Brad Mills, John Farrell Among Managers in Ideal Situations Entering 2011

Brad Mills, John Farrell Among Managers in Ideal Situations Entering 2011 Terry Francona has a 654-480 record and has won two World Series titles as manager of the Red Sox, yet has never finished higher than fourth in the race for Manager of the Year.

There are varying factors that go into the voting each year. Some side with a manager whose team wins a lot of games, others with a skipper for an upstart club that overachieves. One would think that with a loaded roster and an obvious commitment to winning on the part of ownership (that is always the case, but the spending that went into this offseason's overhaul certainly sent a signal), Francona would have every opportunity to finally have a top three finish based on win total.

There are others out there who won't necessarily win 95 games like Francona will be expected to, but they could be contenders for a top=three spot if and when their team makes that leap or does in fact overachieve. Here are five managers whose prospects are looking up:

Bob Geren
His Oakland A's took a baby step forward in 2010 by reaching .500 for the first time in his four-year tenure. They have also been pretty busy this offseason by bolstering an already solid bullpen with the additions of Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour, and adding Josh Willingham, Hideki Matsui and David DeJesus. The starting rotation is already very good, making Geren a guy that will look pretty smart on most days.

Geren has gotten plenty of grief for being the man at the helm during some rough years in Oakland, but the club was stripped down around the time he was promoted from bench coach.

Additionally, injuries have hurt his cause at times, leaving him with a "Quadruple-A" roster with which to work at times. General manager Billy Beane has even had to give his manager the dreaded vote of confidence.

But the roster turnover is just about complete and there were signs of maturity in 2010. The A's were three games above .500 in the second half and young players that Geren has been credited with improving played key roles. As Geren said himself when the team exercised its option to bring him back for 2011, "We’re so close to being an elite team, and to have the opportunity to manage them. … It’s a real honor. To be asked back to try to bring us to the next level is a real privilege."

Buck Showalter
The turnaround engineered in Baltimore has been analyzed. What makes it difficult going forward is the division — there is just such intense competition in the AL East. But a stride was taken made when Showalter was brought on board and another step forward should take place in 2011. If anything, he has a track record for such success.

Brad Mills
Houston's farm system has been called the worst in the game for a solid year now, and it figures to take years before it yields much fruit. Mills can wait, and ownership should be happy to let him do so. In his first year at the helm, the one-time Red Sox bench coach guided a patchwork roster through a horrid start that would've sunk most clubs. They were 44-35 over the final three months, most of that without franchise cornerstones Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman. Someday, big names will be prevalent again. Until then, Mills will have this bunch overachieving.

John Farrell
Like Mills, a product of the Francona coaching tree, Farrell steps into an almost ideal situation in Toronto. The Blue Jays have some nice pieces to play with and figure to have money to spend to be a bigger offseason player in the next few years. As it stands, Farrell has a good, young starting rotation and a remade bullpen that ought to keep the team in most any game. Anyone who knew him in Boston expects Farrell to succeed, not just because of his baseball know-how, but because of his way with players and fellow coaches. He's a shoo-in to succeed at some point, and could do so immediately by inheriting an 85-win team that might be even better.

Fredi Gonzalez
The Florida Marlins' loss was the Atlanta Braves' gain. After Gonzalez was fired in Miami last summer for guiding a ho-hum Marlins roster to a .500 mark, he was tracked down by the Braves, who were bidding adieu to Bobby Cox. One might consider it a tough gig to take over for Cox, but even while he was winning all those division crowns it never felt as if the Braves were overwhelmed by expectations. The 46-year-old Gonzalez will be given some slack and should be a nice fit for a team with young talent in Jason Heyward, Tommy Hanson and dynamic relievers Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters.

Are there any other managers prepared to make a big difference in 2011? Leave your thoughts below.

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