The Mets are all but certain to replace Omar Minaya as general manager and Jerry Manuel as manager, and although both officially have until the end of the year to prove themselves and keep their jobs, it has become clear neither man will retain his current position.
That only adds considerably to what is expected to be an unusual amount of attention paid to high-profile, non-playing baseball jobs openings this winter. A few GM jobs and no fewer than 10 managerial jobs are either open or in question, including also the prestigious managing positions with the Cubs (open) and Dodgers (in question).
Mets people have high regard for assistant GM John Ricco and consider him a future GM, but the team apparently will instead look to someone with more experience for their top front office position. They are is said to be ready to consider ex-Padres GM Kevin Towers, ex-Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes and White Sox assistant GM Rick Hahn, among others, to replace Minaya for that role. Byrnes and Hahn, assuming they are interested, are both extremely highly regarded. Byrnes helped bring the D-backs to the NLCS championship series in 2007 while Hahn was part of the 2005 World Series championship team with the White Sox.
Rangers GM Jon Daniels is a logical possibility for the Mets since he is a native of Bayside, Queens and has an "out'' in his contract after the year. However, all indications are that Daniels likes it in Texas and the Rangers are extremely interested in retaining him. New Rangers people like co-owner Chuck Greenberg have expressed how badly they want to keep Daniels.
As for the new Mets manager, that will likely wait for the front office situation to be settled, as the new GM officially will have a say-so in that job. But while the new GM has yet to be decided, the Mets are already said by those in the know to be on the lookout for a manager who's "high energy'' for the managerial position, which could seem to suggest that feisty Brooklyn Cyclones manager Wally Backman and workaholic ex-Mets manager Bobby Valentine will at least be considered.
Many baseball insiders question the idea of promoting Backman from the Mets' Single-A New York-Penn League affiliate to one of the toughest jobs in the majors. Experience is viewed as a question for Backman, too, by many baseball insiders, including some with the Mets. "The New York-Penn League to the majors is quite a jump,'' one National League executive opined.
But Backman seems to have forged a couple key alliances and is credited by some with the Mets for taking such a low position a few years after being offered the Diamondbacks' managing position, which he lost within a few days when some personal transgressions became public. Backman appeared to make a major misstep recently by being quoted in the New York Post suggesting he could do better than Manuel -- though some with the team accepted his explanation that he was actually saying he could do better at his own job, and club executives are generally impressed with his managing performance this year.
Valentine should be the most obvious choice for Mets manager and is eminently qualified as someone who already succeeded in that very job, taking a seemingly a good but unimposing team to the Subway World Series in 2000. However, office politics could get in the way. What's been described as a bad ending with a higher-up or two when Valentine was fired at the the end of the 2002 season is apparently a hurdle that will need to be cleared first.
People within the Mets organization see ticket sales as a key issue and some opine that Valentine could be the man to re-energize the organization in that regard. However, some others also wonder whether the bad ending with ownership and expected higher salary demands could be impediments.
In any case, New York is only a small part of the story this winter. Some estimate there could be as many as 12-15 managerial openings, with suspense all over the map. One rare place where the likely hire is believed to be known is Atlanta, where ex-Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez is seen by sources close to the situation as a fait accompli to replace retiring legend Bobby Cox (though Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton is also well-liked in the organization and will at least get an interview).
Managers will also be hired by the Mariners, Cubs, Marlins, Blue Jays and quite possibly Brewers, Pirates, Dodgers, Diamondbacks and maybe even Cardinals (though some suggest they could see the legendary Tony La Russa staying one more year) and Yankees (though Joe Girardi, whose contract is also up, isn't believed by most likely to leave the Yankees, even for his hometown Cubs). The Reds, who employ ex-Cardinals GM and La Russa ally Walt Jocketty in their GM job, have been seen as a potential landing spot for La Russa, but most baseball people seem to believe Dusty Baker is likely to remain in Cincinnati. Baker has yet to agree to a new deal, but he's been offered one for close to $4 million, the same salary he makes now.
Insiders say they'd still be surprised if future Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre stayed in Los Angeles, where a soap opera is developing with the Dodgers at the ownership level, with owner Frank McCourt and his wife, Jamie, battling for the team in their high-profile divorce court case. Torre's current Dodgers deal is for slightly more than $4 million a year, though his offer for 2011 is not known and the Dodgers' payroll is expected to decrease after already going from $120 million to $83 million in recent years, leading most baseball people to believe Torre will leave.
Hitting coach Don Mattingly earlier was thought to be the favorite to replace Torre, but people familiar with the situation say the job is more likely to go to Triple-A manager Tim Wallach. Dodgers icon and consultant Tommy Lasorda continues to stump for Valentine, but the Dodgers have self-imposed financial constraints that may make that a long shot. Baker is another ex-Dodger who could be out of their price range.
Ex-Rockies and Cubs manager Don Baylor, currently the batting coach with the Rockies, could be a possibility to replace the retiring Cito Gaston in Toronto, as Gaston is said by some to be pushing for him. Blue Jays third base coach Brian Butterfield and Yankees third base coach Rob Thomson are also expected to receive consideration there. Yankees coach and former Royals manager Tony Pena was said by one person to be a possibility for the Marlins, where organization man Edwin Rodriguez is the interim manager. One interim manager that appears to have a very good chance to retain his job is Kirk Gibson in Arizona, though with the GM situation not yet settled even that's not a certainty.
Former Pirates GM and catching great Ted Simmons and White Sox coach and former Mariners infielder Joey Cora are thought to be high on Seattle's long list of managerial candidates. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik, whose own status is suggested by some to be slightly more tenuous after a rough season in Seattle following a great debut year for him, said he'd prefer major-league managing experience for that job but isn't about to "box'' himself in by eliminating those who do not.
The Cubs' managing job is already creating a lot of interest. Gonzalez declined an interview for that prestigious post, adding to the very strong speculation he already has Atlanta basically locked up (Gonzalez was unavailable for comment the last couple days), but it's a desirable job for many because of the history, high payroll and other factors. Cubs legend Ryne Sandberg, who is managing their Triple-A team, looks like a strong candidate to many after four seasons apprenticing as a minor-league manager in that organization. Interim manager Mike Quade is said to be another candidate while Mets scout Bob Melvin and Nationals coach Pat Listach are reportedly getting interviews, as will former Indians manager Eric Wedge. Ex-Diamondbacks manager and current Cubs announcer Bob Brenly also has been seen as a potential candidate. That job may appeal to the available big names such as Torre, Valentine and even La Russa (though it's hard to imagine the Cubs hiring a hated longtime Cardinal for that job), but people in the know say they aren't necessarily seeking a "celebrity'' manager after employing Baker and Lou Piniella most recently.
Girardi, an ex-Cubs catcher, Northwestern product and Illinois native who was passed over for Piniella the last time the job came open after the 2006 season, is once again a possible candidate with the Cubs. Some have suggested he would seriously consider that particular job if he were to make the leap from the team with baseball's highest payroll. But while Girardi's three-year, $7.5-million contract Yankees contract expires after the season, Yankees people are confident Girardi won't want to leave baseball's most storied franchise (and that $200-million-plus payroll) even though the team has has no intention in raising Girardi's salary into the stratosphere of Torre's last Yankees deal, which was between $6-7 million annually. Managers salaries are generally held to around $4 million, or a bit above that now.
Bob Melvin has been given permission by his current employer, the Mets, where he does not appear to be a leading candidate for the managerial job, for at least two managing interviews. He could have a shot in Milwaukee, where Ken Macha seems likely to go. Pirates manager John Russell is another one on the hot seat, especially after team president Frank Coonelly told USA Today, "I have been extremely disappointed in the team's performance'' when asked about Russell and GM Neal Huntington.
Huntington is very new to the hot seat and seems more likely to survive than Russell, whose weak teams have floundered even more than they expected and have the worst record in baseball this season at 48-97.
In Seattle, the speculation over Zduriencik's situation picked up after his good friend and pro scouting director Carmen Fusco was fired earlier this week after a mound of bad publicity regarding the team's acquisition of pitching prospect Josh Lueke, a talent with a criminal conviction for false imprisonment, from Texas in the Cliff Lee deal. Zduriencik, who took over a 100-loss team after the 2008 season, declined comment on the Fusco firing. Zduriencik did say, "I've got a job to do every day. We have a plan in place. And I'm staying with the plan ... My goal is to build the organization for the long haul. That's the only thing I can be concerned about.''
Two GM jobs that have yet to be decided are the ones with the Diamondbacks and Mets. Arizona's list of candidates is a strong one with interim Jerry Di Poto, Towers, Dodgers executives Logan White and De Jon Watson and Angels exec Eddie Bane. They also sought to interview Yankees scouting director Damon Oppenheimer but the Yankees turned down Arizona's request for Oppenheimer, who's under contract with the Yankees through 2011. Baseball insiders see the experienced Towers and Di Poto -- who is said by one D-backs person to have done a "terrific'' job -- as the favorites in an impressive field.
Towers, a possible candidate with the Mets, too, sounds like he wants back in as GM after a year recharging as a Yankees consultant this season following 14 years as GM in San Diego, where he earned a rep as an excellent trader who knew pitching and did well despite lower payrolls. "I'm motivated by building a team, building a front office and competing on a daily basis,'' Towers said. There have been suggestions that Arizona, hampered by a weak local economy, might not want to pay enough to lure Towers. However, speaking generally about a GM position, Towers said, "I don't think I'm in position to be picky. There are only (30) of these jobs out there.'' He's from the Northwest, lived in the West his whole life (he's still in San Diego while working this year for the Yankees), but while he concedes word that he might prefer the West is probably true, he added, "I don't rule out the Midwest or East if the opportunity presents itself.'' One friend of his said he believes Towers actually would love the challenge of the Mets, where in a sense he'd match up with good buddy Brian Cashman of the Yankees. "Geographically, I can't settle on one spot. I'm not Pat Gillick,'' Towers said, referring to the legendary baseball executive.