Ethnicity and the Indians job

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Terry Pluto’s latest article on the Indians’ managerial job raises an interesting question:

A native of the Dominican Republic, Acta does bring something to the Indians that they desperately need. He is a strong Latino presence, a baseball man respected south of the border.

That is not reason to make him the manager. But it’s a driving force to add Acta or someone like him to the new coaching staff. Baseball has a huge Latino influence. The young players from the Dominican, Venezuela and Latin countries need baseball role models.

Because this touches on race and ethnicity, some people are probably going to fly off the handle — and if you doubt it, just Google what people say about Omar Minaya and the ethnic makeup of the Mets’ roster — but I think Pluto has a great point here.

Isn’t it true that you want a manager to whom the players will respond?  Isn’t it true that Latin players make up a large and growing percentage of the baseball population?  I won’t suggest for a minute that (a) one has to be Latin to relate to Latin players; or (b) that relating to the Latin players is the most important consideration for the job, but it does strike me that once you determine whether or not a given candidate meets the baseline qualifications for the job — smart, sufficiently experiences, an overall good fit for general reasons as opposed to the specific ones — that taking such factors into account is smart baseball, even if it may be seen as controversial.

Put more simply: it’s probably not good policy to start your managerial search by asking which of any dozens of candidate will best relate to a given minority on your team.  It seems smart however — and may be essential — to ask which of the small number of guys you find to be already qualified to manage would best relate to that minority and make it a consideration in your final decision.

Among the named finalists — Valentine, Fryman and Acta — I like Acta for the Cleveland job best because I think he best fits where the team is on the success cycle: he has experience rebuilding, but also has enough overall experiece to where he could probably do well if the team suddenly finds itself in contention. The same can’t be said for either Valentin or Fryman.

If Acta’s relationship and interaction with Latin players isn’t matched by that of the other candidates, I think it’s perfectly legitimate to consider as well, and may very well put him over the top.

Nationals’ sell-off a vindication for Dusty Baker

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The Nationals threw in the towel on Tuesday, trading second baseman Daniel Murphy to the Cubs and 1B/OF Matt Adams to the Cardinals. The club also placed outfielder and soon-to-be free agent Bryce Harper on revocable waivers but took him back. The Nats’ sell-off is a vindication for former manager Dusty Baker, let go after the Nationals failed to advance past the NLDS for a second straight year.

Baker had roughly the same team current manager Dave Martinez did. It was arguably worse, considering he never wrote Juan Soto‘s name on the lineup card. The 2018 squad, sans Baker, has been marked by mutiny and underachievement. While failing to reach the NLCS in Baker’s two years was disappointing, he took them to Game 5 in the NLDS both years as well as 95 and 97 regular season wins. Right now, Martinez’s squad has a winning percentage more than 100 points lower than Baker’s last year. They’re on pace to go 80-82, which would be their first sub-.500 season since 2011.

Baker has always had an undeserved bad rap. He was, correctly, blamed for the Cubs’ demise, due somewhat to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior falling apart, ostensibly from overuse. However, after his stint in Chicago, Baker took the lowly Reds from the bottom of the NL Central to the top in two years between 2008-10. Then he took the Nationals, which had won a meager 83 games in 2015 and had made the playoffs just twice since moving from Montreal, to two consecutive NLDS Game 5’s.

Not much changed from 2017 to ’18. Martinez inherited Ryan Zimmerman, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, Michael Taylor, Bryce Harper, Adam Eaton, Daniel Murphy, Matt Wieters, Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler, Shawn Kelley, and Koda Glover, among others. But for one reason or another — injuries, admittedly, make up one reason — almost all of these players are having worse years under Martinez than under Baker. Describing the 2018 team to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, Baker said, “They’re together, but they’re separate.”

Is it strictly Baker that would make the difference? No, of course not. But the Nationals organization seems unwilling or unable to address issues that may extend into the front office. The Nats seem happy to go through a new manager every couple of years and hope that fixes all that ails them. Since Frank Robinson’s five years at the helm from 2002-06, Manny Acta managed two and a half years, Jim Riggleman one and a half, Davey Johnson two, Matt Williams two, Baker two. Maybe the problem was never the manager. Perhaps the problem is the Lerner family and Mike Rizzo.