Bavasi’s quest for the next field general of the Seattle Mariners has probably already started as the club has surely made its decision to let Bob Melvin walk and will start its search to find a new leader.
Who is available and who the organization looks to interview could be among the largest groups of candidates since… well, since the last time the M’s were looking for a manager after Lou Piniella sailed for Tampa after the 2002 season.
Expect the list of potential candidates to easily reach double figures with the interviewees totaling as many as 10 to 12.
But what should the M’s look for in their next manager?
Clearly a team in need of intensity, aggressiveness, and most importantly, leadership, the Mariners search for a balanced puppet master to take over the reigns of a team scheduled for a facelift this winter will likely begin and end with a strong personality capable of instilling an instinctive fight in every player wearing Mariner blue.
The new guy must have a reputation of being a natural leader and a will to win combined with a focused approach toward daily strategy. And if the ownership doesn’t force the hand of Bavasi, which Howard Lincoln insists is not going to be the case in any scenario this off season, the club will accept a manager that they aren’t convinced will be a company man, through and through.
Melvin was a “yes” man. He never once said anything negative about the organization, nor did he ever hint that the team needed a makeover and that he was disappointed at any move or lack thereof. It may have helped extend his tenure if he had shown some competitive fire on a regular basis, and ripped into a media member once in awhile.
BoMel’s successor won’t have to be the reserved personality that the club demanded the last time they went out and looked for Piniella’s replacement and that’s the best news yet.
The candidates are a plenty, and without an obvious place to start, let’s stay in house.
Promote From Within?
Three managers inside the organization have credentials worthy of a long look. Hitting coach Paul Molitor, Triple-A Tacoma manager Dan Rohn and Double-A San Antonio manager Dave Brundage all will be given looks for the open position.
Molitor is a Hall of Fame player with a good reputation as a leader and an intelligent baseball man, but the downside is that he has never managed at any level and ultimately isn’t a likely answer for a team looking to jump back into the playoff hunt in the first year.
Molitor, 44, is rumored to be a candidate for the vacant managerial job in Toronto where he played three seasons and was a part of the 1993 World Series Champions.
The 48-year-old Rohn has managed in the minors for 10 seasons, the last six in the M’s organization and the last four with the team’s Triple-A affiliate in Tacoma.
Rohn has two minor league championships under his belt, one with New Haven in the Double-A Eastern League in 2000 and another the following season in his first year with Tacoma of the Pacific Coast League. This success landed him the 2004 PCL Manager of the Year.
Rohn’s managerial qualities include a strong reputation for handling players in a way that is best for both the player and the team and has always been given praise for his work in the minor leagues.
A former major league player, Rohn spent parts of three seasons with the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians and was once traded with Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley from the Cubs to the Oakland A’s in April of 1987.
One has to think that Rohn’s talents will land him in the big leagues in some fashion, but not likely as the manager. Expect him to be named as part of the coaching staff, possibly taking over as the new manager’s bench coach, or one of the base coaching spots.
Brundage, 41, has had as much success as any manager in the M’s system and was once named the Minor League Manager of the Year by Baseball America. Brundage led the San Antonio Missions to the Texas League Championship in consecutive years of 2002 and 2003.
The Missions leader has a career record of 293-263 in his tenure with the M’s including the two championships. The former Oregon State Beaver standout is widely thought of as one of the best managers in all of the minor leagues and will someday get his shot in the big leagues.
It’s difficult to think that Brundage will not be promoted to Triple-A Tacoma in 2005, with the likelihood of Rohn catching in some capacity with the parent club. Brundage will remain one of the gems of the system and a future managerial candidate.
Outside the organization there could be several solid candidates, some current managers, some current coaches, and some former managers.
Rookies and Retreads
Among the more obvious of candidates are New York Mets hitting coach Don Baylor, former Astros manager and current Mariner scout Jimy Williams, and former Indians and Orioles manager Mike Hargrove.
The 55-year-old Baylor has a career 627-689 record as a manager with the Colorado Rockies and Chicago Cubs, winning the NL’s Manager of the Year in 1995.
Considering Baylor’s history as manager and the direction the Seattle franchise wants to point the good ship Mariner, Baylor is the least likely fit as it stands now but as other teams scoop up other candidates, his presence as a managerial possibility will rise as the off season moves along.
Baylor’s recent battle with bone marrow cancer doesn’t appear to be something that could factor in his candidacy.
Jimy Williams started the 2004 season at the helm of the Houston Astros, poised to make a run for the gold in the NL Central. Four months later he was fired by the Astros and hired by the Mariners as a special consulting scout. Williams’ primary assignment was to evaluate the M’s minor league system and he was sent to San Antonio to do just that.
Williams, 61, has a record of 866-746 in 11 seasons as a major league manager and was the 1999 AL Manager of the Year when he led the Boston Red Sox to a 94-68 record.
Hargrove, 54, managed the Cleveland Indians for nine seasons and won five division titles and two American League Championships. Hargrove moved on to Baltimore after the 1999 season and finished fourth in the East four years in a row and was replaced by Lee Mazilli after the 2003 campaign.
“The Human Rain Delay,” as he was called as a player, compiled a career of 996-963 in his 13 seasons in the major leagues.
Other possible candidates include former big league managers Grady Little, Buddy Bell, Jim Riggleman, and Jerry Manuel.
Little and Manuel don’t really fit the style that Bavasi is likely to look for while Bell, now the bench coach in Cleveland, and Riggleman, probably don’t have the successful history that the club needs in their new skipper.
Four other candidates stick out more than anyone not previously mentioned. Two current managers who would have to be let go by their current clubs to be viable options, and the other two are Hall of Fame players from the 1980’s and 90’s.
Tony Pena could be a lame duck in Kansas City where GM Allard Baird might see the need to start anew with his young cash-strapped Royals club.
Pena is 189-255 in nearly three full seasons and after a disappointing 2004, many would ask why Pena deserves another shot to manage.
Prior to Pena’s first season as Royals manager that began 23 games into 2002, Kansas City was 73-110 under Tony Muser the previous seasons plus 23 games. The team ERA from 1999 thru the end of 2001 was 5.23 and improved to just 5.13 under Pena but the difference is in the pitcher’s improvements under Pena.
The combined career ERA of the entire pitching staff going into the 2003 seasons was 5.98 and had eight pitchers with less than significant service time in the big leagues. The team ERA dropped to 5.06 that season, slicing nearly a full run off of the career ERA from the 11-man opening day staff.
Pena’s Royals finished 83-79 which was clearly an immense overachievement by the youth dominated club.
You can put some blame on Pena for the Royals major struggles this season but when there are exactly zero all-star quality pitchers on your roster and the three offensive all-stars were either in and out of the lineup due to injury (Berroa, Sweeney), or were traded away (Beltran), how much can really be expected?
Not many managers, if any at all, would do very well with that roster and despite what the media predicted, the Royals didn’t underachieve nearly as much as the numbers will say. Judging by their roster when April rolled around, Kansas City had no business being picked to finish anywhere near .500.
Eddie Murray was considered strongly for the Orioles vacancy last winter and lost out to then-Yankees coach Lee Mazzilli. Murray, 49, will certainly be considered for more than a few jobs this winter and his name has already popped up in rumors with the Mets, Blue Jays and Phillies.
Murray is currently the hitting coach for the Cleveland Indians and spent 21 seasons in the majors, tallying 504 home runs and nearly 2000 RBI en route to a 2003 Hall of Fame induction.
Willie Randolph might be the dark horse candidate this time around, serving as the Yankees bench coach this season. Randolph, 50, would be a viable candidate unless the Yankees go through the American League and get to the World Series. Such a run might make it tough for Randolph to interview for a managerial position, but if the opportunity arises, the M’s will likely fly in the six time all-star.
Randolph spent 18 years in the big leagues, 12 with the Yankees. The former second baseman is known as a player’s coach with a business-like approach that could translate well in a manager’s position.
As the off season progresses and the searchlight scours the league for the best candidates, many names will pop up as possibilities. Added to the previous group, Robin Yount, Chris Chambliss, Tom Kelly, and Cito Gaston will be mentioned.
Yount and Chambliss are the inexperienced types the M’s try and shy away from, though Chambliss has experience coaching and managing in the minors.
Kelly is unlikely to wander too far from his Minnesota roots, where he won two World Series and is still involved with the Twins organization.
Gaston hasn’t managed since 1997 but seems to find his way into the conversation for one or more job every off season. At last word, Gaston was not interested in returning to baseball in that capacity.
The Cream of the Crop
That leaves three of the most intriguing possibilities to be considered; Jim Tracy of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Phil Garner of the Houston Astros, and Anaheim Angels bench coach Joe Maddon
Maddon has been a finalist for a managerial position in the past, missing out on the Red Sox job when they hired Grady Little prior to the 2002 season, while Baylor, Williams, and Hargrove all had some success as a manager.
The 50-year-old Maddon will draw interest from several clubs and is thought to be at the top of the list for many general managers, despite never having managed in the big leagues.
The former catcher managed for six seasons in the minors and compiled a 279-339 record. His reputation as a conservative manager is superceded by his sabermetric expertise and a strong belief in its success.
Maddon will likely be among the top candidates when the smoke clears.
Tracy’s Dodgers are currently in the heat of a pennant race, leading the Giants and Padres by just a few games for the lead in the NL West, but his future with the club is at best a cloud of uncertainty.
The 48-year-old is in the final year of his contract with the Dodgers and new GM Paul Depodesta has not initiated any talks to extend Tracy’s contract beyond 2004. It’s known that most general managers like to hire their own manager and Depodesta could have someone else in mind for the long term of the Dodgers.
Tracy is 353-289 heading into the final week of his fourth season as the skipper in L.A. and would be the ideal type of tactician and strategist that the M’s could build a winner around.
Bavasi’s relationship with the Dodgers, as well as Tracy himself, could be a huge advantage should Tracy become available after the season.
Scrap Iron. That is what Phil Garner was called during his playing days with five different teams. The 55-year-old took over for the fired Jimy Williams over the all-star break this season and has led a .500 team at 44-44, to a 42-24 record in the second half of the season. The surge led the Astros back into the thick of the NL Wildcard race and improved Garner’s standing as a big league manager.
Garner compiled a 708-802 record with the Milwaukee Brewers and the Detroit Tigers from 1992-2002.
Scrap Iron’s hard-nosed approach to everything could be the kick in the pants that the Mariners roster needs to play up to and beyond their potential.
Houston would be wise to retain Garner, who has the ‘Stros playing hard and performing at the highest of levels night in and night out.
So with a little luck and some good old-fashioned interrogating, the M’s should have plenty of qualified candidates to choose their new manager from.
Let’s just hope Lincoln and Armstrong allow Bavasi to pick the best man for the job without a prerequisite qualification of being a company man.