The word came out late last night that the Dan Jennings experiment in Miami was going to come to an end after the season. Jennings, of course, was the Marlins' general manager, having never spent any time in professional baseball as either a player or coach, when he was asked to replace Mike Redmond following Miami's slow start.
If he's willing, apparently, Jennings is going to head back to the front office where he will again serve as the team's general manager. Tough luck for Mike Berger, who has kept the chair warm for Jennings and executed the Marlins' annual selling off of the veterans, I guess. And it certainly sounds, according to Ken Rosenthal, like there might be some palace intrigue there.
Jennings was an unconventional choice to lead the Marlins, even on an interim basis. While Marlins players didn't go public with any of their concerns, they certainly expressed shock at his hire. And his performance did little to inspire confidence, especially at first with questionable tactic and bullpen decisions. Nor did the Marlins actually play better under his leadership, as the Fish went from a club on pace to win 68 games to 64.
That's not to say that Jennings hasn't made a meaningful contribution. After all, the difference between a 64 and a 68 win pace is miniscule in the grand scheme, and we can't say with any certainty that Jennings was worse than Redmond, especially with Giancarlo Stanton on the sidelines for all of the second half and Marcell Ozuna blatantly being kept at Triple-A to secure an extra year of control over him.
Sure, the Jennings tenure represents an embarrassment to a Marlins organization that was more focused on saving money than saving a season, but it also is a lesson. It's a data point that suggests a manager doesn't make much difference on the field in today's game. After all, if Jennings, who had no experience wearing a professional uniform until the day he took the job, can perform essentially as well as Mike Redmond, a well-respected former catcher who is regarded for his intelligence and generally assumed to be a good manager, then why are we so concerned with who is leading big league clubs on the field?
That's not to say that managers can't have an impact. Teams need someone who can get through a season without losing the clubhouse entirely, so there are definitely skippers out there who are the wrong manager for a given team. Ron Gardenhire in his last years in Minnesota, for instance. Or Ryne Sandberg in Philadelphia. But what this suggests to me is that those managers are outliers. Very few managers, then, are bad managers. Conversely, there are probably very few good managers as well. Guys like Buck Showalter or a young Tony LaRussa who can squeeze extra wins out of a club. The vast majority of skippers are in a great unwashed mass of mediocrity, tasked with keeping their hand on the tiller, but leaving it to the baseball-equivalent of the East India Company to chart the team's course.
When we look back to the disaster that has been the Marlins 2015, which will be their sixth losing season in a row and their second worst finish of the 21st century, we see that Jennings is at the center of it. After all, it was Jennings who put together this Marlins team in the first place. He was both captain and company man. It was Jennings who gave away Anthony DiScalfini for Mat Latos and Nathan Eovaldi for David Phelps and Martin Prado. It was Jennings last year who signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia last year and Michael Morse this year. So, indeed, Jennings deserves a great deal of the blame for what has happened to Miami.
Whether he decides to resume his original duties, or even whether he deserves to resume them in the first place, we can thank him for reminding us not to stress out too much over who the next person to manage the Marlins, or any of the other vacancies around the league this winter, will be.