Can a computer warm the hot seat?
No, I'm serious. Computers run almost everything in baseball these days. Managers use data when forming lineups. Pitchers use data when attacking hitters. Teams use data when positioning defenders.
How long before a computer tells a team when to fire its manager?
Heck, it already might have happened once or twice or a dozen times. Managers, in the view of some sabermetricians, are little more than middle-management functionaries, replacement players in the dugout.
Successful managers today are skilled at incorporating data while leading actual human beings -- no small trick, when you think about it. The smart guys taking over mostly is a good thing, of course. Except for those of us who cherish personality -- and, oh my gosh, dare I say it? -- a little narrative.
Tampa Bay's Joe Maddon is one exception, a colorful eccentric in a black-and-white world. But the days of Ozzie Guillen, Lou Piniella, Dusty Baker, even Jim Leyland -- they're mostly gone.
And likewise, my annual "managers on the hot seat" column is losing its soul.
Case in point: I'm willing to bet that the Reds' Bryan Price, Tigers' Brad Ausmus and Nationals' Matt Williams will be worthy skippers, even though none has managed before.
But will any of them be as interesting as their predecessors, Baker, Leyland and Davey Johnson? That's like asking if Michael Buble will be as interesting as Ozzy Osbourne.
And will there ever be another Guillen, for whom the hot seat was permanently set to 212 degrees? The chances are about the same as me dunking a basketball.
My sabermetrically inclined friends, folks such as Rob Neyer and Dave Cameron, probably are shouting at their screens by now, screaming that I should embrace the sheer joy of more informed decision-making.
Well, I've experienced the sheer joy of Johnson explaining a decision as manager of the Orioles by barking, "I'm the manager. I'm the one making all the f------ money." And I can assure you, that is a special kind of bliss.
Without further ado, managers on the hot seat, 2014. Plug and play.
John Gibbons, Blue Jays
Poor Gibbons. He got a second chance to manage the Jays last season at a seemingly transformative moment in club history. Alas, the arrivals of Jose Reyes and Co. from the Marlins and acquisition of R.A. Dickey from the Mets translated to only 74 wins.
It wasn't Gibbons' fault, of course -- the Jays blamed everything from injuries to the World Baseball Classic, and were not entirely wrong.
That said, it also won't be Gibby's fault if the Jays stink again this year. General manager Alex Anthopoulos left the rotation too thin, and even though the offense is fearsome, this remains a physically fragile bunch.
Gibbons' option for 2015 vested when he was not fired by Jan. 1. No matter. That cute little rollover clause might not save him again if the Jays sputter again.
Kirk Gibson, Diamondbacks
The D-backs, who fancy themselves as the anti-Dodgers, borrowed a page out of Dodgers president Stan Kasten's playbook when they declined to announce the lengths of the extensions for Gibson and general manager Kevin Towers, saying the two preferred it that way.
Clubs evidently believe that if they decline to publicly reveal end dates of contracts, the pesky media cannot make as much of an issue out of the job security of managers and GMs.
To which we say: Nice try.
As I wrote last week, the D-backs are coming off back-to-back .500 seasons. Team president Derrick Hall told the Arizona Republic that the payroll will be about $115 million, a franchise record. Managing general partner Ken Kendrick said of Gibson and Towers, "I think it's important for them to go out and prove themselves once again."
Those sound practically like fighting words. And the spring-training losses of left-handed starter Patrick Corbin and right-handed reliever David Hernandez to elbow injuries will only add to Gibson's challenge.
Can a computer warm the hot seat?