Maybe it is coincidence or maybe it is serendipity, but three of the most high-profile manager jobs in the major leagues are currently open.
The Cardinals, despite winning the World Series last month, need a new skipper after Tony La Russa decided to retire following 33 years as a major-league manager. The Red Sox are in need of a manager after they and Terry Francona mutually agreed it was time for a change following a 7-20 September that included blowing a nine-game lead in the American League wild card race and starting pitchers hiding in the clubhouse while eating chicken and drinking beer. The Cubs are also in the market for a skipper after Theo Epstein jumped from the Red Sox to oversee the baseball operations and decided he wanted his own man rather than Mike Quade, a wonderful fellow, though overmatched.
So who is going to wind up landing these plum jobs? Let's handicap the three races—including only those candidates who have interviewed for the job or are expected to interview—strictly on gut instinct rather than through metrics or analysis. If you've ever seen me, then you know there should be a lot of instinct, because there is a lot of gut.
Terry Francona (8-5)—A legend like La Russa is a tough act to follow, but Francona just spent eight seasons managing the Red Sox and walked away looking like he had been on the job for 30 years. After surviving in that job for so long, reversing The Curse in 2004, then winning a second World Series in 2007, Francona is not only ready to replace the third-winningest manager in baseball history but to manage in a city where the media and fan base are a little more forgiving.
Jose Oquendo (7-2)—The Cardinals never had a plan of succession for when La Russa would eventually step down, but Oquendo has long been the coaching staff member seen as most likely to be a major-league manager someday. Oquendo has spent more than a decade as the Cardinals' third base coach, so he has already established relationships with the players and knows the personnel. There are some in the Cardinals organization who firmly believe that hiring Oquendo gives them the best chance of retaining free agent first baseman Albert Pujols. It's a pretty good idea to keep Albert happy.
Mike Matheny (6-1)—He has never managed on any level and serves as the Cardinals' minor-league catching instructor, but he was a fan favorite during his days as a player in St. Louis and is extremely well thought of in the organization. If La Russa were asked to make the decision, you can bet Matheny would be his choice.
Ryan Sandberg (8-1)—The Hall of Fame second baseman has developed a good reputation as a minor-league manager, spending this past season as the skipper with the Phillies' Triple-A Lehigh Valley farm club. The Cardinals could hire Sandberg just to tweak their archrival Cubs, who chose Quade over Sandberg last year and decided not even to interview him this time. However, it says here that Sandberg is next in line to manage the Phillies when Charlie Manuel retires.
Joe McEwing (10-1)—"Super Joe" will be the White Sox's third base coach next season, receiving a promotion from his post as manager of their Triple-A Charlotte farm club when Robin Ventura was hired to replace Ozzie Guillen as skipper last month. McEwing has wonderful people skills and a great grasp of running a game but would likely benefit from spending a few years coaching at the major-league level.
Chris Maloney (15-1)—He has a good reputation, but it's hard to imagine a World Series winner promoting a Triple-A manager who is a virtual unknown outside of the Cardinals' organization.
Dale Sveum (2-1)—The Red Sox present such a unique situation that having had experience as a coach in Boston is a real plus for Sveum, currently the Brewers' hitting coach, even if the Boston fans tried to boo him out of town for getting too many runners thrown out at home plate as the third base coach. Sveum has the right personality to be an effective manager for the Red Sox. He is old-school enough that he won't allow the shenanigans that went on late last season on Francona's watch but is a good communicator who connects with players. Little-remembered fact outside Milwaukee: Sveum managed the Brewers during the 2008 postseason after replacing Ned Yost, who was fired with two weeks left in the regular season.
Sandy Alomar Jr. (7-2)—The Indians bench coach has almost every quality you want in a major-league manager, as he knows the game, is smart, is a progressive thinker, communicates well with players and the media, and has the credibility of being of an All-Star catcher in his playing days. What he doesn't have, though, is managerial experience, and it's hard to see anyone stepping into this job without it, even someone as impressive as Alomar.
Torey Lovullo (4-1)—Coming off his first season as the first base coach with the Blue Jays, Lovullo is well thought of by the Red Sox, as he served as their Triple-A manager before going to Toronto. Lovullo has a great personality and a willingness to try new ideas. His biggest drawback is that he is very similar to Francona, and that's not what the Red Sox need following the embarrassing finish to the 2011 season.
Pete Mackanin (5-1)—On a personal level, I'm thrilled to see Mackanin getting interviewed because he's 60 years old and has never had a chance to manage at the major-league level despite building a good reputation during 42 years in the game. Don't let the age fool you, because Mackanin is open and accepting of new ideas and advanced statistical analysis. He also has a tremendously quirky sense of humor, but it probably wouldn't play so well in the Red Sox's situation.
Gene Lamont (6-1)—Talk about a guy who deserves another chance and has waited a long time. He was the American League Manager of the Year with the White Sox back in 1993, and one of the biggest mistakes the Pirates have made during their streak of 19 consecutive losing seasons was firing Lamont after the 2000 campaign. Unfortunately, this isn't the right fit. Lamont is an old-school guy, and the Red Sox are definitely a new-school organization.
Pete Mackanin (8-5)—Epstein has said he does not want to recreate The Boston Show with the Cubs, and that might bode well for Mackanin as an older candidate. In addition to the qualities he possesses that were mentioned above, Mackanin is a Chicago guy. It can't be understated how important knowing the history and culture is to the manager of a franchise that has been waiting 103 years for another World Series title.
Dale Sveum (5-2)—His familiarity with the National League Central has to be a bonus.
Mike Maddux (7-2)—Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer are two very intelligent men, and they will be blown away by Maddux's intelligence. He is unquestionably one of the game's best pitching coaches, and Bud Black and John Farrell have removed the stigma in recent seasons that pitching coaches can't make good managers. It also doesn't hurt that Maddux's brother, Greg, was one of the greatest pitchers in Cubs' history. One of Maddux's drawbacks is that he eschews the spotlight, since he would have no choice but to deal with the media on a daily basis should be become manager.
Alomar (8-1)—His day will come, just not this year.
Davey Martinez (10-1)—The Rays bench coach is the right-hand man of esteemed manager Joe Maddon, and he has become a hot name as a future managerial candidate. However, Martinez has never managed at any level. There is a school of thought among those who know him that Martinez would greatly benefit by spending another year or two next to Maddon in the dugout. He is also undergoing this strange mid-life "Davey crisis” after being known as Dave during his playing days. It's very, very similar to the transformation of Dave Johnson to Davey Johnson between his playing and managing days.
DeMarlo Hale (12-1)—The Boston’s bench coach is well-regarded, and there seems to be little doubt that he will eventually manage in the majors. However, it would be hard for Epstein to say he doesn't want The Boston Show and then hire someone from that organization just two months after the Red Sox's great collapse.