It’s almost here: Spring Training/Pennsylvania Dutch-Style.
The new faces. The dreary weather. The sore arms. The musty smell of DownTown in the morning. But the biggest story to watch this season might be the status of York manager Chris Hoiles.
Hoiles appeared to have all the job security a manager could want before the final weeks of 2008. Hoiles called the Revs job one of the best in baseball, maybe even better than an offer from the Orioles — an organization where he spent his entire major league career. Hoiles expected a contract offer from Opening Day Partners. Instead he waited … and waited … and waited until Thanksgiving to complete a deal.*
* The actual contract wasn’t signed until days after Thanksgiving, but that’s just another interesting aspect about this whole offseason saga.
Now ODP would never say they were displeased with Hoiles, but it sure seemed like some major posturing by ownership.
It might sound ridiculous, but even before the season starts I believe Hoiles is on the hot seat. If York gets off to an awful start or fails to make the playoffs, don’t be surprised if the Revolution go in a different direction in 2010.
And if Hoiles’ job isn’t in jeopardy, why did ODP treat him like an ugly step-child while at the same time re-signing Von Hayes (.457 winning percentage last season) to a two-year deal. Hayes may still prove himself to be a great manager in this league, but last year he looked like an egomaniac that was unwilling to let veteran players do what they do best — show up and play ball.
Hoiles doesn’t have the star power of Gary Carter, Tim Raines or even Tommy John, but he also coached an 8-20 team back from the brink of disaster last season. York made the playoffs for the first time. And the Revolution had the best shot of any team to beat the Somerset Patriots in the playoffs. Locked in a pair of close games, two miscues involving ground balls at second base cost York the series. But the team in September looked nothing like the squad that stumbled in May.
Yet Hoiles sat around for two months waiting for a contract.
Several comments have been left on message boards and blogs bashing Hoiles’ managerial style. (He sticks with starting pitchers too long; he doesn’t find/sign players; he fails to find favorable matchups with his bullpen arms.) But I don’t understand the need to look elsewhere for a manager.
In fact, I would argue that Hoiles’ perceived shortcomings are actually positives in the Atlantic League.
He does tend to stick with starters when they pitch their way into trouble, but in his defense York lacked any pitching depth in 2007. His best pitcher was often the one guy on the mound. So forget about the expansion disaster and realize what happened in Year 2, when York assembled perhaps the best bullpen in the league. Hoiles regularly called on Juan Padilla, Jason Olson, Travis Phelps and Franklin Nunez to win games. Moreover, the indy leagues are loaded with players who are attempting to recover from injuries or rebound after being released. It doesn’t make sense to destroy a player’s confidence when that same player is needed to help make a playoff push.
His style is consistent with position players. The argument could be made he stuck with shortstop Keoni De Renne (36 errors in 129 games) too long last season. But tell me where York could find a better shortstop in June? And remember, it was the worst season of De Renne’s career. No one could predict he would struggle defensively.
The majority of players love Hoiles because he is loyal. Kenny Perez called him one of the best managers he ever played for. Team MVP Jason Aspito noted at the end of the season he would return to York, but he wanted to play for Hoiles.
When York upgraded its roster, like when it signed first baseman Chris Ashby, Hoiles makes smart moves — like sitting first baseman Tyler Von Schell. But he needs to have players before he can go in a different direction.
True, he doesn’t sign players. He’s not Butch Hobson. But that’s why York hired Adam Gladstone. Hoiles lacked any managerial experience before he arrived in York in 2007. He doesn’t have years of coaching in the bush leagues or a Rolodex filled with the phone numbers of former players in his office. But Gladstone and Hoiles are attached at the hip during the season. They work well together. If ODP wanted a manager who signed his own players, they shouldn’t have hired Hoiles — a man ODP billed as a future major league manager.
For all the offseason nonsense, Hoiles appears to be happy in York. And just a few weeks ago, he still called the place one of the top jobs in baseball. He has a family he wants to spend time with, and he can live with his wife and three sons for much of the summer.
But if this perceived tension is real, ODP has to ask a tough question:
Since it already survived the tough years, why would it want to cut loose a manager who appears to be growing and maturing in his job?