Manager musical chairs running out of seats
Multiple candidates wait for word from Cubs, Mariners
When temperatures drop and leaves pile up on the ground, a lot can happen in five weeks around baseball; or sometimes, like in the perfect autumn, the change in the air blows in gradually.
This has been a period of uncertainty with managers, both for some of baseball's best teams and ones that lost 90-plus games. But as often as not, talk about changes has just been that. In some cases, like with the Tigers and Reds, switches to Brad Ausmus and Bryan Price were made almost on the fly, with quickness that speaks as much of the style of those decision-makers as the urgency to have a manager in place.
And then there are the Cubs and Mariners, who are taking their time, just as Theo Epstein and Jack Zduriencik said they would when they let go Dale Sveum and Eric Wedge, respectively.
When Epstein first publicly raised doubt about Sveum's status for 2014 -- the final season on a three-year deal he received when Epstein took on the challenge of rebuilding the Cubs -- in mid-September, Ryne Sandberg hadn't yet been permanently installed as Charlie Manuel's replacement with the Phillies and there were questions about the direction of at least 10 teams, including the Yankees, Dodgers, Angels, Twins and Royals.
Epstein was poised to make an aggressive run at Joe Girardi if he decided he was really willing to make himself a free agent after six seasons as the manager in New York. But Brian Cashman stepped up to do what he needed to keep Girardi with the Yanks, signing him to a deal that was reported at $16 million over four years, making him the second-highest paid manager behind Mike Scioscia.
Scioscia, of course, is only halfway through his 10-year, $50 million deal with the Angels. There was speculation he could be cut loose anyway, given the Halos' four-year tumble into the middle of the pack in the American League West, a fall that has continued despite the additions of free agents Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson the last two years. But owner Arte Moreno and general manager Jerry Dipoto decided not to pull the plug, perhaps out of concern that Scioscia could be scooped up by the Dodgers, who went to the National League Championship Series behind Don Mattingly, who despite his success, never seemed set for the long haul with them.
While Mattingly joins the Twins' Ron Gardenhire, the Royals' Ned Yost and Scioscia in having survived questions about his immediate future, there is still work left to be done regarding his relationship with the Dodgers. He made it clear at an Oct. 21 news conference that he does not want to enter 2014 with only one guaranteed year left on his contract, as Gardenhire, Yost, Wedge and Girardi did last season.
Mattingly, for that matter, was in that same position last season, as his option for '14 was an open question before the Dodgers beat the Braves in the NL Division Series, which caused the option to vest. He knows how uncomfortable it can be to manage without job security.
"It puts me in a spot where everything that I do is questioned, because I'm basically trying out," Mattingly said.
Dodgers president Stan Kasten has said only that the team never doubted that Mattingly would manage next season. Mattingly's agent, Ray Schulte, has said he hopes the sides will work out a long-term extension.
Dusty Baker, who had guided the Reds to 90-win seasons three of the last four years, was ousted by GM Walt Jocketty on Oct. 4, only three days after his team had lost to Pittsburgh in the NL Wild Card Game. It took only two and a half weeks for Jocketty to promote Price, who had been Baker's pitching coach, to the manager's job.
Dave Dombrowski moved even more quickly in Detroit. Leyland announced on Oct. 21 that he was stepping down as skipper after the Tigers dropped the ALCS in six games to the Red Sox. It took two weeks for Dombrowski to hire the untested Ausmus -- who has followed the career path of the Cardinals' Mike Matheny -- after interviewing Baker, Manny Acta, Padres bench coach Rick Renteria, Dodgers third-base coach Tim Wallach and sorting through some internal candidates, including Lloyd McClendon, Tom Brookens and Mike Rojas. Dombrowski also held off pressure to strongly consider the sentimental choice, Kirk Gibson, who never indicated a desire to leave the D-backs.
Ausmus had been a consideration with the Washington Nationals, who last Friday announced D-backs third-base coach Matt Williams as the replacement for the retiring Davey Johnson. General manager Mike Rizzo had a running start in knowing that Johnson would not be back, but he still spent most of October in a hiring process that included interviews with Blue Jays bench coach DeMarlo Hale and internal candidates Randy Knorr and Trent Jewett, who were on Johnson's staff.
No team is being as deliberate in its process as the Cubs and Mariners, however. The Chicago Tribune ran a Drew Litton cartoon on Saturday that showed a bear in a Cubs' uniform sitting at a table next to a Take a Number machine, like you'd get at the meat counter. High on the wall was a sign reading "Now Interviewing Number: 402,756.''
Classic hyperbole, yes, but it captures Epstein's methodical style. The Cubs, who bypassed Sandberg both when then-GM Jim Hendry stuck with Mike Quade after he had served as an interim manager for Jim Hendry and when Epstein arrived after the 2011 season, are known to have interviewed only five candidates.
Ausmus, who was in Chicago on Friday, followed A.J. Hinch, Dave Martinez, Renteria and Wedge (who himself was bypassed for Quade by Hendry) on the list of those interviewed. Torey Lovullo, the Red Sox's bench coach who managed Triple-A Pawtucket in 2010 when Epstein was running Boston's baseball operations, is expected to be interviewed within the next few days, although nothing was formally set as of Monday morning.
Dombrowski denied that he moved quickly to hire Ausmus because he was on the verge of going to the Cubs. Ausmus clearly intrigued Epstein and his closest advisers, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod, but his lack of managerial experience was a concern. Hoyer and McLeod are close to Renteria and Hinch (along with Ausmus) from time working together in the Padres' organization.
Renteria seems to have the best resume to fulfill Epstein's desire to have a manager who can win while developing young players, and do a good job building relationships with players of Latin American heritage. He was a successful Minor League manager before becoming Bud Black's bench coach with the Padres, which gives him a leg up on Martinez, who is Joe Madden's bench coach with the Rays.
Renteria is also a consideration in Seattle, where Zduriencik is wrapping up a second round of interviews. Athletics bench coach Chip Hale is reportedly being interviewed on Monday, joining former White Sox and Marlins bench coach Joey Cora and McClendon, the Tigers' hitting coach and former Pirates manager, among those who are believed to have gotten two interviews.
Along with Renteria, others who interviewed with the Mariners are Ausmus (the man must be exhausted!), Wallach, Giants coach Ron Wotus and Dave Valle, the former Seattle catcher who is currently a broadcaster.
One note about Renteria: Because he underwent hip surgery in early October, he has not been able to fly. That means the Cubs, Mariners and Tigers paid him house calls.
That's as good of a sign as any as Renteria and candidates like Wedge, Lovullo, Cora, Hale, Hinch and Martinez sweat out the two seats that remain unoccupied in this game of musical chairs.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.