Sometimes it is very difficult to award manager of the year in major league baseball. What really goes into making the best manager? Is it the manager who takes great talent and produces great results? Is the manager who takes average talent and gets above average results? This year, it was a manager who took average talent at best, and produced results far better than average. The Fansided network voted, and Joe Maddon, the top choice on my ballot, is our AL manager of the year.
Few people outside of the Tampa Bay Rays organization itself believed that the roster they put on the field on Opening Day would come close to making a run at the playoffs. Truth be told, probably many within the Rays wouldn’t have believed it either. You will hear teams talk about “winning” the offseason. The Rays got blown out in the offseason. After making serious runs at a championship in the past few years, it was time to cut payroll, significantly. They traded away Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett. Their bullpen was decimated, losing Dan Wheeler, Joaquin Benoit, Randy Choate and Rafael Soriano to free agency. Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford also signed free agent deals with other clubs. Their biggest acquisition was the signing of troubled closer Kyle Farnsworth, not exactly the headline signing you would expect from a team that had been in the playoffs the past years.
The roster didn’t offer much hope when it proceeded to lose six in a row to start the season and eight of their first nine. They turned things around and went 22-7 in their next 29 games, a run that put them in first place in the vaunted AL East. The Yankees/Red Sox reality was restored after the all-star break and the Rays looked like they would quietly drift out of the playoff race and finish the season battling the Blue Jays for third place in the division. Instead, Joe Maddon rallied his team and they pulled off one of the most miraculous comebacks in Major League Baseball history.
In less than a month of baseball the Rays erased a nine game deficit to the Boston Red Sox to make the postseason as the AL wild card. In that time, they won 17 of 25, and under the highest amount of pressure, swept the New York Yankees to end the year. To complete that sweep, they overcame a seven run deficit in the eighth inning and won 8-7 in the twelfth. Their thrilling ride into the postseason ended when the Texas Rangers closed them out in Tampa three games to one. The disappointing postseason loss did nothing to take away from what the Rays accomplished this year.
Even if the Rays had not been able to catch and pass the Red Sox on the final day of the season, it would have been hard to deny the job Maddon did this year. Look at what the Rays lost. Look at who they had on the field. He was blessed with a starting pitching staff that was second to none but a lineup that was among the worst hitting teams in the American League. Somehow, despite their poor hitting statistics, they were able to score runs in line with the league average. Maddon turned his guys loose on the base paths, hit and ran in unorthodox counts and got the most out of guys like Matt Joyce and Casey Kotchman. His sometimes unconventional defensive positioning and lineup changes kept players and managers guessing, and his team fully engaged night in and night out.
There was no easier selection for me to make, when it came to voting for this year’s postseason awards. I didn’t have to sit and debate with myself or make a list of pros and cons. It was clear that Joe Maddon had done the best job of any manager in the American League. I’m just glad to see my colleagues from Fansided agreed with me.