What is the main job of a major league baseball manager? Of course, probably the main aspect of managing is pulling the right strings. But along with that, and maybe even more important, is getting your players to play hard.
Pete Mackanin did an admirable job taking over for Ryne Sandberg in 2015, and has provided stability ever since. He’s upbeat and communicative, and also has an edge when he feels it’s needed. Also, Mackanin’s ability to speak fluent Spanish allows him to connect with some of the young Latin players, which makes up a solid chunk of the Phillies’ clubhouse.
At the end of 2015, Mackanin was awarded the job on a full time basis for 2016. At the end of spring training last season, Matt Klentak rewarded Mackanin again with another contract.
This deal gave Mackanin security for this season, with a club option for next, which few people are talking about. For someone who has done a good job to this point, Mackanin is no lock to be the team’s manager next season.
So what does Mackanin need to do to solidify his job for next year?
To me, simply put, continue what he’s doing. He has all of the traits to be a winning manager. It’s rare when a first-time manager in his 60s is able to connect with guys in their early 20s, but Mackanin does it just fine. Now, he has a few more veterans to further cement his message with the additions of Howie Kendrick, Michael Saunders and Clay Buchholz.
Mackanin has a good grip of the team. May 31 of last season, Mackanin batted Cesar Hernandez eighth in the order, and expressed his displeasure with his .256-hitting second baseman. From that point on, Hernandez was the club’s best hitter, posting a .311 average and a .398 on-base percentage. Hernandez responded in a big way
Mackanin is also not afraid to bench his best players. After failing to run hard after a routine groundout in May, the skipper benched all star Odubel Herrera in the seventh inning of a tie game. It was clear Mackanin sacrificed the game to send shockwaves around the clubhouse. Mackanin sat Herrera down again in August because of rest, but also in conjunction with his poor plate discipline. Herrera’s personality can be difficult to reel in at times, but Mackanin isn’t afraid of knocking the all-star down a few pegs when he feels it’s necessary.
He also dealt with the decline and departure of an icon about as well as he could. In a situation that could have been ugly, Mackanin kept the peace with Ryan Howard, giving him a memorable send off in the final weekend of the season. Mackanin had to balance the history of a World Series hero and a young up-and-comer in Tommy Joseph. It’s a situation rife with doom, and at times veered toward doom, but ultimately worked out in his favor.
Goals for Mackanin, along with any manager, include more wins than the previous year. Mackanin has stated flirting around .500 would be ideal for his club. If that is the case, Mackanin would have shown improvement in each of his two seasons as full-time manager.
But more important for Mackanin, he needs to maintain the trust, dialogue and message with his players. He has done it to this point, and if he continues to do so, the Phillies should exercise the club option.