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Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Updated: April 25, 2:04 PM ET
What's with all these lame ducks?

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

For Charlie Manuel, for Don Mattingly, for Jim Leyland, the end may not necessarily be near.

But the end of their contracts? Now that is definitely near.

Those three household names find themselves part of an odd phenomenon that is rocking baseball this season, pretty much out of nowhere:

Managers in the last year of their contracts.

Amazingly, 10 of the 30 managers in the big leagues don't have a deal that extends beyond this season. And no one we've surveyed can recall anything like it.

Ready for the roll call? Here we go:

Charlie Manuel (Phillies) … Don Mattingly (Dodgers) … Jim Leyland (Tigers) … Joe Girardi (Yankees) … Terry Collins (Mets) … Davey Johnson (Nationals) … Ned Yost (Royals) … Eric Wedge (Mariners) … Walt Weiss (Rockies) … Ron Gardenhire (Twins).

In 2013? They're all totally in charge. In 2014? Uh, we'll get back to you.

Every contract I've had, I've worked all the way to the end, until the contract expired. I was never uncomfortable with that. So if I'm hiring people who are uncomfortable with that, I'm hiring the wrong people.

-- Yankees GM Brian Cashman

Judging by all the front-office folks whose response to this was "I didn't even realize that," it's safe to say this is more of a coincidence than some gigantic management conspiracy. But it does reflect a change in what once passed for conventional thinking:

We can't hang our manager out there on the last year of his deal. The players will walk all over him.

That may have been the theory once upon a time. But nowadays, says Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, "I think it's something from out of the past that doesn't exist in the present anymore. It's one of those old things that was widely accepted -- and then a lot of smart people said, 'Why?'"

The Yankees have been asking, "Why?" for years, actually. For a decade, it's been their policy, for the most part, not to extend anyone's contract -- manager or player -- until it expired and they had to make a decision.

Somehow or other, they've managed to function just fine. Imagine that.

"Derek Jeter played to the end of his contract and went to free agency," Cashman said. "Mariano Rivera played to the end of his contract and went to free agency. The general manager worked to the end of his contract. Every contract I've had, I've worked all the way to the end, until the contract expired. I was never uncomfortable with that. So if I'm hiring people who are uncomfortable with that, I'm hiring the wrong people."

In fact, Cashman's manager, Girardi, doesn't appear to be in any significant jeopardy of losing his job -- even though the manager of the New York Yankees clearly would not top the list of America's most secure gigs. But all of these situations are different. So let's run through them, saving the most volatile for last.

Joe Girardi, New York Yankees: He's been through this last dance before -- in 2010 -- and got a new three-year deal out of it, even after a season in which the Yankees got bludgeoned by the Rangers in the ALCS. So there has been very little buzzing about Girardi's job status -- and Cashman says there shouldn't be. "We have a guy in that office who knows he'd have no problem getting a job [if he got let go]," the GM said. "And we should all have that confidence in ourselves if we're in that situation. If you're really good at what you do, things take care of themselves. That's the way we should all look at it."

Jim Leyland
Three-time manager of the year Jim Leyland, 68, is in his 22nd season and eighth with Detroit.

Davey Johnson, Washington Nationals: No big job crisis here. Johnson and GM Mike Rizzo agreed back in November 2012 this would be Johnson's last season as manager. Then he'll resume his role as a special advisor to Rizzo next year. Nothing more to see here. Move along.

Jim Leyland, Detroit Tigers: The Tigers let Leyland manage out his previous contract last season, squirming right to the finish line before giving him a new deal the day after the World Series. But had they not charged from behind to win the division in the final week and a half, there's an excellent chance someone else would be managing this team right now. At this point, Leyland and his boss, Dave Dombrowski, seem to have an understanding that Leyland has reached the stage of his career where it makes more sense for both of them to operate on a year-to-year basis. One of these years, Leyland will move on and say it was his decision -- or have it spun as a mutual decision. But the best description of his status at this point is "open-ended."

Terry Collins, New York Mets: Collins is in the final year of his original two-year contract, which included an option for 2013. His GM, Sandy Alderson, has consistently said lots of good things about him. So there's no indication that Collins is in any imminent danger of losing his job. But Alderson has made it clear he believes in maintaining the flexibility to re-evaluate the manager and his coaching staff in a year. So a lot depends both on how this season plays out and how ready to contend the Mets believe they'll be heading into next season. One baseball exec who speaks frequently with Alderson told Rumblings that Collins' situation is so wide-open, "I don't think you can read into it, one way or the other."

Ned Yost, Kansas City Royals: This one is a puzzler. Yost and GM Dayton Moore have a great relationship, and baseball people who know them both say they'd be shocked if Yost isn't back next year. Nevertheless, if you have a good memory, you'll remember that when the Royals picked up Yost's option for this season about 14 months ago, Moore said he wanted to avoid speculation that Yost was some sort of lame duck. There has been no attempt to dodge that speculation this year -- not yet, at least. But one longtime friend of Moore says he's "practically 100 percent certain" Yost isn't going anywhere. So is that convincing enough?

Walt Weiss
Walt Weiss, who coached a high school team last year, is off to a 14-7 start as manager of the first-place Rockies.

Walt Weiss, Colorado Rockies: It's hard to remember any first-year manager who agreed to take the job on a one-year deal. But Weiss stepped into this position with remarkable confidence in himself -- and with the assurance, from people he'd known for years, that they wanted him to do this for as long as he wanted to do it. "If we gave him a two-, three- or four-year deal," said Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd, "then, at some point, he would be entering the last year of his contract, and that, unfortunately, would be the focal point of the media. So perhaps, if this can turn into how we chose to define this particular topic -- a relationship built on something bigger -- then that question will never be the focal point of his position, and he can do what he does best and enjoys most -- managing his players and not answering questions about his job status!" Hmmm. We think he just summed up why this tide is shifting about as well as it can be summed up.

Eric Wedge, Seattle Mariners: The Mariners have said very little about Wedge's status as he heads into the final season of a three-year deal. And GM Jack Zduriencik declined the opportunity to discuss it for this opus, saying it was club policy not to comment on anyone's contract issues. But this feels like a moment in time where everyone involved in the running of this team is on notice. If this turns into One Of Those Years, Wedge, Zduriencik and the folks around them could all start wondering about their job security. But it's way too soon to start sounding those alarms. In truth, the manager's seat isn't any hotter, or cooler, than anyone else's seat on this team -- not at the moment, anyway.

Don Mattingly, Los Angeles Dodgers: Another fascinating situation. It would be a stretch to say Mattingly is "in trouble." He and GM Ned Colletti have an excellent relationship. So unless something goes haywire, Mattingly is more likely to get an extension than a layoff notice. On the other hand, the manager told the Los Angeles Times last winter that he asked the team to pick up his 2014 option, just so he could avoid being a topic in pieces like this -- and "they said that wasn't the plan for me or my coaches." So this is a situation to watch carefully: We're talking about a team with a $217 million payroll. A team with an ownership icon (Magic Johnson) who already has said that anything less than a trip to the World Series would make this season a failure. And a team that hasn't played well early. So anything is possible. Mattingly's players clearly like him, and "they know he's on the last year of his deal," said one executive who has been following this saga. "So if they like the guy so much -- if they don't want anything to happen to him -- they can make that a non-issue by playing better. Can't they?"

Ron Gardenhire, Minnesota Twins: Nobody on this list has managed his team for more seasons than Gardenhire has managed the Twins (12). He and GM Terry Ryan have a long history and a great understanding of each other and their franchise. But that doesn't mean the manager can count on being around for another 12 years -- or even another 12 months. And the manager gets that. When Ryan informed him last winter it wasn't the right time to drop an extension on him after two straight last-place seasons, Gardenhire told him, "I haven't earned anything." This has been one of baseball's most stable franchises. But Ryan did push for big changes in Gardenhire's coaching staff this season -- a development that tells you anything could happen. But as one exec who once had ties to the Twins told Rumblings, "It's hard to picture Gardy not being the manager and Terry not being the general manager. They've been embedded together for so long." So could Gardenhire be gone if this season spins the wrong way? "He could," the exec said. "But I wouldn't bet on it."
Charlie Manuel
Charlie Manuel has never had a losing season as Phillies manager.

Charlie Manuel, Philadelphia Phillies: We've saved the most interesting name on this list for last. Manuel is the winningest manager in Phillies history. He has never had a losing season in any of his eight seasons in Philadelphia. He's one of two managers in team history to have won a World Series. And he told Rumblings again this week that "I plan to keep managing -- unless I decide all of a sudden I don't want to do it." So why does his job status feel so uncomfortable? Because there's a vibe around his team that the men upstairs think it might be time for a new voice, even though GM Ruben Amaro Jr. insists it's only the media that is making an issue of this. "Honestly," Amaro told Rumblings, "I don't think about his situation at all." Asked if he was concerned about how his players would respond to having a manager with an uncertain future, Amaro said: "I don't think the players give two craps about it. I don't think it's even a factor, not with our guys … I don't know if a contract for the manager should be a motivating factor for any player. They should be motivated by winning. That's it." Meanwhile, Manuel says this only affects him when people like us ask about it. "I'm still the same guy," he said. "If I had a 10-year contract, I'd think the same way and manage the same way." But he clearly wants to keep chugging along, and management clearly hasn't climbed on board. So at some point, this situation has a chance to fire up. For the moment, though, "I find that talking about it is not good," Manuel said. "It's not good for me or anyone else."

The fascinating part about this whole subject is that if you were to compile a list of managers who could be "in trouble," it wouldn't be confined to the 10 men in this group. The oddsmakers at Bovada LV just published their "First Manager to Get Fired" odds. And while Manuel topped the charts at 4-1, five of the other 10 names were guys not on the last year of their deals: Bud Black (9-2), Ron Roenicke (7-1), Clint Hurdle (10-1), Mike Scioscia (12-1) and John Gibbons (20-1).

What all of that reminds us, said one National League executive, is that "an extension doesn't guarantee anything." Those extensions, he said, serve more as lovely parting gifts than indicators of job security. So if they don't provide any more security, why do we all get so worked up about them?

The truth is, Tony La Russa won a World Series in the final year of a contract. Joe Torre took the Yankees to two World Series in years his contract was up (and technically managed one of them, in 2001, after his contract was up). And way back when, in another era, Walter Alston managed the Dodgers for 23 years -- on 23 one-year contracts.

So it's not as if this has never happened before. It just never happened all at once before. But now that it has, why do we have a feeling it won't be the last time?

Ready to Rumble

Zack Greinke
Greinke

James Shields
Shields

• Got into an interesting debate recently with an American League executive who was extolling the impact James Shields has made on the Royals. He took a position I didn't see coming: If he had a choice of which starter he'd give a nine-figure contract to -- Shields or Zack Greinke -- he'd take … (wait for it) … Shields.

"Greinke's stuff is a little better," he said. "And on a given day, he can rise to the occasion and just dominate. But there are other days where he almost seems a little disinterested. You never have to worry about that with Shields. He's out there for one reason -- to beat you. And then there's the impact he has on a club on a daily basis. That's one thing about Greinke. He has great stuff. But he gives you none of that."

• Shields has said he's open to sticking around in Kansas City long term. But if he's a $100 million deal waiting to happen, it's hard to find anyone who thinks the Royals could afford that contract.

• While we're on the subject of aces with hefty contracts: After the flurry of big-buck extensions settled down around Opening Day, an official of one large-market club said the one monster contract he questioned was Adam Wainwright's five-year, $97.5 million extension with the Cardinals. Well, here we are, three weeks into the season: Wainwight has a 1.93 ERA and a 37-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and you don't hear any more questions, do you?

"The word for that contract in this clubhouse is 'needed,'" said David Freese. "He needed it. We needed it. We all needed Adam Wainwright to be a Cardinal for the rest of his career. Especially with [Chris Carpenter] going down, this clubhouse, this organization, this city needed to have Adam Wainwright around."

Bryce Harper
Harper

• We all gush over Bryce Harper's power. One scout we talked to gushed about something else: his hustle. "I saw him hit a routine ground ball to shortstop, and I got him running to first in under four seconds," the scout said. "I'll tell you what: If you wanted to find a poster child for how to play major league baseball correctly, you'd choose Bryce Harper."

• You know those rumors that the Mets are "monitoring" Giancarlo Stanton -- the ones that also mention the Marlins would undoubtedly ask for Zack Wheeler and Travis d'Arnaud in return? "I wouldn't give one of those guys for Stanton," said one NL exec. "The catcher has a chance to be a 10-year All-Star. The other guy is one of the best pitching prospects in the game." So there you have it.

• Here's a Trade That Didn't Happen to ponder: Justin Masterson is 4-1, 1.85 for the Indians after five starts. Out in balmy Colorado, Dexter Fowler has out-homered the Marlins (7-6). When the Indians dangled Masterson in the offseason, they asked for Fowler to head the package. That deal was talked about extensively early in the offseason. Never did happen. Think either side would do it today?

• We've made Jean Segura famous for his baserunning. After all, while lots of men can go first to third on you, nobody can go third to first like he does. But Brewers GM Doug Melvin posed a different question about his shortstop: When people talk about the best young shortstops in baseball, how come they never talk about Segura, the centerpiece of last year's Zack Greinke deal?

Good question. Segura hit .313, with a .367 on-base percentage, in his minor league career. He won a batting title in the Dominican last winter. And he's hitting .356/.397/.493 in the big leagues this month. That sure gets our attention.

"He's really been under the radar," Melvin said. "I don't think he's ever listed in the top 25 prospects. But he's 22, going on 23, and he's really opened our eyes. I see people talk about the [Jurickson] Profars and even the Dee Gordons. But they never talk about him. He's an exciting player."

• A scout who was in attendance for the big Stephen Strasburg-Matt Harvey duel in New York last weekend reported: "If you didn't know who was who, you'd have thought Harvey was Strasburg and Strasburg was Harvey. You know, I've always loved Strasburg, and I've given him the highest grade you could give a player. But if you were to ask me which guy was the better bet to be great for the next five years, I'd say Harvey. His stuff's just as good. And he has a better delivery." Wow. Matt Harvey Fever. He's got it.

• Finally, people gush about Harvey's fastball and changeup, and you can understand why. But the pitch that has truly changed his career is his slider, which we've even heard opposing hitters describe as "unhittable." Right. As in literally unhittable. He has thrown it 97 times this season -- and given up one hit.

Incredibly, that's a pitch he virtually never threw in the minor leagues. But Harvey told Rumblings that when he got to the big leagues, he showed pitching coach Dan Warthen the grip he used to throw it. Warthen tweaked it slightly. And next thing Harvey knew, even he couldn't believe how hard he could throw it and how much it moved. So what's the secret? "Basically," he said, "I just offset the grip on my fastball -- and throw the crap out of it."

Modern biomechanics at work, ladies and gentlemen. Or something like that.

Tweets of the Week

• If we're reading this right, our favorite legendary 19th-century fireballer wasn't real impressed that the Rockies and Braves teed it up Tuesday in 23-degree temperatures:

I once pitched in 23 degree weather. I shot a buffalo, wore its hide, and tossed a complete game without complaint.

— Old Hoss Radbourn (@OldHossRadbourn) April 23, 2013

• If you're not following Mets public relations witticist Jay Horwitz, why are you on Twitter in the first place?

Novel approach to Dog Day today.Five of 9 Mets starters will be accompanied to their positions by their pet dogs. Hopefully, no accidents.

— Jay Horwitz (@Jay_HorwitzPR) April 20, 2013

• And we couldn't resist this quip from Gar Ryness, the fabled Batting Stance Guy, because after we finished laughing, we actually looked this up:

Cleveland up on Houston 14-0. 1st time Cleveland up 14 since Bernie Kosar was released.

— Batting Stance Guy (@BattingStanceG) April 21, 2013

Astounding Fact of the Week

OK, the Bernie Kosar thing was a joke. But …

This is a 100 percent true fact: The Indians really did take a 14-0 lead in the second inning Saturday. Meanwhile, the Browns have also held a 14-0 lead once …

In their last 80 games!

We kid you not. Here at World Rumblings and Grumblings Headquarters, it's the facts and just the facts. You know that.