There are 11 Major League managers currently making out lineups, flashing signs, trying to win games without a guaranteed contract for next season. So the fact that two of them, Washington's Davey Johnson and Philadelphia's Charlie Manuel, will be sitting in opposite dugouts at Nationals Park on Friday night isn't unusual.
What makes this different, though, is the overwhelming perception that neither manager will be in the same spot next season, even though both have teams that should be in the playoff hunt. The Nationals, in fact, entered the season widely expected to win the NL East and play deep into October.
In Johnson's case, it's not difficult to figure out where the perception came from. The Nats quietly announced in November that he'll slide into a consultant's role with the team in 2014.
Manuel's case is more complex. The Phillies made no effort to negotiate an extension with him after a streak of five straight division championships ended last year. He's in his ninth year on the job. He'll be 70 years old by Opening Day 2014. Successful Triple-A manager Ryne Sandberg was promoted to be the big league third-base coach this season.
Many have put those pieces together and concluded that Sandberg will replace Manuel next year, despite repeated statements by general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. that all options remain open.
"I don't know about the perception," said Amaro. "All I can tell you is we haven't made any decisions about that. As we said six months or so ago, it's something we'll deal with at the end of the season. Charlie and myself will talk and decide where we go from there. But right now that's the least of our worries.
"Obviously, even if we had hired him for the next two or three years, there are always going to be questions about Charlie's job. My job. That's the nature of the beast -- particularly if we're not playing the way we think we can play. At the time, we were very comfortable about allowing this decision to happen after the season. To me, what's more important is how we deal with it internally. We can't really worry about the perception that's being created out there. I understand it. I get it. But at the same time, that's just what we decided to do. There have been managers over the years who worked on one-year contracts for a thousand years."
Walter Alston famously managed the Dodgers on 23 straight one-year deals, but Amaro fully understands that was a simpler time.
"I know this is a different era and there's a different perception about these sorts of things," Amaro said. "But after the season, Charlie and I will sit down, we'll talk about it and we'll go from there. We talked about this last offseason. I was proactive when talking about it. I said, 'Listen, Charlie, this is our situation. We'll deal with your contractual situation after the season.' And he was fine with it."
The biggest change is that, with the voracious 24/7 news cycle that exists today, a manager without a contract becomes just another talking point. And while Manuel may have been fine with it over the winter, he quickly grew weary of being asked about it this spring.
"I'm not disappointed in it at all," he told The Associated Press at one point during the Grapefruit League. "I don't know if I get it or not. I think they can do whatever they want to do. That's how I look at it. Actually, when you get right down to it, it doesn't bother me a whole lot. I have nothing to do with it, [and] I mean that in a good way."
Johnson also dropped hints that he wasn't certain what his future holds.
"What am I going to do next year? Life is full of challenges. You never know what's going to come up," he told MLB.com late in Spring Training. "I don't worry about what happened yesterday so much, or what's going to happen in six months."
Asked specifically if he might change his mind about managing, he added: "Nothing is cast in stone. We have a mutual agreement here. Again, it's could of, would of. I don't go there."
Amaro, who has bluntly stated that Sandberg should not be seen as an heir apparent, doesn't believe adding him to the big league staff should change the way fans look at the Phillies' situation.
"Even if he was the manager in Triple-A, it would be the same thing," he said. "Ryne's doing a very good job at third base this year. We're happy with how he's done. In fact, all our staff has done a good job. I'm happy with our staff. Not as happy with our players, but I'm real pleased with our staff. And as far as the perception is concerned, there have been no promises made to Ryne Sandberg. There have been no promises made to any of our coaches. So after the season, we'll assess where we are and go from there."
One of the arguments against allowing a manager to go into the final year of a deal is that it can undermine his authority in the clubhouse. A look at the standings reveals plenty of rebuttal. The Rockies under Walt Weiss and Jim Leyland's Tigers, for example, are right in the thick of things. And Joe Girardi of the Yankees looks like a strong early candidate for American League Manager of the Year.
All three are working without a contract for next season.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less