Experience not big factor in latest managerial hires
The Washington Nationals are on the verge of naming D-backs third base coach Matt Williams as their new manager, according to MLB.com’s Bill Ladson, which continues an interesting early trend among the five managerial openings.
Of the two hires so far — the Reds promoting pitching coach Bryan Price and now the Nats closing in on Williams (pictured at right) — neither involves a man with previous Major League managerial experience even though those are two contending teams with high expectations.
Maybe it’s the available crop, or the realization that an untested skipper like Mike Matheny — who spent two years as a roving Minor League instructor with the Cardinals before getting his shot — has done just fine in getting the Cardinals to the World Series.
For whatever reason, there doesn’t seem to be a big push for any of the remaining teams — the Mariners, Cubs or Tigers — to chase even after Dusty Baker, the biggest-named available skipper after he was fired by the Reds.
The Tigers have interviewed Lloyd McClendon, who previously managed the Pirates, but has been Jim Leyland’s hitting coach in Detroit since 2006. They appear in the likeliest position to pursue a proven skipper, given their playoff success and position to continue challenging in the American League in the immediate future, but among the names brought up as potential Tigers candidates is former catcher Brad Ausmus.
Ausmus has never managed or coached at any level, but has been in the Padres front office since retiring in 2010. There appears to be mutual interest between the Mariners and Ausmus as well, but these things are hard to gauge and GM Jack Zduriencik has been talking to numerous people this week in Arizona.
Zduriencik is returning to Seattle this weekend and will be the keynote speaker on Saturday night at an American Legion Hall of Fame Induction event at the SeaTac Marriott, then will return to Arizona to continue interviews and watch the Mariners’ Arizona Fall League club.
Among the people Zduriencik has interviewed this week are A’s bench coach Chip Hale and Padres bench coach Rick Renteria. Those are just the names that have come out so far, but both are well respected in baseball circles as bright coaches with good leadership and communication skills and knowledge of the game.
Renteria is regarded by many as the top contender for the Cubs opening and he has a past relationship with Cubs GM Jed Hoyer, who was previously in San Diego.
But the Cubs are keeping things open as well and word emerged Friday that Eric Wedge will interview with them next week, as reported here by my colleague Carrie Muskat from MLB.com. Wedge is one of the most-experienced names being tossed around, given his 10 years as skipper of the Indians and Mariners. It will be interesting to see how he’s perceived as a candidate, coming off his abrupt departure following three losing seasons in Seattle.
My sense is the Mariners will join the Nats and Reds in hiring a fresh face, someone with some coaching background at the Major League level who can grow with a young club. Hale and Renteria fit that mold. So might Dodgers third base coach Tim Wallach or Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo. Or a number of other smart baseball men who are just waiting for their chance after working in the background for a few years.
These kind of candidates don’t appease fans who want a proven commodity. But it’s worth remembering that proven commodities don’t always win. In fact, they’re only available because they got fired elsewhere. As much as fans clamor for a proven guy like Lou Piniella, even Piniella was 519-578 in seven seasons with the Rays and Cubs after leaving Seattle.
Piniella won in Seattle with the right combination of players. A good manager can make a difference, but the biggest key for any club is the talent level of its athletes. Finding the right leader to put those players in positions to succeed, develop and get the most out of their abilities is part of the equation.
But as Matheny has shown in St. Louis, there isn’t one right or wrong type of manager. The key isn’t finding the biggest available name. It’s finding the right man for the job. The Reds, after winning 90 games last year, are turning the ship over to Price for his first run at anything more than pitching coach. The Nats, after winning 86 games, are turning to Williams, who has four years as a base coach with the D-backs and six weeks of Arizona Fall League managerial duty on his resume.
We’ll see in the next week or two if Zduriencik follows a similar path.