By Jon Heyman
September 14, 2009

One iconic manager's contract is up at a time there have been occasional rumors of discontent.

Another ultra-accomplished manager known for his fun and fiery persona is appearing at times like he's lethargic in what is seen as one of the most fun managing jobs in the game.

And yet another Cooperstown-bound manager may not be an absolute guarantee to return.

Plus, a baker's dozen more managers are looking like they might be in at least a modicum of jeopardy as the season winds down. That brings the total to just more than half the 30 teams where there's at least some managerial intrigue.

A vast majority will likely keep their jobs (and Tony La Russa, Lou Piniella and Bobby Cox are among the many that are more likely to stay than go). Yet, several others -- especially in the non-Cooperstown category -- have to be worried today. Here is a closer look at the managers that have some chance of leaving, not being renewed, never advancing past interim status, or being fired or bought out.

1. Tony La Russa, Cardinals. The iconic La Russa is doing one of his best jobs in his 14th season in St. Louis. But with his contract expiring at year's end and a hint of anger over the handling of the trade of longtime pitching coach Dave Duncan's son and rumors of a touch of discord with a front office member or two, there isn't quite an absolute assurance La Russa will decide to return -- though the likelihood would seem to be that he could put whatever personal differences may exist aside to return to one of baseball's best and best-run franchises. La Russa is known to be enamored managing the traditionally excellent organization in this wonderful baseball city, but it's still possible he doesn't see St. Louis' season as being as perfect as its 84-60 record would indicate.

New Cardinals GM John Mozeliak, who made at least four great in-season moves to help turn the Cardinals into perhaps the National League favorite, said by phone that he doesn't believe there are any lingering issues that would drive La Russa away. Said Mozeliak, "If he wants to back, he'll likely be back ... Obviously, he has to be pleased with where we are."

2. Lou Piniella, Cubs. The accomplished Piniella is the only manager to lead the Cubs to two straight postseasons in a century. But their dismal season seems to be weighing on him. One Cubs employee, who's a Piniella supporter, admitted the brutal seasons appeared to be dragging down Piniella after seeing him trudge through a recent series in New York. Managing Milton Bradley and Carlos Zambrano appears to have taken a toll. Last year the Cubs exercised Piniella's $4 million option for 2010, and he told the Chicago Sun-Times he isn't walking away, so there really isn't any hard evidence he'll be going anywhere. However, Piniella has become adept at leaving less than perfect situations in mid-contract before, as he did in Seattle and Tampa Bay, so it's possible his remark about intending to stay is nothing more than the first stage of negotiation. The Sun-Times also recently said Piniella seemed "resigned" about the team's plight. The biggest question is this: Any chance he himself will resign?

3. Bobby Cox, Braves. He has been thought to have a lifetime position. But surely the Braves people expected much more this year. Speaking generally about the team's record and position, Braves GM Frank Wren said by phone, "We're all disappointed in where we are right now." Atlanta's three-game sweep of the first-place Cardinals notwithstanding, a rebuilt rotation and improved team haven't shown enough in the record so far. Cox has a special, several-decade relationship with club president John Schuerholz, and if Schuerholz has the ultimate call, Cox isn't going anywhere. Others may not be quite as wedded to Cox, though until further notice the assumption remains that he stays in place.

1. Jim Riggleman, Nationals interim. While Mike Rizzo surprised many folks by having the interim tag lifted and becoming the team's permanent general manager, it would be much more shocking than that for Riggleman to get the managing job full time. Nats president Stan Kasten said in a phone interview that Riggleman's under consideration for the job. However, baseball people consider him getting it to be a major long shot (though Kasten pointed out that reports and perceptions about the Nats haven't always turned out to be exactly on the money). Rizzo will want to put his own stamp on the situation with his own choice. Riggleman, fairly or not, has come to be viewed as a solid interim guy while managing baseball's worst two teams two years running (he took over on an interim basis in Seattle in 2008), and Rizzo is almost sure to try to identify someone seen as a more a inspirational choice. It will be interesting to see whether Rizzo goes back to his Diamondback roots to find a manager (Buck Showalter and Chip Hale are names from his past, but there's no inkling he and Showalter are especially close). So far the rumor mill has been incredibly scarce on the whole score.

2. Dave Trembley, Orioles. It wasn't a good sign when Orioles upper management put off a decision on Trembley's incredibly inexpensive 2010 option (believed to be for about $600,000) to gauge the Orioles' finish. Trembley's teams have been weak finishers, and it doesn't help him that Aubrey Huff and George Sherrill are gone in trades, or that top rookie pitchers Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman are being shelved due to innings counts. Trembley was brought in specifically because this is a rebuilding situation, as Baltimore Sun columnist Peter Schmuck recently pointed out. But at this point, there's a decent chance he won't survive to see it through.

3. Cecil Cooper, Astros. The Astros' front office usually does very little, but it still manages to expect a lot. There were rumors of Cooper's imminent demise early in the year, and the team is doing about the same now as it was then (just below .500). The Astros are doing the right thing by playing their few prospects, but that probably won't help Cooper get to .500.

4. Eric Wedge, Indians. GM Mark Shapiro, a consistently ardent supporter of Wedge, said months ago that Wedge was safe through the season. But no one has said a thing about next year. Wedge has a year to go with a seven-figure salary for 2010 (no small thing for the cash-strapped Indians), and by all accounts he's seemed as calm and consistent as ever. Is that a good sign? Or is that just Wedge? Shapiro, a believer in Wedge dating back to their days running the Indians' minors, still is seen as very likely to support a return, and ownership loves the erudite Shapiro. However, one Indians observer said things seem "stale" around the team, and ownership is still seen as having a chance to overrule Shapiro after the Indians' unexpectedly dreadful season.

5. Ken Macha, Brewers. He happily took only a two-year deal to get back to managing but has to be slightly concerned after a disappointing first season. The Brewers had great expectations after reaching the playoffs last year for the first time in 26 years, but realistically, they never had starting pitching that was either deep enough or good enough. There has been no real evidence that Macha's in trouble, and GM Doug Melvin has made supportive comments publicly. However, the Brewers took the drastic step of firing a manager with 12 games to go in the 2008 season, leading to three managers within 13 regular-season games. That managerial switch worked out, but Milwaukee probably doesn't want to obtain a trigger-happy rep. One thing to consider: they do have an obvious replacement ready in bench coach Willie Randolph.

6. Jerry Manuel, Mets. While Manuel is guiding baseball's biggest flop, the Mets led the majors by a wide margin with a whopping $35 million lost to the disabled list at the August count. Manuel and embattled GM Omar Minaya weeks ago were given private assurances they'd return, and there is still no indication he is going to be blamed for the New York mess. Like Macha, Manuel only got a guaranteed two years on his contract. This means he is very likely to enter 2010 as a lame duck, a tough spot for a manager in New York.

7. Bob Geren, A's. Oakland has been a mostly moribund team after adding significant payroll last winter. However, Geren has the significant advantage of being iconic GM Billy Beane's best friend.

8. Cito Gaston, Blue Jays. Gaston was hailed as a hero last year and even the first half of this year, and it's more likely that if anyone goes it will be GM J.P. Ricciardi. Gaston's rep is that he is better for a veteran team, so that's a consideration as Toronto enters a rebuilding phase. However, he never should have been out of baseball for a decade, and it's highly doubtful the Jays have a better idea. Paul Beeston, in charge for the championship years, is still running the operation, probably another plus for Gaston.

9. Trey Hillman, Royals. This season is a disaster. But the Royals rewarded GM Dayton Moore with a four-year extension. So it seems highly unlikely Moore would consider changing managers now.

10. John Russell, Pirates. Tough to tell what the standards are for a team that hasn't won since a skinny Barry Bonds left town. Russell's option for 2010 was picked up months ago, so he probably stays.

11. Ozzie Guillen, White Sox. "It's my fault," Ozzie told the Chicago Tribune a couple weeks ago in a defense of his embattled coaching staff. "I am saying that right now. I am saying that tomorrow. I can say it two weeks later." That's a nice quote, but it probably won't happen. Club owner Jerry Reinsdorf is the most loyal man in baseball, and besides, Guillen was extended not too long ago. On the off chance Guillen does go, remember that Reinsdorf loves La Russa.

12. Dusty Baker, Reds. Dreadful season at $3 mil-plus per. But he has a contract at that price for next year, as well. Little chance they want to eat that kind of cake.

13. Jim Tracy, Rockies interim. It has to be presumed he will be kept on after guiding the team out of hell to a very likely playoff spot. But since nothing has been said and he's still officially an interim manager, he makes the list.

And if there will be openings, there have to be alternatives ...

1. Bobby Valentine. He'll be a free agent after a generally wonderful Chiba Lotte run ends this year. Perfect for rebuilding spot like the Nationals (if they're willing to pay), but would be fun with the Cubs, too.

2. John Farrell. Favorite of the Indians organization who happens to live in Cleveland.

3. Brad Mills. Well-respected Red Sox coach.

4. Buck Showalter. Brilliant and hardworking yet overbearing and controlling makes him a tough call for many.

5. Chip Hale. Diamondbacks third base coach will be a manager someday.

6. Willie Randolph. Likely the heir apparent in Milwaukee.

7. Bob Melvin. Didn't do a bad job in Arizona.

8. Clint Hurdle. Ditto in Colorado.

9. Jose Oquendo. Hot prospect had WBC trial run.

10. DeMarlo Hale. Frequent candidate.

11. Kirk Gibson. Fiery type passed over for D-backs job.

12. Rudy Jaramillo. You know he'd help the hitters.

13. Dave Duncan. You know he'd help the pitchers.

14. Terry Pendleton. But is his star down with Jeff Francoeur looking to Rudy for hitting help?

15. Mike Gallego. Personality a plus but probably a few years from consideration.

16. Tom Kelly. Have to assume he's enjoying retirement. But might old friend Andy MacPhail be tempted to lure him out of it?

17. Ryne Sandberg. He's done a nice job in the minors and he's a legend at Wrigley, so he could be a candidate for the Cubs in the near future.

• The Red Sox's offer for Roy Halladay is believed to have been pitching prospects Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson, Michael Bowden, Nick Hagadone and a positional prospect, according to sources, and not the six pitching prospects that's been rumored. The bid apparently did not include Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront, as has been suggested recently. Red Sox GM Theo Epstein responded "nope" to the Boston Globe's Amalie Benjamin when quizzed about the alleged six-pitcher proposal. But even the real bid should have been good enough for Toronto to take it.

• As points out, the DH market will be among the strongest this winter, with Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome and Hideki Matsui (having a better year than you think) all available. Plus, if anyone thinks Gary Sheffield can limp through another whole season, there's another DH.

• Guerrero aged a year this spring. And free agent close Jose Valverde just aged 15 months. Valverde said he didn't think his sudden aging would hurt him, but it's possible it'll cost him a year on what's expected to be a lucrative deal. Ten mil a year for two years doesn't seem out of the question.

Kevin Millwood needs 4 1/3 innings to have his $12 million option for 2010 vest.

Rick Porcello, 20, became the 29th pitcher this century to win his 13th game in a year before turning 21. Dwight Gooden and Bob Feller were the only ones to do it twice. I am sticking with Porcello as my AL Rookie of the Year, with Elvis Andrus and Andrew Bailey rounding out my top three. But several e-mailers took me to task for not including Rays pitcher Jeff Niemann, who has slightly better overall stats than Porcello. Niemann and the White Sox's Gordon Beckham, who has done a terrific job at third base, are also in the picture.

Prince Fielder tied the Brewers franchise record with 126 RBIs (Cecil Cooper, 1983). A couple e-mailers wondered why I didn't include Fielder in my top 10 for MVP. The reason is that I don't typically consider players on also-ran teams. While Joe Mauer (my AL MVP pick) is on a team that doesn't appear likely to reach the postseason, I am considering the Twins a September contender.

• As one e-mailer pointed out, it only makes sense that I misspelled the name of Dodgers bench coach Bob Schaefer on my list of 10 unsung heroes for the year. My bad. That is the correct spelling.

Mark Buehrle is not only spectacular, he's consistent. He became the first ChiSox pitcher with nine 30-start seasons. Rumors that Buehrle would want to renegotiate because Jake Peavy makes slightly more are untrue, according to White Sox people. Peavy, incidentally, now appears close to making his return.

• It's fitting that ex-Met Pedro Martinez (now 218-99 all time -- he just doesn't want to lose that 100th game) officially eliminated the Mets Sunday night in a 1-0 victory.

Brad Lidge still looks like an issue for the Phillies, however, as he looked shaky getting a save during the first game of Sunday's double-header vs. the Mets. Ryan Madson was used as closer in the 1-0 Game 2 win.

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