Last year, even Ryne Sandberg would admit that the inmates ran the asylum.
The Phils hit rock bottom in 2014, finishing last in the NL East at 73-89, Sandberg's first full year as manager. And a few weeks ago, he noted that the clubhouse wasn't exactly teeming with good vibes for most of last year (quotes via The Daily News' Ryan Lawrence).
"I didn't think we had a good clubhouse last year," Sandberg said bluntly... ..."More than once, Sandberg was asked just what he meant concerning possible clubhouse issues.
"I don't think it was conducive to winning," Sandberg said. "I don't think it was about winning a baseball game that day, in some regards. I think there were some distractions there. So [we have to] be on top of that, have a better atmosphere."
Of course, it's the chicken and the egg. Did the Phils' poor clubhouse lead to losing, or did all the losing make for a bad clubhouse? Probably the latter, but it was interesting to hear Sandberg talk about it as if he were a disinterested third party. He did admit, however, he could have done more to help foster a better atmosphere, especially for the younger players.
"Sometimes it's easy to take it for granted, and say, '[I] have a veteran club and they know everything and they'll handle the clubhouse and everything will be fine,' " Sandberg said. "I learned that's not the case."
Sandberg will be without a few of those veterans this year, with Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd both traded away. But he still has Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee and Ryan Howard in the fold, all of whom have been mentioned in numerous trade discussions, which could make for an awkward Clearwater experience. He also still has Chase Utley, who likely isn't going anywhere.
On Sunday, the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo ranked every Major League manager in baseball, and it was interesting to see where he put Sandberg.
24. Ryne Sandberg, Phillies — Love Sandberg’s fire and him wanting to be tough on players who need it. He has no fear that way. Obviously, he’s presiding over a team that won’t be viable for at least a couple of years. We’ll see if he survives it.
How much can a manager really be responsible for, if the team he's managing is already set up to be pretty bad? And how much of a team's success is really the result of the manager?
Charlie Manuel was the same manager in 2007-2011 as he was near the end of his tenure when things started falling apart. Terry Francona was brutal when he managed the Phils but, as soon as he got a slew of talent in Boston, started piling up World Series victories. Jim Fregosi had one season where he was a genius, but didn't have much success any other year.
So given that the Phillies will likely win between 67-72 games this year, how do we judge Ryne Sandberg? How do we decide if he's doing a good job? If the team approaches 80 wins, can he be credited for the team playing better than expected?
It seems as though a manager's primary responsibility is to try and create a clubhouse atmosphere that allows players to work together and support each other. But how much of that actually translates to wins?
He is also responsible for in-game decisions, like how to take advantage of platoon splits, using his bullpen correctly, and generally trying not to do anything that is going to screw things up.
But is that manager's true job? Simply to try not to get in the way?
In the Phils' case, some of these rules may not apply. A lot of players will be tested this year and, perhaps, put in situations that may not be ideal for them under normal circumstances. Perhaps a left-handed reliever will be asked to face a series of right-handed hitters to see how that pitcher performs in that situation. Perhaps a left-handed hitter will stay in the game against a tough left-handed pitcher in order to gain experience.
Bruce Bochy is phenomenal at knowing how to use his bullpen. Buck Showalter is seen as one of the best in-game tacticians in the business. Joe Maddon, Francona, Clint Hurdle, and the other top skippers are all credited with getting the most out of their players and creating an environment conducive to winning. But there's one other thing they all have in common.
They all have good, young players.
So, where does that leave us with Sandberg in 2015? Is there really any true way to judge how well he's doing? If he continues to bring Jake Diekman in the 8th inning of a close game when two right-handers are due up first, does this mean Sandberg is bad at managing? Or does it simply mean he's continuing to gauge whether Diekman is strictly a LOOGY, or a left-handed reliever who can get both righties and lefties out?
And it seems clear that, at some point last year, Sandberg was told to play certain players at the expense of younger guys (namely, Ryan Howard over Darin Ruf at first). With a few veterans still on the trade block, it's possible Sandberg may not have total control of the lineup once again.
Certainly, you'd like to see Cole Hamels not out there running up 120-pitch counts every time out. But barring that, I'm just not sure when or how we're going to be able to tell what kind of manager Ryne Sandberg is. Not until he gets more talent, anyway.
Because it's rare that a manager makes the players. Rather, it's more often that the players make the managers.