Previously unknown interim manager Mike Quade has emerged as the surprise heavy favorite to win the coveted Cubs managerial job, league sources say.
Ex-Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez, who still has a close relationship with Atlanta's GM Frank Wren and president John Schuerholz from his days as a coach in Atlanta, was hired to replace the legendary Bobby Cox with the Braves.
Eric Wedge, the former Indians manager, now looks most likely to win the Pirates job.
And Bob Melvin is perceived among baseball people as at least the leader for the Brewers job.
So some of the big managerial puzzle is coming together.
But plenty of intrigue still surrounds a virtual managerial carousel this winter -- especially where it concerns the colorful, controversial and brilliant Bobby Valentine. The former manager of the Rangers, Mets and Japan's Chiba Lotte Marines looks like a serious candidate for the Mariners and Marlins jobs now. A long shot option may be the Blue Jays, who interviewed him according to the Toronto Sun, and maybe the Mets, too -- but probably only in that case if the Mets surprise folks and don't hire Sandy Alderson, mentor to Moneyball GM Billy Beane in Oakland, as general manager.
Valentine interviewed Monday with the Mariners and appears to be a strong candidate for a team with Japanese ownership, a Japanese star, a ripe farm system and admirers in its front office. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik wants a candidate with experience but has an extensive list believed to also include former Padres coach Ted Simmons, ex-Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, White Sox coach Joey Cora, Red Sox coaches Demarlo Hale and Tim Bogar, Reds pitching coach Bryan Price and many others. Plus, it appears Valentine is back in the mix with the Marlins. Which may be the most interesting case of all.
Florida appeared all but assured to give Valentine the manager's job last summer before someone up high put a halt to owner Jeffrey Loria's plans for him following an apparently contentious interview with Valentine. It isn't exactly clear what happened in that meeting, but folks in the know say things got heated between Valentine and someone high up in the Marlins' chain of command. Organization man Edwin Rodriguez was installed as the interim man at the time instead. But Loria hasn't forgotten about Valentine. The Palm Beach Post called him "a favorite'' a few days ago and one person close to the situation said of Loria and Valentine, "They have a long, long history together.''
The Mets appear to be a distant third or (fourth) on a list of possible destinations for Valentine now. Alderson is a longtime believer that the manager carries out the real decisions made by the front office, so Alderson's former A's manager Tony La Russa and Valentine wouldn't fit at all into that scheme and make Alderson's managerial choice little more than a futile guessing game.
As for that Mets GM search, they added Logan White to their litany of candidates Tuesday, joining the superb group of Alderson, White Sox assistant GM Rick Hahn, ex-Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes and ex-Royals GM Allard Baird, and may add a couple more names. Until a GM is picked it would be difficult to surmise who might become manager even if some already in the organization seem to have a soft spot for 1986 Mets hero Wally Backman, a fiery guy who has a few blemishes on his personal track record.
Meantime, Gonzalez got the Atlanta job, which had been widely speculated since the Marlins fired him and basically assumed since he turned down a chance to interview with the Cubs.
One league source said he sees Wedge as a "virtual lock'' for a job offer with the Pirates, though that may be a tad strong. Either way, the Pirates are expected to act quickly and have been busy interviewing candidates, including Pittsburgh native Ken Macha, Gibbons, Diamondbacks coach Bo Porter, ex-Orioles interim manager Juan Samuel and field coordinator Jeff Bannister among others. Wedge, a solid baseball man who probably leads the league in managerial interviews if he isn't tied with Bob Melvin, has longtime ties from their days together in Cleveland to Pirates GM Neal Huntington, which should give him the edge, at least. Wedge also has reportedly interviewed with the Cubs and Blue Jays, whose list of many includes Rockies coach Don Baylor, Valentine, Blue Jays coach Brian Butterfield, Samuel, Yankees coach Rob Thomson, Bogar, Hale and others, further strengthening Wedge's position in Pittsburgh.
Cubs GM Jim Hendry has been busy doing his due diligence, but after two straight "celebrity' managers on the North Side of Chicago, most are convinced now that Hendry will stick with his interim Quade, an obvious non-celebrity -- that is, presuming Hendry gets the call from new ownership (and most think he will). Legendary Cubs player and current minor league manager Ryne Sandberg looks like a possibility there but appears to be running second to Quade, who went a surprising 24-13 in his late-year tryout.
Ninety miles to the north in Milwaukee, Melvin, who also has been interviewed by the Cubs and Blue Jays, looks like the early favorite. He was the well-liked bench coach when Phil Garner managed in Milwaukee, and GM Doug Melvin has stressed in interviews that he prefers candidates with a winning track record (Bob Melvin got to the NLCS with Arizona in 2007). The big surprise in Milwaukee was Doug Melvin telling coaching holdovers Willie Randolph and Dale Sveum that they won't be managerial candidates. Randolph is believed on the list in Seattle -- along with what seems like half the Seattle phone book.
But Valentine remains the most intriguing candidate there. There is word that it has been suggested by Zduriencik's bosses in Seattle that he not hire his close ally Simmons, a bright man with an extensive resume (longtime player, former GM and coach) that includes no managerial experience. And that could leave Valentine as their man. While Valentine and Zduriencik overlapped a few years in New York with the Mets, they weren't close at the time (Valentine in particular wasn't close to Zduriencik's close friend Carmen Fusco when Fusco was a Mets exec but that doesn't necessarily hurt Valentine's chances in Seattle now, as Fusco was fired following the fiasco of acquiring the talented but convicted pitcher Josh Lueke in the Cliff Lee deal).
It probably doesn't hurt Valentine that it's well-known that superstar Ichiro likes him -- although Ichiro's influence there is so widely known that it isn't necessarily seen as a positive now that everyone is well aware of it. Ichiro is very close to Seattle's Japanese owner and has in the past made negative feelings for Mike Hargrove (a former Mariners manager) known, as well as positive feelings for John McLaren (another former Mariners manager). Regardless, Valentine is a logical man for a franchise looking for experience that can afford him and will rely on young players from their recent excellent drafts.
Meanwhile, Valentine's chances to land in Florida might depend on an internal debate between Loria and whomever put the kibosh on Valentine last summer. Other candidates mentioned as possibilities in Florida include holdover Edwin Rodriguez plus ex-Marlins coach Bo Porter, Dodgers minor-league manager Tim Wallach, ex-Royals manager Tony Peña and ex-Angels and Phillies manager Jim Fregosi, who's now a Braves scouting guru. Porter and Peña could be candidates in Pittsburgh, as well, and Fregosi could find himself on Seattle's long list, too. The Marlins are believed to seek a personality for the job. They just have to decide I they want someone with as much personality as Valentine.
Baseball fans seemed overly focused on umpires during the division series, which shouldn't be such a surprise after last year's disastrous first round umpiring. But while there were again a couple of poorly-timed miscues, the umpiring was much improved this time around and doesn't yet seem likely to lead to an overhaul of the replay system -- though a couple additions to the system have a chance to be made.
Commissioner Bud Selig will this winter meet with all the important parties, but to date Selig seems inclined to honor the wishes of most of those he talks to in the game, longtime baseball men who are generally not enamored with the idea of extensive replay bogging things down and increasing game times. If replay is expanded at all, it will likely extend to calls of foul/fair balls down the lines. Baseball's powers may also seriously discuss calls on the basepaths, as well. In fact, they may be forced to have that talk after honest Giants rookie Buster Posey blurted "it's lucky we don't have replay'' after he was ruled to have stolen second base in NLDS Game 1. Replay showed Posey was out but the call stood and eventually Posey scored the game's only run. Still, there appears to be only an outside chance for basepath replays to become reality.
The two calls that led to the first two managerial ejections of the postseason (Michael Young's check swing attempt in the Rays-Rangers Game 2, and Carl Pavano's apparent inside strike to Lance Berkman in Yankees-Twins Game 2) are the types of calls that won't be touched by replay. The last thing baseball wants to do is drag out games with reviews of judgment calls on pitches considering there are close to 300 pitches on average per game. "We're never going to replay ball-strike calls,'' one high-ranking executive at MLB said. Check swings calls would be impossible. While Young looked to most like he swung, a checked swing requires interpretation, and even replays aren't likely to be seen as conclusive.
There have been a few other umpire bobbles, three in fact involving Chase Utley's unusual trip around the bases in the Phillies' Game 2 victory over the Reds. After being awarded first on a phantom hit-by-pitch, Utley appeared to have been forced out at second base and to miss third base altogether, meaning he didn't deserve any of the first three bases on one Phillies run in a turnaround inning.
Umpire Hunter Wendelstedt's strike zone appeared to skew to the outside in the Yankees' Game 2 victory over the Twins. And while Wendelstedt didn't appear to favor one team over the other, a bad history with Twins manager Ron Gardenhire should have caused MLB to assign him to a different series at the very least. The Division Series isn't going to be as well-umpired as the later rounds as it requires 24 umps.
Berkman already believed he sensed Wendelstedt's seeming preference for outside pitches that night when he took Pavano's inside strike that was called a ball, and Pavano (like Rays pitcher Chad Qualls, who allowed Young's three-run home run following the check swing) failed to overcome the close calls that went against him, illuminating the apparent missed strike-three call.
But by the way, the ball-strike calls of John Hirschbeck in Roy Halladay's Game 1 no-hitter, which drew scrutiny (from the Reds' Orlando Cabrera, anyway), were excellent, according to those in the know.
It seems to be open season on umpires, even where it's unwarranted.
The powers that be will enter with a decidedly anti-review slant, fortified by what they perceive as uneven support among players at best. Players union chief Michael Weiner indeed said player opinion runs a "spectrum;'' from leave replay alone to overhaul the system. Agent Scott Boras, though, said the issue is the new technology, which makes clear which calls are right and which are wrong, including the pitch tracker, which MLB execs acknowledge is pretty close if not right on and illuminates umpire misses. And he believes the integrity of the game is at stake. "Truth is more important than time,'' said Boras, who has about 100 clients. "You can't sit there and tell the fans it's chocolate when the television tells you it's vanilla.''
Baseball's powers will talk over the whole issue this winter. But like the games, Selig doesn't want the talks dragged out by things that will likely never come to fruition -- at least not yet.
• The Diamondbacks have plans to make changes at the corners, meaning third baseman Mark Reynolds and first baseman Adam La Roche could be replaced, They will also rebuild the bullpen (a Kevin Towers specialty), which is obviously needed.
• The Mets had yet to call Rays executive Gerry Hunsicker, apparently believing he wasn't interested after reading that in press reports but hadn't ruled it out, either. They were still awaiting approval on a couple more GM candidates, leading to more speculation they could be wondering whether Rangers manager Jon Daniels may opt out of Texas (though that seems like a long shot after new Rangers ownership made clear how much it wanted to keep him).
• The Mets have told coaches Dan Warthen and Chip Hale they would most likely find room for them on their coaching staff once a manager is hired. Hale could even get an interview for the managerial job.
• Magglio Ordoñez could wind up staying with the Tigers. Owner Mike Ilitch very much likes Ordoñez. Tigers people would like to add a left-handed bat for the middle of their lineup, as well. They have money to spend with $50 million coming off the books (Ordoñez's last contract plus Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis, Nate Robertson and Brandon Inge).
• While the Yankees feel they have little choice but to give A.J. Burnett a start in the ALCS, they are concerned he is distracted and unfocused and they will be ready to pull the plug early in the game if need be.
• Cliff Lee keeps making himself money with his incredible postseason performances. Johan Santana's 6-year deal for close to $137.5 million looks well within reach now. Lee will seek CC's money, which is $23 million for seven years. The Yankees-Rangers ALCS could be a Lee Derby of sorts. The Rangers have the loot after inking a $2-plus-billion TV deal but figure their best hope to retain him is making it to the World Series to enhance his feeling about staying in Texas. Lee, a Benton, Ark. resident, is not seen as someone who might shy away from New York.