Don Mattingly has moved from the manager most likely to move to the lead performer in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
The Miami Marlins, last by a mile in the National League East, have given the soft-spoken manager a two-year extension of his contract – or should we say sentence?
To be brutally blunt, the Fish stink. Their.349 “winning percentage” entering the weekend has them 40 games behind the front-running Atlanta Braves and 29½ out of wild-card contention. Only the Detroit Tigers (.296), Baltimore Orioles (.320), two American League cellar-dwellers, are worse.
Although Mattingly and Marlins CEO Derek Jeter were teammates with the 1995 Yankees, they are not especially close – other than working in the same ballpark. Yet Jeter has now made Mattingly the longest-tenured manager in the history of the franchise, a two-time world champion.
Maybe keeping Mattingly is the Marlins’ way of giving their dwindling fan base some continuity. Players certainly don’t have longevity in South Florida. In recent years, the team has traded Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich, J.T. Realmuto, Dee Gordon, and others who prospered elsewhere.
To make matters worse, an after-dark boating accident took the life of star pitcher Jose Fernandez, a hero in the Little Havana community that surrounds Marlins Park.
Mattingly, who came to Miami after gaining his initial managerial experience as Joe Torre’s successor with the Los Angeles Dodgers, won 79 games in 2016, his first season, but won’t even come close to that mark this year.
In fact, the team will have to catch fire to win 60. It entered the weekend at 53-99. The Fish could play spoiler, however, if they manage to win even one of the four games they have against the New York Mets at CitiField next week. The Mets still have an outside shot at a berth in the National League’s wild-card game.
The first Miami manager to last five seasons, Mattingly had been mentioned as a possible successor to Mickey Callaway in Queens. But that was before the second-year manager righted the sinking ship and coaxed the Mets back into potential postseason participants.
Although Mattingly is regarded as the right man for the young Marlins because of his quiet demeanor, baseball acumen, and almost unlimited patience, his record in Florida has been getting worse by the year. The team has lost more games in each of his four years at the helm, dropping from 82 in 2016 to 85 in 2917, 98 in 2018, and 99 thus far in 2019.
A big part of the problem is the team’s inability to extract equitable talent from other clubs in the trade market. Signing free agents isn’t likely either – not for a team whose $75,151,271 payroll ranks 27th, ahead of only the Orioles, Pirates, and Rays.
The top-paid player on the Marlins is 34-year-old pitcher Wei-Yin Chen, who earns $20 million. Next comes veteran infielder Martin Prado, pulling down $15 million even though he seems to spend an inordinate amount of time on the injured list.
Under his old contract, Mattingly reportedly made $2,500,000, one of the higher salaries among managers (Bruce Bochy and Joe Maddon lead the list at $6 million apiece).
With no guarantee that Chen or Prado will return, Mattingly could become a rare manager who makes more than almost any of his players. Next year, when the Marlins will bank heavily on harvesting the fruits of a bountiful farm system, most of those players will be making the major-league minimum of $555,000.
During his tenure as a star first baseman with the Yankees, Mattingly won an MVP award, six trips to the All-Star Game, and nine Gold Gloves. He had a .307 career batting average.
The Marlins are counting on him to develop some of the team’s hitting prospects, including Isan Diaz and Lewis Brinson. Both have been disappointing thus far.
So has Sandy Alcantara, the team’s lone representative in the 2019 All-Star Game. Although he has the best earned run average (4.00) on the staff, he has a 5-14 record that symbolizes the sad state of the Marlins’ season.
Starlin Castro and rookie Brian Anderson are tied for the team lead with 20 homers but the latter is injured and out for the season.
In a division where all four other clubs are solid contenders, Mattingly has a massive job ahead of him. His new contract, which contains a one-year club option, gives him three years to figure out how to proceed.