payroll. The other guys may be losses but Jennings is a two-for-one special. Loria, who rolled out all the dough for Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich, doesn’t mind spending money but he wants it to be on his terms.
That’s why the 16-22 start was so galling. Redmond got a two-year extension at the end of the 2014 season. Marlins president David Samson wants to take the blame for Loria on that one, giving a guy a new deal without having enough faith in him to ride out a couple of bad months with him.
“The old story is a turnaround specialist may be different than the person needed once the turnaround is ready for its next phase,” Samson said Monday. “I think that may be something I got wrong. Red was really great turning it around and navigating through … I may have been wrong for the same voice continuing that process.”
Listen, though, to what Samson said this spring about the Marlins’ botched try at achieving instant karma by putting volatile Ozzie Guillen in charge of a team peppered with freshly acquired stars. That strategy, remember, was quickly abandoned via a midseason roster flush.
“As I look back on it, we thought that we were doing it right and we weren’t,” Samson said on March 23. “Now, I think we’re doing it right again and I think it makes more sense.
“We may have underestimated the importance of clubhouse culture back then. As we thought back to 2003 and thought back to winning, the clubhouse culture and who you had in the clubhouse may have made a big difference. This clubhouse, with Red at the helm, is special.”
Pick a message, any message. Just know that Samson has taken the role of designated fall guy for Loria and Jennings, never a manager at any level in professional baseball, is Loria’s attempt to minimize the instinctive pitch-by-pitch power of the manager while maximizing the global reach of the owner and his front office.
In effect, the front office runs the whole show now, not from up in the stadium suites but up close and personal, just in case any player is unclear on exactly what Loria expects of him on a given day or a given at-bat.
Jennings, again, is a smart guy. The Marlins, however, have fired a guy who had very little managerial experience and replaced him with one who had no managerial experience whatsoever until Monday night’s 13-inning loss to Arizona.
Being realistic, the best you could hope for from Jennings is to do no worse than Redmond on the pitch-by-pitch decisions that alter but seldom actually dictate wins and losses. Maybe that will be possible with former Seattle bench coach Mike Goff at his side in the dugout.
In truth, this is the closest thing to Loria managing the team himself. It’s such a grind, though, that no team owner would want to put himself through that.
Better to have Jennings give it a try, at least until some other epiphany presents itself on the question of how to motivate every last player on the Marlins roster to play at an all-star level from April until October’s World Series parade.