Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is about to have his free pass expire, and it could be happening in a hurry if something does not change.
Some baseball fans believe that winning a World Series earns a team and a manager a bit of a free pass. There are some extremes on both sides of that argument. One suggests nobody is immune to losing a job on a year-to-year basis because ultimately winning a championship is the only mission in which failure is not an option. Then there are the fans that will allow five years at a minimum before handing out any pink slips for players and coaches and front office executives he had a part in bringing a championship to their favorite team or city.
In Philadelphia, in the midst of a full year without a single postseason game by any of the four big teams, patience is running thin. As a result, in the middle of April, some are suggesting it is time to send Manuel in to retirement and name third base coach Ryne Sandberg as the new manager in town. The short fuse is reasonable to an extent, but is it the right decision right now? That is a bit more debatable.
The Phillies offense has struggled at times this early in the season and a recent series sweep at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds was every bit frustrating to sit and watch play out. The three-game sweep on the road dropped the Phillies to six and a half games out of first place in the National League East and a full three games back in the National League wild card standings. It is far too early to be overly concerned about payoff positioning now, but as witnessed in 2012, a poor April can be enough to dig too deep a hole to overcome in September. The magical story of the 2007 and 2008 Phillies may blind some in September, but times have changed. The Phillies have aged at key positions and the bullpen has lost the swagger of the team that helped bring home a World Series. At the same time the Atlanta Braves have improved in all areas and the Washington Nationals have blossomed with young stars rising through the farm system to become franchise players.
The National League East has passed the Phillies, and the question is what will it take for the Phillies to reclaim division bragging rights?
There is plenty of blame to go around, but there comes a time when a change of leadership must be made. Manuel is the obvious target for criticism when the team is not playing well, especially since the hitting and bench coaches have been changed a handful of times under his management.
But is there not something to be said about managing a clubhouse? The idea of a player’s manager should not be totally forgotten, as keeping a cool temperature in a frustrated clubhouse is a skill difficult to master. This has been one of Manuel’s strong suits for the most part since arriving in Philadelphia. At some point, something needs to change. Whether Manuel has to go because a better option is already lined up or because the team needs a sacrificial lamb is up to Ruben Amaro Jr. More importantly, the timing of when to play that card could be critical. It is a move you do not want to make too late in the season if you genuinely feel you have a roster capable of much more than the product on the field has shown. I am not so sure this team is set-up for drastic change, a painful reality I have come to grips with. At the same time, I am also not ready to suggest it is time to panic.
Be concerned? Absolutely. Panic? No way.
Blame Manuel if you wish, but right now I do not feel a change in managers is the cure-all for the Phillies.
Kevin McGuire is a managing editor of Macho Row, a Philadelphia Phillies blog. Follow McGuire on Twitter.