Stay tuned at the BBA for the unveiling of the winners later this week. Here's my ballot for the senior circuit:
Honorable Mentions: Bud Black (Padres) & Bobby Cox (Braves)
I spent all season predicting both these teams to bend over like wet noodles and, in the end, I was only half right about each, so I'm here to say that their collective "overperformance" should be a feather in the cap of their managers. That said, it was only by virtue of the fact that their late-season flounderings were synchronized with those of the Cardinals and Rockies, as well as each other, that either one of them backdoored their way into playing baseball in October. Black worked a minor miracle with his young pitching staff, but he also gave away a few critical wins by being too loyal for too long to guys like David Eckstein, Nick Hundley, and the Hairston brothers. Cox overcame a bevy of injuries and coaxed career years out of Omar Infante and Martin Prado, but he also worked his pitchers to the bone, especially Tim Hudson and Jair Jurrjens, both pushed too far too fast following their injuries. It was an outstanding season for both franchises, but one that might actually have leveraged future performance for only modest immediate returns.
Third Place: Charlie Manuel (Phillies)
Eric Karabell has been making the case for Manuel for most of the past month and it's a pretty good one. His entire infield, and therefore his one through four hitters, all missed substantial time. At one point in late July, when the attrition was particularly high, the two-time reigning NL champs fell as far as seven games back of the Braves and were only three games above .500. Yet, somehow, even though they were never a full strength, the Phils came raging back over the last two months and finished with the best record in baseball and their best record since 1993. Karabell is correct. This is among Manuel's finest accomplishments. However, he was blessed with an unflappable veteran roster, the core of which has been through this gambit for each of the last four seasons. He is overseeing a dynasty on rival with Big Red Machine, the "We Are Family" Pirates, and the late-'60s Cardinals, the standard-bearers for National League baseball. And, this season, he also had the best pitcher in baseball, who threw a perfect game, brought home 21 victories, and recorded more outs than anybody since Livan Hernandez in 2004. Was there ever a chance this team would finish anywhere except atop the National League? Probably not.
Second Place: Bruce Bochy (Giants)
In his fourth year with San Francisco, Bochy got the Giants back to the postseason for the first time since the "Bonds Years" ('00-'03). He was blessed with an extraordinary rotation, but as has been the case in every season since his arrival, Bochy had to fret and stress for every run. I've already covered San Francisco's dubious, but extremely entertaining "expendables" strategy at length. It's not easy choosing between Jose Guillen, Nate Schierholtz, and Cody Ross, when that's all you have available. It's not easy benching two likable veterans (Edgar Renteria & Aaron Rowand) who are making over $20 Million, but can't hit a lick. It's not easy turning the left side of your infield over to two men who weigh about 250 lbs. apiece (Pablo Sandoval & Juan Uribe) when you are team built around pitching. Bochy was faced with numerous tough decisions and almost all of them worked out perfectly. You can give some of the credit to Brian Sabean or to luck, which may be the same thing, but you can't argue with the result.
First Place: Dusty Baker (Reds)
Cincinnati's 13 win improvement is the largest of any team in the majors between '09 and '10. There only significant offseason acquisitions were a 20-year-old Cuban lefty who didn't make his debut until late August and a 35-year-old journeyman shortstop who finished the season at 0.4 wins above replacement. When Baker came to Cincinnati in '08 promising to get them back to the postseason, many probably believed he would do it with a ton of veterans acquired through free agency, as he had with Chicago and San Francisco. Quite to the contrary, this team is built on a foundation of youth and primed to compete for several years to come. Baker clearly had a plan from the moment he joined the organization. As usual, he gained the trust of his players. And, as usual, he kept his promises. It doesn't take a whole lot of stats to prove that Baker is worthy of his fourth Manager of the Year trophy, tying him with Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox for the most all time. But there are these. The Reds led the NL in runs, hits, homers, total bases, RBI, average, slugging percentage, and OPS. They also tied for the fewest errors and the highest fielding percentage. In my opinion, it's enough to make Baker deserving of his first Connie Mack award.