Big League GMs, Managers Under The Microscope

DENVER—Rockies manager Jim Tracy received what was described as an "indefinite" contract from the team on the first day that pitchers and catchers worked out this spring.

Don't read too much into it.

What the contract does is assure that each spring Tracy shows up for spring training he will have a guarantee through the following season. Key is that it eliminates the annual spring question about a manager's status.

It guarantees little beyond that, though.

As current Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said when he was given a three-year extension as manager of the Rangers, "It's nice but all it does is guarantee money. It doesn't guarantee what means the most to me, that I will be allowed to manage for all three of those years."

Tracy does go into this season with a challenge. The Rockies want to see solid progress, but what is solid progress on a team that opened spring training with only one pitcher in its projected rotation who has worked 200 innings in a pro season? That pitcher, Jeremy Guthrie, arrived from the Orioles during the offseason with a big league record of 47-65.

Jhouyls Chacin and 49-year-old non-roster invitee Jamie Moyer, who missed last season after Tommy John surgery, are the only other rotation candidates who have even spent a complete season in the big leagues.

The Rockies do have potential, thanks to their focus in the last year on adding quality young arms such as Alex White, Drew Pomeranz, Tyler Chatwood, Guillermo Moscoso and Josh Outman. Juan Nicasio, seemingly fully recovered from the fractured vertebrae in his neck after he was hit in the forehead by a line drive last August, would be a boon for the rotation, and 2008 first-round pick Christian Friedrich may also be ready to make a contribution.

In the end, Tracy will be on a bubble, at least with fans, who rarely show patience in evaluating success and failure.

Four others who will be watched closely as the season opens:

• Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik enters his fourth year, still trying to measure up to the expectations created when the team went a surprising 85-77 in his first year, only to sink to 128-196 the last two seasons.

• Astros manager Brad Mills took over a team that needed a major facelift. Nobody should expect miracles, and by all accounts Mills has handled a difficult job well. But with a new owner came a new front office, and no loyalty to Mills.

• Dodgers GM Ned Colletti didn't do anything himself to get on the hot seat, but with groups still in the bidding to buy the franchise, rest assured there are plenty of GM hopefuls trying to catch the eye of those prospective owners. And as we saw with the Astros, a new administration often starts with the GM when it begins making changes.

• Indians manager Manny Acta guided the Indians to a surprising season a year ago. They were in first place as late as July 20 and finished second in the AL Central—though they did finish under .500 at 80-82. The front office got so excited that the Indians even shipped White and Pomeranz to Colorado last July to add Ubaldo Jimenez, and the expectations are for even better things this year than last.

Around Spring Training

• Moyer, who turned 49 in November, is attempting to become the second-oldest pitcher in history to make an Opening Day roster. Hoyt Wilhelm was a few months older when he made the Dodgers' roster in 1972, turning 50 on July 26 that year, two weeks after he retired. The only pitcher to make a start after his 49th birthday was Satchel Paige, in 1965 with the Kansas City A's, when Charlie Finley sought to get him service time for a pension and Paige made a three-inning start.

The only other pitcher older than 49 to appear in a big league game was Jack Quinn, who was 50 when he worked 152⁄3 innings for Cincinnati in 1933. Quinn was among the last pitchers to legally throw a spitball. The pitch was banned in 1920, but he was among 16 pitchers allowed to continue using it.

• In another move to speed up the game, Major League Baseball has adopted a rule that a manager can't send a pitcher out to warm up for an inning if there is no intention of keeping the pitcher in the game. Sounds good in theory, but it once again puts umpires in a no-win situation. How does the umpire know that a manager doesn't intend to keep a pitcher in the game?

• With trades of Jonathan Sanchez this winter, and top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler last July, the Giants showed up in Arizona with Barry Zito projected as their fifth starter. The highest-paid player on the team, in the first five years of his seven-year, $126 million deal Zito was 43-61, 4.55, and last year was limited to nine starts among 13 appearances.

• First-time managers have taken over with the Cardinals (Mike Matheny), White Sox (Robin Ventura) and Cubs (Dale Sveum). Don't expect miracles. A rookie big league manager has guided a team to a first-place finish just four times: Bob Brenly (Diamondbacks, 2001), Ralph Houk (Yankees, 1961), Eddie Dyer (Cardinals, 1946), and Bucky Harris (Senators, 1924).