There could be more big-name managers on the open market than ever this winter, with several marquee names potentially on the move, setting up several interesting scenarios. Yet, at least three men with great playing pedigrees but no major league managerial experience could yet wind up with big-league managing jobs -- Ryne Sandberg (Cubs), Ted Simmons (Mariners) and Tim Wallach (Dodgers).
Those jobs could go to others, of course. It may be early in the processes to name favorites, plus the Dodgers' job hasn't even opened up yet (Joe Torre is expected to announce next month whether he'll stay) and the Cubs and Mariners have interims in Mike Quade and Daren Brown, respectively, off to decent starts.
But those three men -- Wallach, Simmons and Sandberg -- appear to have at least a decent chance to emerge with big-league jobs.
Before anything happens, of course, several soap operas may have to play out. There's so much going on with managers that they may garner as much or more attention than player free agency for the first time.
The Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals, Braves, Mariners, Blue Jays, Yankees, Mets, Pirates and Brewers are among teams that could possibly be looking at a change of manager, whether it be via a departure or a firing. Big names such as Torre, Tony La Russa, Dusty Baker and Joe Girardi all have expiring contracts.
Here's a look at three of the most intriguing managerial situations:
Wallach may get the surprise call. He is well-respected as the Triple-A Albuquerque manager, and just as important for the cost-conscious Dodgers, presumably not too expensive, considering he's already in the organization and only got the Triple-A job a year ago.
According to some in the know, Wallach will likely be the guy, assuming Torre leaves. But if they go for a bigger managing name, Baker, the ex-Dodger player who has led the surprising Reds to the top of the NL Central, could have a shot.
The original plan was to let Torre manage one more year, and then turn the job over to batting coach Don Mattingly. Torre was given a contractual offer in spring training, but he's been deciding ever since whether he wants to stay. Most believe he will not.
Some suggest that with Frank McCourt now running things alone, and not Frank and Jamie together, things have changed for Torre. While Frank was always clearly in charge, according to some, Jamie was the one who loved the Torre/Mattingly tandem, much more so than Frank. And being in with Jamie won't mean a thing at this moment. She's trying to win the team back through divorce court, but that would take awhile, if she has a chance at all.
The Dodgers have gone the money-saving route over the past couple years, but bucked critics by spending $5.25 million on first-round pick Zach Lee ("he's no Clayton Kershaw, and he got $2 million,'' one competing exec said) and can afford another big-name manager considering they are a marquee franchise, have already cut their payroll from $120 million to $83 million and have more salaries coming of the books than just about any team, with Manny Ramirez, Hiroki Kuroda and George Sherrill all but sure to depart.
Torre delayed his decision until September, presumably partly in hopes of rallying the troops and his team for a playoff push, which could have forced Frank McCourt's hand. But with the Dodgers still only on the fringe of the race, Torre seems unlikely to stay. And Mattingly, the ex-Yankee great who became Torre's right-hand man, no longer looks like the lock that he once did. Third base coach Larry Bowa has the experience, a lot of leadership qualities and isn't afraid to stand up to the players, but besides being tied to Torre, he is a big personality; his name doesn't appear to be connected to this job at the moment. however.
There are unsubstantiated whispers that Baker, who has delayed taking a Reds extension after a big year, could wind up in L.A.. The ex-Dodger is a hot name right now and could take pressure off McCourt to sign big-name players at a time when he's spending so much on legal fees. Baker has said that he isn't interested in talking about the Dodgers job, but that only makes sense in that Torre's still there and Baker needs to be focused on the Reds' possible division title run. He hasn't rushed to re-sign with the Reds, though that doesn't necessarily mean anything.
Wallach, an L.A. area native, looks like the more likely choice at this point, though.
Most likely: 1. Wallach. 2. Baker. 3. Mattingly.
GM Jim Hendry has said it would be "foolish'' to say there's a favorite, and a person close to new owner Tom Ricketts has expressed a similar sentiment behind the scenes.
Even so, Ryne Sandberg has been seen by everyone as the most logical choice, and it's possible he was passed over for interim for Mike Quade because they didn't want to chance saddling Sandberg with a bad record. Quade, the well-regarded third base coach who was picked over bench coach and former big league manager Alan Trammell, is said to be a candidate. Quade said he wants the job, and is certainly doing it his way (he had Xavier Nady betting third and Jeff Baker fourth the other day). But while he's a quality company man (and he's off to a 3-0 start), hiring him fulltime for one of the biggest jobs in baseball would seem to be something of a long shot.
The Cubs have gone the "celebrity manager'' route two straight times, with Baker and Lou Piniella, and while both had more success than most with the North Side team, the two tenures ended badly. So Sandberg, a Cubs icon who isn't a celebrity as a manager and seems the opposite of the gregarious Baker and Piniella as a personality, does make a lot of sense. He does for other, more important, reasons, as well.
"Doesn't it have to be Sandberg?'' one competing manager said, referencing Sandberg's iconic status and successful four-year minor league managerial resume. He is the only Hall of Famer currently wearing a minor league uniform, and he should get credit for that.
A lot of folks seem to think that Sandberg will be the man. But Hendry also isn't afraid to hire a big personality as manager, so any of the possible managerial free agents shouldn't be ruled out.
Some say that Joe Girardi, the ex-Cub, Northwestern grad and Peoria, Ill., product, wouldn't mind going to manage the Cubs, and this would certainly be his best time to leverage things. But most would still be shocked to see him leave the winningest organization in baseball history. He also has an excellent relationship with Yankees boss Hal Steinbrenner. The Yankees will make a solid offer (perhaps in the $4-to-5 million per year range) but will not repeat the $6-to-7 million salary once bestowed on Torre.
Girardi was passed over last time by the Cubs, but his World Series title with the Yankees could change the equation. He certainly looks like a more attractive candidate at this point.
The Cubs' job is coveted despite the 103-year streak of no World Series titles (it seems almost every big name wants to be the first in a century to win a championship there). Beyond that, they have a big payroll, better young players than usual and a great old ballpark in a wonderful city.
Tony La Russa, the former White Sox manager, would certainly be an interesting choice, but he's not well-liked by Cubs fans and has always loved managing in St. Louis. Bobby Valentine is another who would be interesting there, especially now that the Cubs finally have some good young players, including Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro. Sandberg could serve another apprenticeship as bench coach for one of the experienced guys, but some Cubs people don't see that scenario as very likely.
Most likely: 1. Sandberg. 2. Girardi. 3. Quade. 4. La Russa
Many have assumed that the Japanese ties would lead to Valentine landing the job, and he would be an excellent choice. But one person familiar with their situation said that he believes Ted Simmons may actually be the leading candidate. Simmons knows GM Jack Zduriencik from the Brewers and Pirates, and is a smart man who hasn't gotten the managing chances he should have gotten by now, though he clearly does not have the resume of a Valentine, who has been a successful manager in both America and Japan.
Brewers bench coach Willie Randolph is another who connected with Zduriencik in Milwaukee and might have a shot. Zduriencik would say only by phone that he's just getting started, his list is about 20 people long and big league managerial experience will weigh heavily. That would seem to tip the scale toward Valentine, or even Randolph, who was formerly the manager of the Mets. But the smart money seems to be on Simmons.
Most likely: 1. Simmons. 2. Valentine. 3. Randolph.
Some small-market teams were busted by the leak this week (courtesy of AP) that showed them to be much more profitable than previously thought. Some of these teams have been receiving $40-50 million in revenue sharing and another $75 million from the Central fund, meaning that they start $100-plus-million in the black.
The revenue-sharing system was not intended to merely move money from big-market teams to small ones but was expected to be a way for smaller teams to compete by spending on players.
The Rays, who run their baseball operation as well as anyone, should try hard to re-sign Carl Crawford with their extra monies, just not let him leave.
The Marlins, whose baseball people also do an excellent job, made $50 million one year (their contention is that year was an aberration), but they've been using the gifted monies to pay down their debt rather than sign players.
The Pirates, who made close to $40 million over a three-year period despite losing, are the latest ones now being targeted by MLB to change their non-spending ways.
A case could be made that it isn't worth signing free agents for the Pirates, but pocketing the money doesn't look too good. The whole situation will be addressed again, as big-market teams didn't know the extent of the profitability of the teams they've been subsidizing.
• The Nationals will almost surely do the prudent thing and rest pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg for the year. His first MRI revealed only a flexor tendon strain, but a more detailed MRI result is expected soon. Either way, it makes no sense to press Strasburg to pitch (no matter what Rob Dibble thinks).
• The White Sox look like the favorites to land Manny Ramirez, but competing execs don't see them eating the $4.3 million that normally comes with a waiver claim. It's possible that they could make a prearranged deal that would cost them less money, then only make the claim as a way to ensure that no one else does (though no one is expected to be willing to pay Ramirez's whole salary).
• According to one NL scout, the Dodgers were "bailed out'' big-time by the Mets' letting Rod Barajas go on waivers, as they were getting nothing from the catching position since Russell Martin went down for the year and now have a player with the potential to get hot (he had three hits in his Dodgers debut after struggling in recent months with the Mets).
• If GM Omar Minaya is reassigned by the Mets, folks see assistant John Ricco as the most likely successor -- though Mets brass say that they aren't even thinking along those lines yet. Outside baseball sources suggest that Minaya needs a big finish to keep his job, as was written here this week.