Bowden: 5 MLB managers on the hot seat to start the 2024 season

As is the case every year, several managers will begin this season knowing their jobs are on the line. The pressure to deliver is always on every manager, but some will have less leeway than their counterparts at the start of 2024.

Lack of job security comes with the role, of course. Even Hall of Fame managers such as Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa were fired at least once in their careers. If a team is underachieving compared to the expectations of the front office and/or industry, the manager is usually the first to take the fall. If a general manager feels pressure and believes they are going to lose their job if the team doesn’t turn it around quickly, a managerial change can be a last-ditch effort to reverse fortunes, hoping that a different voice or management style might yield better results.

When controversy or adversity strikes, or there’s in-fighting or uneasiness around a clubhouse, typically most fingers are pointed at the manager, even if it’s something they can’t control. It’s not always fair when a manager loses their job, but it’s been part of the game for decades and that’s not changing.

The managers who don’t have to worry as much about their job security are usually those leading contending teams that are winning or rebuilding teams that don’t have high expectations for the season. There are also some GM-manager combinations that the media and fans think should be on the hot seat, but the reality is they won’t be whether they’re winning or losing. The Rays’ Erik Neander and Kevin Cash, the Dodgers’ Andrew Friedman and Dave Roberts, the Rangers’ Chris Young and Bruce Bochy, and the Yankees’ Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone are examples and in all likelihood, their jobs are safe regardless of how the first half of their seasons go.

However, that’s not the case for some other managers, who need to get results. Here are the five managers I think are most on the hot seat to start the 2024 season.

1. John Schneider, Blue Jays

This will be Schneider’s third season as manager of the Blue Jays after guiding them to wild-card berths in each of the past two years. He has an overall record of 135-101. In his tenure, Schneider has challenged 76 umpire calls and had just 27 overturned, a 35.5 percent success rate that’s the worst among returning managers. Toronto finished second in the AL East in 2022 and third in 2023 but exited in the first round of the playoffs both times. Expectations for this year’s team are much higher. The Blue Jays have one of the best rotations and bullpens in the division, an elite defensive team, and three star position players — Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and George Springer. Most analysts feel a group with this much talent should have more postseason success to show for it.

Then there was the inexplicable decision in last year’s Wild Card Series against the Twins, when Schneider replaced starting pitcher José Berríos, who was dominating, with Yusei Kikuchi in the fourth inning of Game 2. It was a bizarre move. Kikuchi proceeded to allow a single and a walk to load the bases before Carlos Correa singled to give Minnesota the lead for good.

The Twins won 2-0 to sweep the series, and that decision was costly. But after the game Schneider said, “You can sit here and second guess me, second guess the organization, second guess anybody. I get that. I get that and it’s tough and it didn’t work out for us today.” He then implied to players and media members that the move was a front-office decision that had been made before the game. However, general manager Ross Atkins, who also caught some heat over the situation, later said it was Schneider’s decision. Regardless, the front office gave Schneider a vote of confidence in the offseason. The Blue Jays want to improve their communication and make sure this type of situation doesn’t happen again. But it was not a good look for Schneider — with the players especially — that this decision was made, and it’s even worse that he didn’t own it at the time and publicly implied it came from the front office.

He got a pass for that one, but in all likelihood, he won’t next time. If the Blue Jays don’t get off to a fast start or more controversy erupts, Don Mattingly, Toronto’s bench coach, could be managing this team by June and Schneider could be looking for his next gig.

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Can Oliver Marmol lead the Cardinals back to the playoffs? (Sam Greene / The Cincinnati Enquirer / USA Today)

2. Oliver Marmol, Cardinals

Marmol is beginning his third season at the helm in St. Louis. He had a strong rookie year as a manager in 2022, leading the Cardinals to a 93-69 record and a first-place finish before they were eliminated in the wild-card round of the playoffs. But last season was a total disaster as the Cardinals went 71-91 and fell to the bottom of the NL Central. In his two seasons in charge, Marmol has challenged 81 umpire calls and gotten 45 of them overturned, a success rate of 55.6 percent.

So much went wrong early in the season last year. After St. Louis signed Willson Contreras to a five-year, $87.5 million contract, Marmol, in the first month of the season, announced that the veteran would no longer be the catcher and would instead DH or play left field. Marmol would soon change his mind and Contreras went back to being the primary catcher. Marmol also was criticized for calling out players in the media instead of talking directly with them first and for giving players set days off despite needing them in close games. Then there were the decisions concerning Jordan Walker, who made the team out of spring training but was sent to the minors after just 20 games even though he was hitting .274 with two homers and 11 RBIs. When Walker returned to the big leagues, he hit .338 in June with four home runs and nine RBIs but the Cardinals still wanted to change him.

The Cardinals’ evolving analytics department probably had too much influence on Marmol and he was saddled with a bad pitching staff that finished with a 4.79 ERA, which ranked 24th out of the 30 teams. During the offseason, the Cardinals front office prioritized and invested heavily in starting pitching, committing $97 million on contracts to Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson with the hope of again competing for the division. Vegas has set the over/under at 84 wins this season despite the Cardinals’ 71-win campaign last year. If they are below .500 in the middle of the season, don’t be surprised if Yadier Molina is their manager come the All-Star break.

3. Derek Shelton, Pirates

This will be Shelton’s fifth season as Pirates manager and it’s expected the team needs to show more progress this year and finish above .500 for him to keep his job. Under Shelton, Pittsburgh went 19-41 in 2020, 61-101 in 2021 and 62-100 in 2022 but improved to 76-86 last year. Overall, he’s 218-328, a .399 winning percentage. He’s made 97 umpire challenges and had 41 of them overturned, a 42.3 percent success rate.

The Pirates need their young core to break out this year, starting with shortstop Oneil Cruz who is healthy after missing most of last season, Gold Glove third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, center fielder Jack Suwinski and their best starting pitcher, Mitch Keller. They are counting on production from outfielder Bryan Reynolds and have signed several veterans this offseason, bringing back Andrew McCutchen and adding the power of Rowdy Tellez and Yasmani Grandal. They have also added veterans to the rotation and bullpen such as Martín Pérez, Marco Gonzales and Aroldis Chapman. If things go south, they should at least have some decent trade chips to deal for more prospects. But Pirates fans are tired of rebuilding and they’re tired of losing. I think this team needs to make another jump this year, to at least 81-81, for Shelton to keep his job.



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4. Bud Black, Rockies

Black is a veteran manager who goes about his job with integrity and class. He’s been in the game a long time and has 2,394 career games as a manager, including nine years with the Padres and the last seven years with the Rockies. But since 2019, the Rockies have finished in fourth place in the NL West three times and in last place the past two years, including a 59-103 record (.364 winning percentage) last season. In 16 years as a manager, he’s successfully overturned 50.2 percent of the calls he’s challenged.

The Rockies are rebuilding but Black has not had a winning season since 2018, when they went 91-72. He has not even won 75 games in any of the past four years (excluding the shortened 2020 season). The Rockies have struggled to put together a competitive pitching staff and although they have a lot of good young players at the major-league level and many quality prospects who could arrive this year, the team is going to need to show significant progress this season for Black, who is under contract through this year, to be back in 2025. The Rockies could decide to turn to a younger manager with stronger player development and analytics skills than Black, perhaps someone who was more involved in the promotion and development of many of their young players and the prospects in the pipeline.

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Before joining the White Sox, Pedro Grifol (pictured) and Chris Getz both worked for the Royals. (Kamil Krzaczynski / USA Today)

5. Pedro Grifol, White Sox

This is only Grifol’s second season as a manager and I don’t think he deserves to be on the hot seat. But his rookie season was a nightmare, with culture problems in the clubhouse, a poor defensive team and adversity around every corner. The White Sox finished a dismal 61-101. He challenged 40 umpire calls and 16 were overturned, a 40 percent success rate.

Grifol has a strong relationship with new GM Chris Getz and their history together goes way back. At the same time, he was hired by the previous front-office regime, Ken Williams and Rick Hahn, not Getz, and most GMs like to put their stamp on the manager position. Perhaps Grifol and Getz will continue to work well together and the White Sox will be more competitive and have fewer clubhouse issues. But if things turn sour, it stands to reason Getz could want to hire his own manager and might make a change.



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(Top photo of John Schneider: Nathan Ray Seebeck / USA Today)

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