Baseball's employment rate took a hit this week with the unsurprising firing of embattled Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi, the unexpected firing of Padres longtime GM Kevin Towers and the shocking development that Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez's job may not be completely safe.
A few more firings will likely follow, with hirings to follow the firings. So eventually the news won't be all bad. Here are some of the latest developments ...
• Padres owner Jeff Moorad, who said in a phone interview that he'd like to have a replacement for Towers in two to three weeks, is considering highly regarded Red Sox assistant GM Jed Hoyer and possibly one or two others who would fulfill his intention to hire an executive who will be "disciplined and strategic" rather than "intuitive." (Oakland's David Forst is another who fits Moorad's profile.)
• Baseball lawyer Barry Axelrod, who aids Towers, said that a few teams have called about the ex-GM already. No surprise there. While Towers can be said to be more intuitive than analytical, his intuition has led to four playoff appearances in 14 seasons for the small-spending club.
• Another predictable development: Rockies ownership has decided to offer new contracts to general manager Dan O'Dowd and manager Jim Tracy, architects of their spectacular comeback, people familiar with their thinking say. Rockies ownership is expected to start with O'Dowd, who is said to strongly favor a return for Tracy, the man that led the team back from oblivion to the playoffs.
• GM Ned Colletti has been in talks with the Dodgers regarding a multiyear deal. Colletti currently has a mutual option for 2010, but it is believed that a couple years may be added to his contract if it can be worked out.
• Ricciardi's replacement in Toronto, Alex Anthopoulos, has the strong recommendation to stay on in the GM role even after interim club president Paul Beeston hires a new club president. So he surely will.
• Blue Jays people say they talked out the clubhouse issues regarding manager Cito Gaston. These sources say things are better and also suggest Gaston is likely to stay -- although others seem to feel that is something less than a certainty.
• The Nationals haven't decided who to name as their permanent manager, but there are indications they are considering retaining interim Jim Riggleman, and Nationals president Stan Kasten agreed by phone that Riggleman is "in the mix." However, Kasten said no decision is ready yet.
• Former Mets and Rangers manager and outgoing Chiba Lotte manager Bobby Valentine has emerged as a candidate for managing jobs in Cleveland and Florida (though there isn't currently an opening in Florida).
• If the Marlins do shock folks and fire well-regarded manager Fredi Gonzalez, one competing GM said he'd have a new job "about nine second later."
• The Indians, surprised to hear that clear favorite John Farrell is staying as pitching coach in Boston, have begun their managerial search with a longer list now, including Valentine and their own minor league manager Torey Lovullo. Though, reports out of Cleveland suggest the new manager is most likely to come from outside the organization.
• Astros owner Drayton McLane called to gauge interest on the part of Astros icons Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio in Houston's managerial job. But for now, while each legend determines whether the timing is right for them, they remain just two names on a very long list of possibilities. A person familiar with their thinking said to add Don Baylor and Scott Servais to a managerial list that's reported to include interim Dave Clark plus Al Pedrique, Tim Bogar, Brad Ausmus, Manny Acta and Jim Fregosi.
• Brewers manager Ken Macha is returning for the second year of his two-year deal, but pitching coach Chris Bosio isn't certain to return in that role.
• Mets manager Jerry Manuel is also returning for the second year of his two-year deal after the Mets' mess, and hitting coach Howard Johnson is surely safe. One likely candidate to change roles is third-base coach Razor Shines.
• Mets ownership doesn't appear to be making progress in their attempts to dissuade respected longtime scout and executive Sandy Johnson from retiring, so he probably will leave. Johnson has been offered a nice raise.
• The Mets are leaning toward giving 1986 hero Wally Backman a second chance. Backman, a fiery leader from that championship 1986 team, recently called for a job in the organization, and the Mets are likely to give him a minor league role.
Now, let's go a little more in-depth on some of these developments ...
In many ways a Valentine-Marlins matchup makes perfect sense. He is a terrific manager who's historically gotten more out of less. And as everyone knows, the Marlins spend less than anyone.
But the thing is, Florida has a manager, Gonzalez, who's doing an excellent job. He was given a two-year extension through 2011 at the start of this year, then led the young, feisty team to an 87-75 record when few folks were expecting them to do that well. It's true Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria told team personnel on Day 1 he thought they had a playoff team. But no one else thought they did.
The other thing is, the Marlins don't pay. Valentine turned down chances to manage the Dodgers and Rays for offers in the $1 million range over the past few years. He is leaving his $4 million-a-year job managing the Chiba Lotte Marines for an analyst position at ESPN but would expect to earn a lot closer to the $4 million mark to manage. And the Marlins paid only two of their players -- Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla -- as much as $4 million last year.
Loria has indeed been in talks with Valentine for some position, as Valentine's new employer ESPN first reported. And while it couldn't be learned what position Loria and Valentine have been discussing, it's logical to assume it's for the managerial job.
Loria, who is said by people familiar with his thinking to believe the Marlins underachieved this year, wouldn't discuss the matter when reached in New York. Loria said, "I don't really have any comment. I don't talk about rumors, and you know that." People familiar with the Marlins' inner workings say Loria is displeased to be out of the playoffs at the moment, and in no mood to grade on a curve based on the team's sport-low payroll.
The Loria/Larry Beinfest/Michael Hill triumvirate has had huge success considering puny payrolls (this year's was $36 million). But he expects to do even better. Loria is a New Yorker who's got a little Steinbrenner in him. So it's no surprise he'd focus on Valentine, just as once targeted Joe Girardi, who won the Manager of the Year award in Florida before being fired. Valentine is a natural fit with a young team.
Even so, it still seems slightly far-fetched to think Loria will pull the trigger and fire a manager everyone else thinks did a nice job.
San Diego owner Jeff Moorad surprised Towers and a lot of other folks by telling Towers he was firing him. Towers has made the playoffs four times with a small-market club, but Moorad wanted his own man and also wanted a different type. Moorad said by phone that he was looking for someone who was more analytical than intuitive, someone who'd be more "disciplined" and more "strategic." Boston's Jed Hoyer and Oakland's David Forst fit that description and both are extremely well respected.
Moorad denied that there was any negative lingering feelings from their dealings when Moorad was an agent, that he "loves" Towers personally, and says the decision simply was about wanting a different type for the job. The Padres have not drafted especially well in Towers' tenure, but he's usually compensated with excellent scouting at the big-league level and astute low-cost pickups. He leaves the Padres in good financial shape since they have the lowest salary commitment for 2010, at $12 million.
Moorad said he has been looking around for a couple weeks and suggested that he was fairly close to finding Towers' replacement, stating that he expected to have a new GM within two to three weeks. Moorad also said he would not raid his old Diamondbacks team for the new hire. Anyway, the Arizona official he'd most likely be interested in plucking from Josh Byrnes' staff for a top front-office job is A.J. Hinch, a former client of Moorad's who was already was elevated to Diamondbacks manager and given a contract through 2012. Moorad also liked Byrnes very much, but he is signed through 2015.
The Indians were said by one person familiar with their situation to have been "stunned" by Farrell's decision to remain pitching coach with the Red Sox. Farrell is thought to be paid about $750,000 in his current job, and is said to be appreciative of the pay raise given to him when the Mariners showed interest in hiring him to manage last year.
Farrell has a clause in his contract that prohibits him from leaving to be manage elsewhere. But he didn't even try to test it because he likes his situation in Boston so much. Cleveland is now said to have a long list of names that includes Valentine and their own minor league manager Torey Lovullo. Valentine also may be pricey for the Indians, who are cash-strapped and already committed to about $1.3 million for the fired Eric Wedge.
Astros owner Drayton McLane has contacted Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio to gauge their interest in managing the Astros, but they put off any serious discussion with the Astros until Houston has decided how serious it is about the two Astros icons. Axelrod, who represents both ex-Astros stars, indicated that he believed both men could have interest in such a job at some point, but it's not known whether the timing is right for either. Biggio made a commitment to coach his son's Houston high school team.
Bagwell and Biggio are two names on a rather interesting list the Astros have put together. According to the Houston Chronicle, temporary manager Dave Clark, Astros coach Al Pedrique, Red Sox coach Tim Bogar, former major league manager Jim Fregosi and ex-Nationals manager Manny Acta are believed to be on the list. The Astros were once slapped by MLB for hiring Phil Garner without considering minorities, and that won't happen again.
• The Angels have made an offer to try to keep Bobby Abreu, whose well-known batting patience has been infectious. But no progress is reported thus far.
• Trevor Hoffman is expected to re-sign with the Brewers for close to $8 million in a deal that should be finalized within a week.
• The Mariners should have the money to lock up Felix Hernandez, and they're going to give it a try this winter. Megastars such as Ken Griffey, Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson couldn't be kept for their whole careers there, but some expect Seattle to do better with King Felix.
• Griffey looked emotional after the Mariners' finale, leading to speculation he may hang it up. But some close to him expect him to try to play.
• It surprised a lot of folks when Orioles GM Andy MacPhail announced manager Dave Trembley would be back (including me). MacPhail had said this summer that the Orioles would need to avoid fading again in the second half. But since MacPhail kept Trembley after the team disintegrated in the second half, folks are now theorizing that MacPhail's comments may have been an attempt to allay owner Peter Angelos, and that MacPhail never seriously considering firing Trembley. MacPhail is said from the beginning to have told folks not to expect a great team this year.
• The Dodgers were said to be somewhat disappointed in James Loney's power production this year.
• There are some in that organization who are quite disappointed in Chad Billingsley, as well. Billingsley may get a start in the division series, but some Dodgers people would rather go with Jon Garland and even Vicente Padilla.
• The Twins deserve credit for coming back to tie the Tigers from seven down and without Justin Morneau. Terrific work. "Toughness counts," one scout remarked.
• Another reason to love Chase Utley: he was 23 for 23 in steals this year.
• Tim Lincecum did not allow a single home run at home this year.
• Mets higher-ups have been meeting almost daily, and the sense is that they will keep their payroll in the range of $140-150 million for next year. They implied as much in letters to ticket holders they are trying to retain after their disastrous year.
• While congratulating the Padres, A's and Royals for playing hard until the end recently, I neglected to mention the Reds, who did the same.
• Some took me to task for not including Zack Greinke's contract extension or Michael Young's move to third base as one the 30 best moves of the year. I should have made clear I was only talking about deals to acquire new players. But those were obviously very wise moves.
• The Rangers were shortchanged on the list, as their deals for several cost-efficient players, such as reliever Darren O'Day, would easily qualify. Their hiring of pitching coach Mike Maddux should have been included, as well.
• The White Sox's deal for Jake Peavy looks like it may be a winner, as well. Peavy turned in three straight great performances to finish the season.
• The Rangers are expected to go for about $500 million, which isn't bad in a football town.
• Major League Baseball is going to wind up drawing 73.4 million fans this year, a very modest six-percent decrease considering the poor economy.
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