Each Major League season presents its own unique challenges for managers. But there’s never been another season quite like 2020. COVID-19, a 60-game sprint of a season, along with the usual injury-related and other inevitable setbacks made the season just completed an incredibly difficult one to navigate for the man at the helm of each club. So to be named a finalist for the 2020 Manager of the Year Award for either league is truly an accomplishment in itself. Here’s a look at the case for each of the six candidates.
Kevin Cash, Rays
Over the past three seasons, Cash has established himself as one of the best managers in the Majors, and his best work came in 2020. In a season where there was no handbook on how to handle things, Cash seemed to have all the answers. Aside from letting everyone know that he has a “whole damn stable” of guys that throw 98 mph, Cash’s presence in the dugout went a long way for a young Rays team. Throughout the season, Rays players and coaches said Cash’s ability to allow them to be themselves in the clubhouse played a key role in the team’s success.
Cash kept his calm demeanor when the Rays got off to a 5-7 start. He also stayed calm (at least to the media) when the Rays had 12 pitchers on the injured list, five of them being out for the season. Despite the injuries and the uncertainty this season provided, Cash was able to lead the Rays to an AL-best 40-20 record, helping the organization secure its first AL East title since ’10. Rick Renteria and Charlie Montoyo are certainly deserving candidates, but after two consecutive third-place finishes, it’s time for Cash to take home the hardware. – Juan Toribio
Charlie Montoyo, Blue Jays
All Major League managers faced new challenges in 2020’s shortened season, but only Montoyo had to face those while playing the entire season away from his club’s usual home. Toronto made their Triple-A ballpark at Buffalo’s Sahlen Field “home” for much of the year, which Montoyo encouraged his players to embrace as he led the club to a 32-28 record and their first postseason appearance since 2016.
As Montoyo prioritized the continued development of his young core, “it’s fine” became his motto, as he consistently gave players second or third chances to learn from their mistakes on the field. Opposing players and coaches around baseball are quick to praise Montoyo for the work he’s done with young players off the field or behind the scenes, and that’s exactly what we saw in a season where it mattered more than ever. — Keegan Matheson
Rick Renteria, White Sox
The White Sox have three finalists for 2020 BBWAA American League season awards, but Rick Renteria joining Tampa’s Kevin Cash and Toronto’s Charlie Montoyo in the Manager of the Year category is the most unique. The White Sox and their former manager parted ways 10 days after a Wild Card Series-deciding Game 3 loss in Oakland, ending Renteria’s four-year-run on the South Side. But the always-classy Renteria exited on a high note, guiding the White Sox to a 35-25 record, their first playoff appearance since 2008, and their first season above .500 since 2012.
Renteria presided over a White Sox rebuild for the three years leading into 2020, losing 284 games in total but helping to develop some of the organization’s top young talent. He was more than ready to handle the White Sox transition to their contention phase in ’20, with Chicago becoming the first AL team to clinch a playoff spot via a victory over Minnesota on Sept. 17. The White Sox lost eight of their final 10 regular-season games, including a four-game sweep in Cleveland, leaving them tied for second with Cleveland in the AL Central and one game behind the Twins.
Renteria and his staff helped make this season a success despite having only two truly consistent starters in Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel from start to finish. The White Sox were one of the top offensive teams in the game and played with intensity from the season’s outset, a trademark of Renteria teams even when they were outmanned talent-wise. — Scott Merkin
Don Mattingly, Marlins
The perceived improbability of the Marlins making the playoffs at all in 2020 is the most obvious reason Mattingly is deserving of National League Manager of the Year Award. Outside of those connected to the organization, many predicted Miami would finish last in the NL East. But Mattingly’s case for top managerial honors is much more than the fact the Marlins made the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
Mattingly’s even-headed demeanor was crucial in an unprecedented year where MLB and the world dealt with the coronavirus pandemic. No manager dealt with more adversity than Mattingly. In the first week of the season alone, the Marlins had 18 players test COVID-19 positive. At the time, the team spent more than a week self-quarantined in a hotel in Philadelphia. When they were cleared to play, the Marlins rolled off five straight wins. In all, the Marlins used 61 different players, including 18 players making their MLB debuts. Mattingly admitted there were times he didn’t recognize either the names or faces of some of the players added to the roster. Yet, he repeatedly made no excuses.
When the Marlins had to interrupt a homestand to make a one-day trip to New York to face the Mets in a makeup game, Mattingly noted his players were not happy. Yet they got on a plane and took care of business. Rookie Trevor Rogers that day got the better of Jacob deGrom. No matter the obstacle, Mattingly had his players prepared. The results support Mattingly joining Jack McKeon (2003) and Joe Girardi (2006) as the only Marlins managers to be named BBWAA NL Manager of the Year. — Joe Frisaro
David Ross, Cubs
The big question surrounding Ross when he took over as the Cubs’ manager was whether he could step into the role of boss after being a teammate and friend with some of the players on his team. In his introductory press conference more than a year ago now, Ross offered this take on the situation:
“I want to stay true to who I am. I think these guys responded to me when I was here as a player. I don’t think that will change as a manager. It’s just having those conversations with them, continually adjusting what is the daily routine and communicating with these guys what is expected.”
No one knew then how much adjusting 2020 would require.
After missing the playoffs in ’19, the Cubs reclaimed the division crown and reached October for the fifth time in six years. As the baseball world grappled with the pandemic, the Cubs got through the abbreviated ’20 campaign with no positive tests among the players. Ross set the tone at the top and his coaches and players were diligent and disciplined both on and off the field.
There were injuries to the rotation (Tyler Chatwood and José Quintana missed most of the shortened season) and mounting issues for the offense. The core hitting group of Javier Báez , Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber underperformed, and the bullpen was a mess out of the chute before turning into a strength late.
The Cubs used a hot start (13-3) to fuel their run to the NL Central title, and there were never any issues related to Ross moving from former teammate to manager. In such a trying year for all involved, an argument could be made that those past relationships aided in Ross’ effectiveness as a first-year skipper. — Jordan Bastian
Jayce Tingler, Padres
Tingler’s first season at the helm of the Padres was riddled with unprecedented challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. He met those challenges, and authored quite a turnaround in San Diego.
A surprise hire in October 2019, Tingler inherited a team that finished 70-92 and in last place in the NL West. He presided over the franchise’s first run to the postseason in 14 years and the second-best record in the NL.
A blend of calmness and toughness in the dugout, Tingler drew rave reviews from his players for his ability to connect without seeming overbearing. He helped foster one of the most excitable groups in the sport — a team that played a fiery and expressive brand of baseball.
Strategically, Tingler dealt shrewdly with injuries to his bullpen in the early stages of the season. For a few weeks, that group struggled. But Tingler pulled the right strings to patch it together, and by the end of the season, the Padres owned one of the best relief corps in the sport.
Tingler’s masterpiece — and no, it won’t count for Manager of the Year purposes — came in the three-game Wild Card Series against St. Louis. With two starting pitchers on the shelf due to injury, Tingler fashioned 22 1/3 innings from his ‘pen over three days. San Diego clinched the series with a nine-man bullpen-day shutout in Game 3.
No question, the Padres of 2020 were a stark contrast from the Padres of the past decade. Tingler certainly deserves some credit for that. How much credit, exactly? That’s for the voters to decide. — AJ Cassavell