2019 Manager of the Year: Breaking down the finalists

Gerard Gilberto

The evolution of the major league manager’s job inspires frequent debate.

As awards season rolls along, the Baseball Writers Association of America will recognize the skippers with the announcement of the American and National League Managers of the Year on Tuesday night.

This year’s ballot features a few familiar names and is the seventh in the past decade where a first-time manager is a finalist. Rocco Baldelli guided the Minnesota Twins to 101 wins in his first season at the helm. Aaron Boone is also a finalist after finishing fifth last year in his first season as manager of the New York Yankees. Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash is among the top three AL managers for the second consecutive year.

The NL ballot looks a lot like last year’s. The 2018 winner, the Atlanta Braves’ Brian Snitker, and the Milwaukee Brewers’ Craig Counsell are finalists once again. St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Shildt finished fourth in last season’s voting, but moved into the top-three this year.

The winners will be announced during a live special on MLB Network at 6 p.m. ET on Tuesday. Stay tuned for full coverage of the announcement and the ensuing reactions. But keep reading to size up the six contenders, and read up on the picks from the Yahoo Sports crew.

American League

Aaron Boone, Yankees

On paper, Boone’s job looks easy. His roster features at least a couple MVP candidates, the best bullpen money can buy and more power than could be reasonably expected. But if you shuffle those papers around and find an injury report, and it makes a lot of sense as to what makes Boone a finalist. Maximizing the available talent is the main job of a manager regardless of approach. The Yankees won 103 games with major contributions from players like Mike Tauchman, Gio Urshela and Cameron Maybin. That’s not an easy feat.

Defining moment: Anecdotal evidence often influences Gold Glove decisions — it’s easy to forget some errors a player might have made when they’re also making some flashy and diving plays. There will be people that argue that Boone deserves MOY for this speech alone. That’s anecdotal evidence, but also, pure entertainment.

Rocco Baldelli, Twins

Teams have needed to adapt to the change in the actual baseball in 2019. With home runs being produced at a record rate, Baldelli skippered a team that left the yard more than anyone else. It’ll be tough for Baldelli to claim the MOY on his first try, considering the AL Central’s weakness and the Twins’ lackluster postseason. But there are no gimmes in this game. And Baldelli also got a lot out of a pitching staff that wasn’t expected to produce much.

Defining moment: Baldelli became the first rookie manager to win 100 games for the Twins after a 6-2 victory against the Kansas City Royals on Sept. 27. It wasn’t the prettiest game — the contest was called due to weather in the seventh inning — but a historic moment for Baldelli.

Kevin Cash, Rays

Tampa Bay has been at the forefront of many new ways of thinking in recent years. Some orders may come from the top, but it takes a steady hand on the wheel to execute the plan. Cash has had more strings to pull than the average coach in his two seasons as a MOY finalist, particularly when it comes to the Rays’ fondness for the opener. Cash too had a few question marks on his roster that turned into solid contributors, namely Rookie of the Year finalist Brandon Lowe.

Defining moment: This game against the Boston Red Sox will be referred to by many as an example of the pace of play issues in baseball. But it’s a great example of Cash willing to do unusual things to help his club win games, even if it means sticking a relief pitcher at first base for an out.

National League

Craig Counsell, Brewers

For the past two seasons, Counsell has had the benefit of rostering a player that’s emerged as a perennial MVP candidate. He’s also been able to turn to the NL’s best closer at pretty much any point. The Brewers were expected to be playoff contenders from the start of the season, but required another late summer push to get into the postseason after an injury to Christian Yelich and down years from a few key hitters. Counsell guided the Brewers to their second consecutive postseason berth for the first time in nearly four decades.

Defining moment: Almost every Saturday for an entire month, the Brewers played an extra-inning game. The 10-inning loss to the Braves on May 18 was a walk in the park compared to the 18-inning win against the New York Mets two weeks prior. Counsell finally led the Brewers to a 13-inning win against the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 1.

Mike Shildt, Cardinals

Good defense was a longtime staple of “the Cardinal way” until last year when they led the league with 133 errors. Shildt gave the edict in spring training to improve in that area, and the result was the first team in MLB history to go from the most to the least amount of errors in back-to-back seasons. Shildt also fixed a rough situation in the bullpen, when fireballer closer Jordan Hicks went down with a season-ending elbow injury and was replaced by former ace Carlos Martinez.

Defining moment: Game 5 of the NLDS in Atlanta was pretty much over after the Cardinals scored 10 runs in the opening inning. Rookie Randy Arozarena probably got a nice talking-to after this video emerged, but it’s just as likely that Shildt endeared himself to the fans in St. Louis for a long time.

Brian Snitker, Braves

A lot of money was spent by their rivals in the NL East to attempt to knock the Braves off the throne. But Atlanta reclaimed power again on June 12, and the division was theirs for the rest of the year. Snitker was working with a supremely talented roster, including three Silver Slugger award winners, a Rookie of the Year runner-up and a former MVP, but there were some maturity concerns — namely Josh Donaldson’s age and Ronald Acuna Jr.’s behavior — that Snitker handled with aplomb.

Defining moment: The Braves surged to the top of the division in the midst of an eight-game winning streak that was capped by a Brian McCann walk-off hit for his 1,000th RBI. Snitker can join McCann in Atlanta lore by matching Bobby Cox as the only Braves manager to win consecutive MOY awards.

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