Six Cactus League Teams Feature New Managers In Dugout, All With Same Goal

cactus league

By Justin de Haas

The job of an MLB manager is one of the most highly-coveted positions in sports, but there are only 30 spots available at any given time.

Eight MLB teams have a new manager in 2024 – an anomaly that has happened twice since 2006 – with six of those clubs playing in the Cactus League in spring training. Offseasons with this amount of manager movement do not often occur, but there will also be a lot of familiar faces in new places for the upcoming season.

Some of these managers – referred to as head coaches in almost every other sport – are at the helm for the very first time, while others have experience with different teams in various roles. Nonetheless, no path to being an MLB manager is created equal.

For example, the Cleveland Guardians hired Stephen Vogt for the top spot despite the 39-year-old only serving one year as the bullpen and quality control coach for the Seattle Mariners in 2023 and 10 years as a catcher for six teams — mostly with the Oakland A’s. Despite the lack of coaching experience, Vogt makes up for it with his youth as he is the second-youngest MLB manager.

“Everybody’s a first-year manager at some point and for me, I think it’s good,” Vogt said. “I can relate to the young players. I just got done playing, so I can kind of feel what they’re thinking. I know what they’re going through and I can relate to them in that way, but I also have a lot of smart people around me with a ton of experience that can help me get through this stuff.”

Oakland catcher Shea Langeliers, 26, cited the new Cleveland skipper as one of his mentors when their careers overlapped in 2022.

On the other end of the spectrum is Ron Washington, 71, who started coaching after he retired from his playing days in 1989. In November, the Los Angeles Angels hired Washington for his experience as he won two American League pennants as the manager of the Texas Rangers and has been to the playoffs many times as a coach with the A’s during their Moneyball era and with the Atlanta Braves, who won six straight National League East division titles with him as the third base coach.

Washington is new to the Angels, but he is not new to baseball and is ready for the moment.

“What I’m bringing to this group is a steady hand,” Washington said. “There’s nothing that can happen on that field that I haven’t experienced. And there’s nothing on that field where we will feel any panic, so I’m bringing a steady hand.”

It may seem like a weird fit that an older manager would go to a young team looking to rebuild, but the long-time coach brings a sense of stability to the ballclub. The Angels want Washington to bring that winning culture from Atlanta to Anaheim, while other new managers were hired to keep the team’s culture in-house.

For instance, the Milwaukee Brewers promoted Pat Murphy, 65, from bench coach to manager after eight seasons under Craig Counsell, who left the Brewers after the 2023 season to take over the Chicago Cubs’ top job. Murphy is a first-time MLB manager, but he was the head coach at Notre Dame and Arizona State for two decades prior.

Another example is Mike Shildt, who has been on the San Diego Padres’ coaching staff since 2022, but is now entering his first season as the team’s manager. Shildt, 55, has been an MLB manager before with the St. Louis Cardinals, but his time in the Padres’ organization makes him feel more comfortable taking a bigger role with the team.

“The good news is I’ve been there the last several years,” Shildt said. “I’ve been creating relationships within the organization. Front office, players, other staff members, so the transition is way easier than if I had just come in cold. You’re responsible for what takes place on the field, so clearly a lot more responsibility and I decided to get back into that role.”

Shildt was the 2019 NL Manager of the Year with the Cardinals, but he only had a little over three seasons with the team. However, there are a couple of managers with new teams who have made the playoffs several times and now join in-division rivals. Counsell was Milwaukee’s winningest manager after making the playoffs in five of his nine seasons with the Brewers, but he brings that playoff experience to a Cubs squad that has not won a playoff game since 2017.

Bob Melvin is another manager who boasts a successful playoff track record. He has been to the postseason most recently with the Padres and A’s, and now he will attempt to bring the San Francisco Giants back to the postseason after the club won 107 games in 2021. The new Giants manager attended Menlo-Atherton High School in Atherton, California — which is south of San Francisco — and Cal Berkley, so he could not pass up the opportunity to return to his comfort zone.

“Well it’s another team,” Melvin said. “It’s home in the Bay Area. It’s with a president of baseball operations (Farhan Zaidi) that I’ve spent some time with in Oakland. It’s just not often you are able to not only manage one hometown team with the A’s, but two hometown teams with the Giants. That’s pretty special.”

Melvin, who also won an NL West title when he managed the Arizona Diamondbacks from 2005-2009, had a team loaded with stars in San Diego, but he is willing to start something new in San Francisco because it’s where he wants to be.

There are some similarities between these six managers, but they all took different routes to get to this point. Even though they have taken separate journeys to reach the majors, there is something they all have in common and Shildt can speak to that shared goal.

“The ultimate purpose is to win games,” Shildt said. “It’s about shaking hands at the end of the game and going to the playoffs … That’s ultimately the job, but I want to make sure we’re competing the right way. Playing the game the right way, being prepared and getting right after it. We’ve got a hungry group of guys that are excited to play.”

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