Managerial merry-go-round: Price hops on, Mattingly may jump off as four openings remain
The managerial merry-go-round has been spinning since the end of the regular season, but Monday was a particularly dizzying day. Not only did the Tigers’ Jim Leyland exit the carousel — er, dugout — for the final time, but Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly took himself to the brink of jumping off, a significant development given the number of other openings. Meanwhile, the Reds have filled their vacancy by promoting pitching coach Bryan Price to replace Dusty Baker.
Here’s a look at each situation as the World Series approaches — a notable marker because official news on this topic over the next week and a half is customarily confined to off days at the behest of MLB.
The Reds have decided to promote Price, who served as Baker’s pitching coach over the past four seasons. During that time, Cincinnati made three playoff appearances and had one of the game’s best rotations. In 2012, the Reds led the National League in fewest runs allowed — their front five starters made 161 out of 162 starts — and in 2013, they ranked fourth. That’s no small achievement in a hitter-friendly ballpark or under a manager with a less-than-stellar reputation for handling pitchers. The team’s ERA during Price’s four-year run was 3.72, down from 4.55 in the four years prior.
The 51-year-old Price never played in the majors; he spent 1984-1989 in the Angels’ and Mariners’ systems but only briefly tasted Triple-A. After coaching in Seattle’s chain from 1989 through 1997, he became pitching coach of the Mariners from 2001-2005, a span that saw them lead the league in run prevention twice, including in their 116-win season of 2001. He spent 2006 to early 2009 as pitching coach for the Diamondbacks, a run that included their 2007 NL West title plus Brandon Webb’s 2006 NL Cy Young award and two subsequent runner-up showings. Price resigned in May 2009 when manager Bob Melvin was fired and was critical of replacement manager A.J. Hinch.
At least publicly, it doesn’t appear as through Cincinnati did a particularly exhaustive search for Baker’s successor. The team’s Triple-A manager, Jim Riggleman, was the only other confirmed candidate for the job. That’s not necessarily a bad thing given Price’s familiarity with the team’s current roster and some of its quandaries such as where to bat Joey Votto or whether to move Aroldis Chapman to the rotation. With his hiring, he’ll join Boston’s John Farrell and San Diego’s Bud Black as the only former pitching coaches currently managing major league clubs. Earlier this week, Black offered interesting insight as to why teams don’t promote pitching coaches, telling the Cincinnati Enquirer‘s C. Trent Rosencrans:
“I think organizations and managers realize how good they are and how important they are and they get locked into that role because of its importance… I do think over time those pitching coaches with those qualities and leadership skills and with the leadership traits that managers have sometimes get overlooked because they get locked into that valuable role as a pitching coach.”
Los Angeles Dodgers
From the outside, it would appear that Mattingly would be on solid ground. He overcame the team’s myriad injuries and sluggish start to lead the Dodgers on a 42-8 run, secure their first NL West title since 2009 and come within two wins of a trip to the World Series — all with an expensive roster full of big egos and complex personalities. However, he was nearly fired back in May and spent the entire season as a lame duck, with the team not picking up his $1.4 million option for 2014 until it automatically kicked in with a Division Series victory over the Braves.
Resentment over how that situation played out boiled to the surface on Monday, when Mattingly and general manager Ned Colletti held a joint postseason press conference, one that quickly turned awkward as the manager suddenly opened the door to his possible departure. From the Los Angeles Times:
“My option vested once we beat Atlanta,” Mattingly said. “That doesn’t mean I’ll be back… I like being here, but I don’t want to be anywhere you’re not wanted.”
Throughout the press conference, Mattingly expressed frustration at having to re-audition for his job after three years at the helm, a span during which Los Angeles has compiled a .536 winning percentage (260-225) and successively finished third, second and first in the division. He apparently has the backing of Colletti, who hired him to succeed Joe Torre following the 2010 season, but the organizational resistance to picking up his option before it vested and to working out a multi-year extension appears to be coming from higher up, with team president Stan Kasten yet to clarify his position publicly. Colletti pledged to resolve the situation quickly during the team’s upcoming organizational meetings.
As noted previously, Mattingly’s tactical flaws came to the surface during the team’s playoff run, particularly in Game 2 of the NLDS and Game 1 of the NLCS. Notably, L.A. has dismissed bench coach Trey Hillman, Mattingly’s best friend but also somebody whose inside-the-box thinking as Royals manager hardly won him acclaim. Tactical maneuvering is just a fraction of the manager’s job, however, and by most accounts, Mattingly has shown strong leadership qualities. Keeping a struggling, banged-up team motivated to climb back into the race is no small accomplishment. Could another manager have gotten the same mileage out of the notoriously temperamental Hanley Ramirez or the unbridled Yasiel Puig, his NLCS Game 6 meltdown aside?
If Mattingly does depart, the Dodgers could promote third-base coach Tim Wallach. The 56-year-old Wallach spent 17 years 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 Triple-A Albuquerque. He has previously interviewed for managerial openings with the Padres, Brewers, Red Sox and Blue Jays.
Among candidates from outside the organization, the most obvious connection is to Baker, who spent eight seasons as L.A.’s leftfielder but whose pros and cons are fairly similar to Mattingly’s.
With Leyland’s retirement still part of the news cycle, the Tigers have yet to announce a list of candidates formally, but it’s not hard to come up with a few. Current third base coach Tom Brookens, who spent a decade (1979-1988) as the team’s third baseman and five years as a manager (2005-2009) in their minor league system before joining Leyland’s staff, has been viewed as the heir apparent. Current hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, who was part of Leyland’s staff for the entirety of his Detroit tenure (2006-2013), first as bullpen coach and later as de facto bench coach and post-ejection manager, is another name likely to surface. He played for Leyland in Pittsburgh (1990-1994) and managed the Pirates to a dismal .430 winning percentage from 2001-2005, with a high of 75 wins in 2003.
Beyond current staff, former Tigers star and current Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson is under contract with Arizona through 2016. Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall nipped speculation regarding Gibson in the bud; after speaking with his manager, he told the Arizona Republic, “He’s not going anywhere.” Alan Trammell, Gibson’s current bench coach, is also a former Tigers star and he preceded Leyland as manager but turned in a .383 winning percentage in three years that included their 119-loss season in 2003. He might get an interview and another shot.
One other name to keep an eye on is Brad Ausmus. He was a major league catcher for 18 years (1993-2010) including three in Detroit (1996, 1999-2000). The 44-year-old Dartmouth grad has yet to manage beyond piloting the Israeli team in the qualifying rounds for this year’s World Baseball Classic, but he’s long been thought to be managerial material. While spending the last two years of his career with the Dodgers, he was touted by Torre as a future managerial candidate, and after being considered by Houston and Boston last year — and giving a particularly impressive interview for the latter – has already interviewed for the opening in Washington.
Ausmus isn’t alone as a candidate to replace Davey Johnson, who was ushered into retirement at the end of a disappointing season in which the Nationals fell far short of expectations. Randy Knorr, who served as Johnson’s bench coach for the past two seasons, is a popular candidate with the players as well as with general manager Mike Rizzo. The 44-year-old Knorr spent 11 years as a major league catcher and has been with the organization since 2001, back when it was the Montreal Expos and he was in his final year as a player.
Knorr was the Nationals’ bullpen coach in 2009, around which he sandwiched two runs as manager at four different levels in their minor league chain (2005-2008 and 2010-2011). He was the first professional manager for both Ryan Zimmerman (in 2005) and Bryce Harper (in the Arizona Fall League in 2010). In late September, shortstop Ian Desmond told MLB.com, “He has been a tremendous influence on my career. That’s who I want to see as manager of the ballclub.”
Beyond Ausmus and Knorr, two other candidates have been interviewed: Trent Jewett, the team’s current third base coach, and Matt Williams, who serves in the same capacity for the Diamondbacks. Jewett, 49, is another ex-catcher (1987-1990 in the Pirates chain) and longtime minor league manager (1992-2000 and 2003-2008 for the Pirates, 2009-2010 for the Nationals), with 12 of his 17 seasons at the Triple-A level. He oversaw many of the team’s current players, including Stephen Strasburg, at Triple-A Syracuse in 2010 before joining the big club’s staff in 2011; since then he’s served as an infield, first base and third base coach.
The 47-year-old Williams, a five-time All-Star during his 17-year major league career (1987-2003), has close ties to Rizzo dating back to the latter’s days as Arizona’s scouting director. He spent two years as a broadcaster before joining the Diamondbacks’ staff as first base coach in 2010 and became third base coach the following year. Williams would be the first player named in the Mitchell Report to become a major league manager, though his history with peformance-enhancing drugs isn’t seen as an impediment given his strong reputation inside the game.
Beyond that quartet, Rizzo is said to have considered Mattingly before hiring Riggleman prior to the 2010 season, though Mattingly was never interviewed; if he bolts Los Angeles, he could get a call. Baker has expressed interest in the opening that has thus far not been reciprocated, though the Nationals are likely to interview at least one minority candidate to comply with MLB’s mandate. Tony Beasley, an African-American who was a minor league infielder (1989-1998) before managing in the minor leagues for the Pirates (2001-2005) and Nationals (2011-2013, the last two at Syracuse), might get an interview but would probably have a tough shot at the job in this crowded field.
Since being spurned by Joe Girardi earlier this month, the Cubs have been busy in their search for Dale Sveum’s successor, and current Padres bench coach Rick Renteria has emerged as the strong favorite. Renteria, 51, spent 14 years in the minors and majors between 1980 and 1996 as an infielder and had eight seasons of minor league managerial experience (1998-2001 in the Marlins’ chain, 2004-2007 in the Padres’ chain) before joining San Diego’s staff in 2008. He managed Mexico during the 2013 World Baseball Classic, and fits the Cubs’ desire for a bilingual manager given that so many of their young players and top prospects are Latino.
Also in the hunt and checking the bilingual box are Manny Acta and Dave Martinez. The 44-year-old Acta managed the Nationals (2007-2009) and Indians (2010-2012) to a combined .418 winning percentage over parts of six seasons, never winning more than 80 games, but his open-mindedness toward sabermetrics is something that appeals to club president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer. The same goes for the 49-year-old Martinez, who has spent the past six years as the Rays’ bench coach. Martinez played 16 years (1986-2001) as a major league outfielder, including parts of four seasons with the Cubs, who drafted and developed him. He has since interviewed for managerial positions with the Indians, Blue Jays and Astros.
One other candidate whose name is floating around in connection to the Cubs is that of Hinch, a former big league catcher (1998-2004) and manager (mid-2009 and 2010 with the Diamondbacks) who has spent six years in the Arizona and San Diego front offices on the scouting and player development side, a span during which he worked with Hoyer. He’s currently the vice president of scouting and assistant GM of the Padres.
Since parting ways with Eric Wedge in rather acrimonious fashion, Seattle’s search has been very quiet. Beyond reports of an initial list of 20 candidates, the only waves created on this front pertain to an attempt, quickly rebuffed, to lure Lou Piniella out of retirement. Among the names known to be on the club’s list are current A’s bench coach Chip Hale, who interviewed with the Mariners back in 2009 before they hired Don Wakamatsu, and current Giants bench coach Ron Wotus.