The next trend in hiring managers could be a doozy.
Hall of Fame shortstops, anyone?
Barry Larkin appears to stand a better chance of becoming the next manager of the Cincinnati Reds than Cal Ripken does of becoming the next manager of the Washington Nationals. But both ideas, at the very least, are intriguing.
Nats officials, at least for the moment, say that manager Matt Williams is safe — the team is not contemplating a change at the end of the season and not considering Ripken as a replacement. The Nats, however, trail the Mets by 5½ games and Williams is struggling to maintain the confidence of his players, other major-league sources said.
The Reds, tied for last in the NL Central, have started rookie pitchers in 26 straight games, something for which manager Bryan Price is not responsible. But how exactly will the Reds sell tickets next season if they trade closer Aroldis Chapman and right fielder Jay Bruce — or for that matter, even if they do not?
John Maroon, a spokesman for Ripken, said, “Nobody has contacted him so there is nothing to consider. If someone were to contact him he might have something to say but as of now this is all media speculation.”
Ripken, however, recently confirmed to ESPN 980 Radio in Washington that he had “serious discussions” with the Nationals about managing before they hired Williams during the 2013-14 offseason, adding, “it never really got down to the point of choice.”
Rizzo is fond of Ripken, sources say. So is Nats principal owner Mark Lerner, the son of managing principal owner Ted Lerner. The Nats selected Ripken’s son, Ryan, in the 15th round of the 2014 draft.
None of that, however, means the team is ready to consider Ripken as manager. Some club officials attribute the team’s disappointing season to a series of injuries to key players; the Nats’ lineup was whole for the first time on Tuesday night, and the team thrashed the Padres, 8-3.
Williams, though, upset left fielder Jayson Werth on Saturday after failing to include the veteran in his initial lineup, sources said. The two spoke, Williams inserted Werth into the lineup, and Werth went 2 for 4 with an RBI in the Nats’ 6-1 victory over the Brewers.
The incident with Werth might have stemmed from nothing more than Williams trying to take extra care with a player who recently missed more than two months with a left wrist contusion. Werth had similar blowups with the team’s previous managers, Davey Johnson and Jim Riggleman, sources said. But Williams’ problems with his players extend beyond Werth, according to others with knowledge of the situation.
Ripken, during his radio interview last week, said, “I think the world of Mike Rizzo. I think he has done a fantastic job. I like how he thinks. I like how he talks. If you’re looking at a potential position, who wouldn’t want their first managing job with a team built the way it was built? It was interesting discussions.”
Does Ripken want to manage?
“I’ll be 55 this month,” he said (Ripken’s birthday was Monday). “If you look at the stages of your life, that’s not old by any standards, so there’s an opening for a lot of things left in my life, and maybe that’s one of them.”
Ripken, if he chose to manage, almost certainly would prefer to stay close to his home in Maryland rather than move to say, the Midwest or West. But the Orioles, for whom he played exclusively from 1981 to 2001, are not expected to replace Buck Showalter anytime soon. And the Nationals, if they dismissed Williams, might not want another first-time manager.
Williams is one of a number of former players who became managers without any previous experience in the position. Unlike most of those managers, Ripken is not recently retired; his last season was 2001. And unlike Twins manager and fellow Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, who retired in ’98, Ripken has not apprenticed as a coach. Still, Ripken as a player had one of the game’s keenest minds, and he has stayed in touch with the majors as a broadcaster for TBS.
In any case, the sight of Ripken in anything other than a Baltimore uniform almost certainly would be jarring to Orioles fans, who took pride in the fact he spent his entire playing career with his hometown team.
Larkin would face no such conflicts if he became manager of the Reds; it would be the equivalent of Ripken taking over the Orioles. Larkin, a native of Cincinnati, spent his entire playing career with the Reds, from 1986 to 2004.
Talk at the All-Star break that Larkin could replace Price before the end of the season proved unfounded. But Larkin in recent months has surveyed former Reds teammates about whether they would join his coaching staff if he became manager, sources said.
The Reds are in a period of transition, “rebooting” with younger players. The recent trades of pitchers Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake and outfielder Marlon Byrd were the first steps in that process. Chapman and Bruce could be the next to go; the team is expected to revisit the possibilities of moving them this offseason.
The question for the Reds then will become if they want Price to remain their manager through such a phase, or if they prefer a fresh hire. Larkin, who managed Brazil in the most recent World Baseball Classic and currently serves the Reds as a roving instructor, would be the obvious and perhaps only choice for a new manager.
Both Price and GM Walt Jocketty are under contract only through 2016. Jocketty, who has made a series of well-regarded trades in the past nine months, is close with owner Bob Castellini and likely will remain in his position.
Price, completing his second season as manager after four years as the Reds’ pitching coach, is a different question. Castellini might not want to replace him when he has a year left on his contract. But the Reds’ current homestand, in which they’ve averaged crowds of 25,981 over eight dates, could be a glimpse of the team’s near future.
Since 2013, the Reds’ average attendance has been slightly more than 30,000 and ranked in the top half in the majors. But the team will lack the attraction of hosting the All-Star Game next season and likely will field a roster that is not expected to contend.
Managers generally do not sell tickets, but the hiring of Larkin would figure to be a marketing coup at a time when the Reds also expect to sign a new local television contract, replacing the current deal that expires after ‘16.
Ripken, likewise, would be marketing gold in Washington.
Two potential openings. Two Hall of Fame shortstops.