Expect a new trend for this crop of managerial hires
Success of Red Sox, Cards could dicate moving away from high-profile candidates
Supply and demand is such that every Major League managerial post is precious in its own way. There are only 30 of them, after all. They all come with perks and with pressures, and the shelf lives associated with them are all, ultimately, short-lived, in the grand scheme of things.
But it's no secret that some are more attractive than others, and in an offseason in which we enter the latter stage of October with no fewer than five vacancies across the industry, there are three particularly plum positions waiting to be filled.
Jim Leyland's decision to step down following a frustrating finish to the American League Championship Series adds the Tigers to the list of win-now clubs looking for a leader. That list also includes the Reds, who dismissed Dusty Baker, and the Nationals, who are looking for the retired Davey Johnson's replacement.
Certainly, the lure of orchestrating the Cubs' first World Series win in forever is a strong one that many a man has succumbed to over the years, and it seems ripe for a first-timer with energy, upside and, above all else, patience. The Mariners' gig, to be filled by a general manager (Jack Zduriencik) entering the final year of his contract, is a gamble, but one that comes with some legit Major League building blocks and potentially money to spend.
Yet the guys who take over in Detroit, Cincinnati and Washington are the ones who will really fall into it. Talk about perks and pressures. Their first Spring Training speech won't just be about establishing basic guidelines but establishing the expectation of a legit World Series run.
Now, there was a time in recent baseball history in which it would have been a no-brainer to fill such spots with a retread, a been-there, done-that presence and personality.
But one need look no further than our two current World Series skippers -- Mike Matheny, who had no prior Major League or Minor League managerial experience, and John Farrell, whose tenure in Toronto was brief and unfulfilling -- to see that the process of filling a win-now position is not what it once was. Because in Matheny and Farrell, the Cards and Red Sox had what were to them known quantities, even if there wasn't much, if any, of a known track record in that particular position.
Matheny was a respected catcher whose career ended with the Cards and who remained available to the organization as a Minor League instructor. He knew the system, he was ingrained among the front-office personnel and he had input into the principles that shape "The Cardinal Way" and eventually found their way into the 86-page handbook distributed to all players in the organization.
Farrell, likewise, had a history with Boston that dated to his tenure as pitching coach under Terry Francona, a tenure that included the 2007 World Series title run. Farrell had intimate knowledge of how to get the best out of leading rotation arms Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, and he understood the kind of accountable culture that had once made Boston such a special place to work and play.
In the winter before the 2012 season, the Red Sox got it wrong in every way when they brought Bobby Valentine, a man with a wealth of wins in the big leagues but an inherent inability to relate to the players in place. They got it right in every way with Farrell.
Copy-cat business that it is, baseball seems to have strayed away from the recycle system that once guided the managerial merry-go-round and uncovered an era in which pretty much anything goes. It was a shock to some that the Cards followed a championship season and replaced the legendary Tony La Russa with the unproven Matheny, but they felt (correctly, it turns out) that he was the right man at the right time.
Indeed, experience is increasingly less a factor than the ability to integrate to the plans and personalities in place, and that's why some of the names being bandied about for these excellent assignments are not exactly household names.
For the Tigers, the early read is that they could go either way with Leyland's replacement. Team president Dave Dombrowski said experience is a plus but not a must.
"For me, it's an important quality to have that in a manager," Dombrowski told reporters. "But I will also say that there are some people who have not managed and have done a pretty good job."
The Tigers have their most primary pieces -- the four rotation stalwarts in Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister, and the lineup lynchpins in Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez -- locked up for 2014. The rise of the Indians and Royals proves the AL Central is not the cakewalk it was once deemed to be, but the Tigers nonetheless enter the winter as the early favorites.
Maybe Dombrowski will pry Kirk Gibson from the D-backs, as some early reports have suggested, though Arizona's contract options on Gibson would probably only be forfeited with proper compensation. Maybe the Tigers will go back to the future with Alan Trammell, who never had a fair shot the first time around. Maybe they'll gamble on Brad Ausmus, a newbie with Tigers roots.
Or maybe the Tigers will side with stability, promoting hitting coach Lloyd McClendon or third-base coach Tom Brookens. The Tigers can obviously go any number of ways, but even with such a prominent position, they don't necessarily have to go the most obvious route. Were they to follow the old model, that would have been to pluck a recently canned and high-profile candidate like Dusty Baker or even Ozzie Guillen off the streets.
The Reds and Nationals have already proven content to let this process play out, perhaps keeping tabs on rising talents -- such as Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo (who would be an ironic target for the Tigers, given Sparky Anderson's overly ambitious forecast for Lovullo in the latter's playing days) -- who are otherwise occupied at the moment.
For the Reds, the stability route would veer them toward Bryan Price, who would join the likes of Farrell and San Diego's Bud Black in the once-rare leap from pitching coach to skipper. Price has been a big part of the starting pitching consistency that has been such a strength in Cincinnati, but he has no managerial experience.
Jim Riggleman, on the other hand, has nearly 1,500 games' worth of experience, and his clubs have never finished higher than second. But the Reds have employed him in the upper levels of their farm system the last two years, so he could be considered for the job as a guy who knows their system.
For the Nats, the most high-profile hire of all would be to give Cal Ripken Jr. a shot, and Baker has reportedly expressed his interest, as well. The Nats, though, appear more likely to promote third-base coach Trent Jewett or bench coach Randy Knorr, both of whom have managed in the Minors.
Every situation is situation-specific, but one common thread is that these three high-profile openings might not necessarily be filled by high-profile candidates. Ask the the Cards and Red Sox how that worked out for them.