Change in store on top dugout step: Dozens of manage changes could be in works this winter

By Janie Mccauley, AP
Saturday, September 18, 2010

Managers across baseball could be switching places

SAN FRANCISCO — From the Bronx to Chavez Ravine, from Lake Michigan north to Toronto, managers across the majors could be on the move this winter.

Free agency for skippers? That very well might be the case in what is shaping up to be a busy offseason of switcheroos for the men who write the lineups and make their home on that top dugout step.

“It looks that way,” said outgoing Dodgers manager Joe Torre, who announced Friday he will retire after the season. “There have been an awful lot of changes, and changes you really didn’t anticipate.”

There could be managerial openings on a third of the clubs this offseason. Dusty Baker, Joe Girardi, Tony La Russa, Ozzie Guillen, Jerry Manuel and other big names are managing over the season’s final weeks with their futures uncertain — though some likely will stay put.

While 14 skippers were in the final year of their contracts this year, Oakland’s Bob Geren already had his club option exercised for 2011. And Ron Washington of the AL West-leading Rangers has been told by the Texas brass he’ll be back.

Second-year Milwaukee skipper Ken Macha recently met with general manager Doug Melvin, but has no idea if he will return to the Brewers in 2011. Macha points to a “reluctance” by teams to sign managers to long-term contracts.

More experienced managers command hefty paychecks, too. Continuity is no longer a top priority for bosses around the league, as some teams search for a quick fix to win right now.

“I think over the 18 years our ownership group has been here, as the stakes have increased in the sport — however you want to define that, average salaries, whatever — the scrutiny of managers has increased pretty dramatically,” San Francisco Giants team president Larry Baer said. “From a front-office perspective, you’re constantly evaluating and from the perspective of the manager, say a manager who could be in demand, he’s constantly evaluating where he might go. There might be a better situation.”

Bruce Bochy is doing fine managing the Giants — in his fourth season, he had them in the NL West lead on Saturday.

Lou Piniella retired from the Cubs last month, and Bobby Cox of the Braves and the Blue Jays’ Cito Gaston plan to do the same after the season. The 65-year-old La Russa’s contract is up.

“There’s going to be a lot of movement in the managerial ranks this year — more than just myself, Cito, Lou and Joe — from what I understand,” Cox said Saturday. “It’ll be interesting to see how it falls into place. But on the other side, it’s sad to get, you know — some of these guys are going to be fired. You hate to see that. It’s not always their fault at all. But, you know, everybody wants to make changes and they do.”

Torre is 70 and while he still loves it, he realizes he wasn’t able to get through to his players and correct problems this season the way he used to. He got a fresh start and found success with the Dodgers after more than a decade of pressure-packed days with the Yankees.

“I know Lou has been hinting about this and Bobby announced it and I’ve been sort of holding everybody hostage,” Torre said. “Some of the other changes I think surprised a lot of people. It will be interesting to see who lands where.”

Torre and Cox have talked repeatedly about moving on from managing — and how hard that choice is, or actually following through with it.

“It’s tough to get out of your system,” said Torre, who hasn’t ruled out managing again.

Perhaps with the Mets? Torre played his final three seasons with them and would come full circle back to the other New York team. It’s not a far-fetched thought if Manuel is out.

“Well, Joe left the door open a little bit,” Cox said. “Joe’s still a young 70.”

“I’m proud to be a part of Lou and Joe’s careers, managing against them, and they’re class guys, they’re great managers,” he said.

As for dugout newcomers, “I’ll be pulling for anybody that gets a shot at it,” Cox said. “Tough racket.”

“I don’t know what information you can pass along. Have patience, is one,” he said.

The Dodgers are replacing Torre with hitting coach Don Mattingly, giving him his first managerial job. Torre all but anointed Mattingly his successor from Day 1 in Dodger Blue. The Dodgers are dealing with the ugly divorce of owner Frank McCourt and former Dodgers CEO Jamie McCourt, so finances certainly came into play when making the decision to go with Mattingly over a high-profile, experienced skipper.

“There seems potentially to be a lot more openings than in the past,” Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. “It goes in cycles a little bit. We’re pretty clear on what we’re doing. I’m sure for the teams that are contemplating change or have contracts that are up, there are probably a lot of conversations going on.”

Baker has a multiyear contract extension offer on the table from the Reds. Things have worked well there for him and his team is in first place, so he very well might stay despite being so far from his native California.

Macha points to a group of 60-something managers and the efforts by at least some clubs to go younger — which typically also means a lower salary.

“You’ve got guys who are a little older — you’ve got Piniella, you’ve got Torre and Bobby Cox, they’ve been around a long time. It’s natural that’s going to happen. They’re not going to manage until they’re 80 years old,” said Macha, who turns 60 later this month. “Everybody’s in this age range. It’s time to go younger. Why not get a younger guy? To me that’s logical.”

Many figure Cubs GM Jim Hendry will promote Triple-A Iowa manager Ryne Sandberg to big league skipper. The 51-year-old Sandberg is a Hall of Famer loved during 15 seasons as the Cubs’ popular second baseman.

Yet there are so many ifs, ands and buts involved in lots of these cases. Does Arizona keep interim manager Kirk Gibson? Has the outspoken Guillen finally worn out his welcome with the White Sox, despite winning a World Series? Will La Russa follow the others and walk away?

Whatever happens in all these places around the league, it’s safe to say a large number of managers are looking to finish strong in the season’s final weeks — for some not only to make a push for the playoffs but also to lock up jobs for next year. Somewhere.

“I think it’s going to be as different an offseason as ever,” Gaston said Saturday. “It would be a good time to be a manager.”

Skippers could still make a case to their club to keep them, or leave an impression on another team. They all know there should be ample opportunities up for grabs.

“Managers’ salaries have gone up pretty considerably in the last couple decades,” the Giants’ Baer said. “Those stakes are higher for the manager. We feel pretty blessed that this is our 18th year and we’ve only had three managers. The other sort of X-factor is there are teams that are doing GM searches. You’ve got to get the GM in place before you get the manager in place. So, if the GM is uncertain the manager is really uncertain.”

Piniella left the Cubs last month earlier than planned so he could return to Tampa, Fla., to help care for his ailing mother.

Torre’s immediate family — and Colletti — knew of his plans before he made them public Friday. One thing he knows is he will stay involved in the game. Maybe returning to the broadcast booth at some point.

“Everybody is assuming I’m not coming back, which is the fun part,” Torre joked this week before making it official.

He then turned serious about his mark on the sport. He will reflect more on his career down the road.

“I just hope people feel they got their money’s worth,” Torre said.

AP Sports Writer Mike Fitzpatrick and AP Freelance Writer Ken Powtak contributed to this report.

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