Most off-seasons are headlined by free agency. This one is no exception. The difference this season lies with the managers. There are three vacancies at the helm of some high-profile clubs. Unlike other managerial hunts for teams like the Nationals, Marlins, A's, and Astros, this hunt features some of the most coveted positions in baseball.
The Chicago Cubs, The St. Louis Cardinals, and the Boston Red Sox are all looking for new managers. The Cubs just fired Mike Quade today. Tony LaRussa announced his retirement Monday. Terry Francona left Boston shortly after the Red Sox implosion at the end of September. Three big name ball clubs are now searching for replacements.
The Cubs and Theo Epstein announced their next manager would need to have prior coaching or managerial experience on the big-league level. Whether this will be the case when the new manager is ultimately hired remains to be seen. People say things all the time, then change their minds. However, limiting the search to people with Major League experience is the right move for Chicago. The emotional, fan-driven reaction would be to hire Ryne Sandberg. Sandberg is a fan favorite and is currently managing in Triple-A, but he is wrong for Chicago with Theo Epstein as the team President and Jed Hoyer as the GM. Theo Epstein knows what type of manager he wants. Jed Hoyer knows what type of manager can get the best out of the talent currently available. Theo worked with Terry Francona, and together they saw unparalleled success in Boston. Jed Hoyer watched Bud Black lead the Padres, with no real contributors outside Adrian Gonzalez, to 90 wins in 2010. He followed that up to a decent 2011 considering this team didn't even have Adrian Gonzalez. The Cubs don't need a rookie at the big-league level leading the club. They need someone with experience who can coexist with Epstein's and Hoyer's player-evaluation methods, out-of-the-box thinking, and potential meddling. Sandberg is not that person.
Sandberg may, however, be the person to take over St. Louis. Reports started popping up today that the Cardinals had asked the Phillies (the host club of the Minor League affiliate Sandberg manages) if they could interview Sandberg. Perhaps these reports were designed to drive Cubs' fans crazy after they heard Epstein all but shoot down the idea of Sandberg ever coming to Chicago. Perhaps they are legitimate. Either way, Sandberg is a better fit in St. Louis. The club is already built for success, even without Pujols. In fact, should Sandberg take of and Pujols sign elsewhere, Sandberg would have a built in safety net for expectations of the 2012 season. If they don't succeed, 'Hey, Sandberg is new and he didn't even have Pujols.' If they do succeed, 'Hey, this Sandberg guy can even win without Pujols.' Obviously the dynamic changes a bit if Pujols returns, but Sandberg would be a good fit in St. Louis regardless.
The Red Sox remain the mystery. All three of these clubs have been linked to the same available names and faces. Yet, the Red Sox have not even hinted what direction they may go. Filling Francona's shoes will be difficult. He won two World Series, made the play-offs five times, and was a well-liked manager in Boston. Whoever takes over will have his work cut out for him. The Red Sox are dealing with drama from all angles. They will have to rebuild from more than just a personnel standpoint. Clubhouse cohesiveness will need to be addressed. This may not be the most desirable job out there.
Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder may dominate the off-season headlines, but filling managerial openings with these three clubs could be bigger news. The Cubs are on a quest to overwrite history and win a World Series. The Cardinals are looking to turn the page. And the Red Sox are just trying to recover. One of the more interesting off-seasons in recent memory is ahead of us following one of the more interesting postseasons.
Baseball is good.