Surprises as managerial merry-go-round keeps spinning
As the playoffs proceed, the managerial merry-go-round continues to spin elsewhere. Here’s a rundown of the latest news from three different stops.
Cincinnati: Dusty Baker signs a two-year extension
Baker led the Reds to their second NL Central flag in three years; their 97-65 record was the league’s second best, and the franchise’s best since 1976. Alas, Cincinnati was eliminated by the Giants in a five-game Division Series that quickly took an unexpected turn, when ace Johnny Cueto left Game 1 after just six pitches due to what was eventually determined to be an oblique strain. While Mat Latos’ four strong innings of relief helped the team win the opener and the Reds left San Francisco up 2-0, they lost the next two games at home, and Cueto’s subsequent unavailability meant Latos got the call for Game 5 as well. After retiring 11 of the first 12 hitters, he unraveled and allowed six runs in the fifth of what became a 6-4 loss for the Reds.
Baker didn’t have a spotless series; most notably, he left shaky Game 4 starter Mike Leake — Cueto’s roster replacement — in for too long, and in Game 5 ordered an unsuccessful double steal that turned into a strikeout-throwout double play with the Reds down three runs and their outs dwindling. Such postseason disappointments are starting to become routine for a manager whose tactical shortcomings have long been apparent. Despite six trips to the playoffs with the Giants, Cubs and Reds, and a career winning percentage of .525 (.517 in Cincinnati), Baker’s teams have now lost 10 of their last 11 elimination games dating back to the 2002 World Series and including the infamous Steve Bartman game in the 2003 NLCS (elsewhere it was claimed they had lost nine straight elimination games, which ignores their advancing to the 2003 NLCS in the first place). Despite his two recent trips to the postseason, Baker’s teams have finished above .500 just twice in the past seven seasons.
The combination of that legacy and the 63-year-old manager’s health problems — he missed time in September due to a heart problem and a mini-stroke — raised questions about whether Baker would return, but his guidance of the team from a rebuilding effort to multiple division wins has earned him the backing of owner Bob Castellini and general manager Walt Jocketty. With his core players tied up for at least the next two seasons, he’ll have the burden of meeting higher expectations.
Boston: Tim Wallach and Tony Pena interview, Brad Ausmus and DeMarlo Hale scheduled
With frontrunner and current Blue Jays manager John Farrell claiming that neither he nor general manager Alex Anthoupoulos have yet to be contacted by the Boston brass, the Red Sox’ search for a successor to Bobby Valentine has expanded beyond the names I initially suggested in this space. Over the weekend general manager Ben Cherington interviewed Wallach, the Dodgers’ third base coach. The 55-year-old spent 17 seasons in the majors, mostly with the Expos and Dodgers, and has four years of minor league managerial experience, capped by his earning 2010 Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year honors at Albuquerque. Wallach spent the 2004 and 2005 seasons as the Dodgers’ hitting coach under Grady Little, and has served on Don Mattingly’s staff in Los Angeles for the past two years as well. He has previously interviewed for managerial openings with the Padres in 2006 and the Brewers in 2010, losing out to Bud Black and Ron Roenicke, respectively.
On Monday, the Sox interviewed current Yankees bench coach Tony Pena. A four-time Gold Glove-winning catcher during a major league career that stretched across 18 seasons, Pena spent four seasons (1990-1993) with the Red Sox. Upon retiring in 1997, he managed in the White Sox and Astros organizations for parts of four seasons. He became manager of the Royals in May 2002, taking over for the fired Tony Muser, and guided the Royals to an 83-79 record the following year, their lone winning season since 1994. He couldn’t repeat the magic in 2004; the Royals slumped to 58-104, and when they started 8-25 in 2005, he resigned. Pena spent 2006 through 2008 as the Yankees’ first base coach, interviewing for the managerial job after Joe Torre departed in 2007; he has been the team’s bench coach under Joe Girardi since 2009.
The Sox are expected to meet with Ausmus on Wednesday. The 43-year-old won three Gold Gloves in 18 years as a major league catcher, and is currently serving as a special assistant for the Padres. A graduate of Dartmouth who calls his father Harry’s A Schopenhauerian Critique of Nietzsche’s Thought his favorite book, the cerebral Ausmus has never managed in the minors, but he did pilot Team Israel in its attempt to qualify for next year’s World Baseball Classic, and he’s well-regarded in baseball circles. As Peter Gammons tweeted last week, “Amazed by unsolicited Ausmus endorsements before interview…ex managers, teammates, pitchers…” Despite having spent 10 years with Houston, Ausmus withdrew his name from consideration after interviewing for the Astros opening that went to Bo Porter, citing “personal reasons,” but the attraction of a team closer to his native Connecticut is a different matter. “That’s one job that would get me off my couch early,” he told the Boston Globe.
Hale, who spent this year as the Orioles’ third base coach, and who was discussed in my previous rundown, is scheduled to interview on Thursday. Other candidates may be interviewed as well; it’s expected that finalists will meet with the John Henry/Tom Werner/Larry Lucchino triumvirate after Cherington’s first round of interviews.
Colorado: Jason Giambi remains a candidate
The 41-year-old Giambi, a five-time All-Star who earned AL MVP honors back in 2000, has spent the past three seasons and change as a reserve on the Rockies bench, where he became a favorite of now-departed manager Jim Tracy. After hitting 13 homers and slugging .603 last year, he dipped to one homer and a .303 slugging mark this season, so the end of his playing career may be nigh. According to Troy Renck of the Denver Post, Giambi “”remains a candidate for the Rockies manager job until he’s ruled out,” but his lack of coaching or managing experience — not to mention his connection to the BALCO steroids scandal and his hard-partying reputation — could work against him, particularly with an organization that has tried to present a squeaky-clean image to the public over the years.
On the other hand, Giambi reportedly commands a great deal of respect from his teammates, and he has served as something of a coach-in-training alongside Tracy. Renck also mentioned Wallach, Ausmus and Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. as potential candidates, along with Tracy’s bench coach, Tom Runnells. Alomar served as the Indians’ interim manager when Manny Acta was fired late in the season but his status is up in the air with the hiring of Terry Francona; he spent time with the Rockies as a player in 2002.