La Russa will have options, if he wants them

A year from now, four marquee franchises — the Braves, Cubs, Mets and Dodgers — all could have managerial openings.

Tony La Russa isn’t likely to be interested.

Bobby Valentine might be.

La Russa, 65, currently is deciding whether he wants to return to the Cardinals. He does not sound enthused about starting over with another club.

If La Russa manages next season, it will be with the Cardinals. And even if he signs only a one-year contract, he probably would be unwilling to accept a multi-year deal with another club next winter.

“Looking ahead, I don’t see that I can ever make that commitment to someone,” La Russa said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “The way I look at it now, when it’s time to get off the field, I’ll be all fired up to get involved with a team upstairs (in the front office) somewhere.

“I don’t know if anyone wants to bring you over for one year and that year only. Right now my concentration is on giving the Cardinals an answer before long about 2010. That’s enough to consider. I don’t go beyond that.”

Valentine, one of four finalists for the Indians, is in a different situation. He might not get the Indians’ job. He also might not want it, considering the other options that are bound to become available.

The Braves’ Bobby Cox and Dodgers’ Joe Torre plan to retire after next season. The Cubs’ Lou Piniella could do the same. The Mets’ Jerry Manuel, entering the final year of his contract, will be in immediate jeopardy.

Maybe none of those clubs would want Valentine, but it’s difficult to believe that he would not get at least one offer from that group, plus others. The Marlins, in particular, might call again. And heaven knows what other jobs could open.

For now, the Indians could represent a sure thing, and Valentine might be a difference-maker in the mediocre AL Central. But Bobby V need not jump if the Indians make an offer that is not to his liking. And he need not fret if they choose someone else.

He can remain an ESPN analyst next season, catching up on the majors after managing the past six years in Japan.

If the right opportunity arose, he would be ready to pounce.

Tug of war over Acta?

Acta not only is a finalist for the Indians, but also a leading candidate for the Astros. The Indians are not likely to alter their process because of the Astros’ interest. But Astros owner Drayton McLane might react to the Indians’ pursuit.

The competition for Acta is reminiscent of the battle between the Rangers and Orioles for Phil Regan after the 1994 season. The Orioles’ interest in Regan only intensified after club officials learned that Regan also was a target of the Rangers and their new general manager, former O’s exec Doug Melvin.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos, fearing he might lose Regan, would not let him leave Baltimore without a contract. McLane is the same type of owner that Angelos was then — intrusive, competitive, prone to impulse.

Make no mistake, McLane is calling the shots for the Astros, along with team president Tal Smith. Jim Fregosi, believed to be a preferred candidate of GM Ed Wade, is not even getting an interview.

Acta, who began his career with the Astros and spent 16 years in the organization, told reporters that rejoining the team would be “too good to be true.” The Indians, however, are a far more stable operation.

Dodgers bench coach Don Mattingly and Indians Class AAA manager Torey Lovullo are the Indians’ other finalists.

Red Sox first base coach Tim Bogar and former Astros manager Phil Garner also are in the mix for the Astros. Several other candidates, including former Brewers manager Ned Yost and former D-backs and Mariners manager Bob Melvin, are said to have interviewed well.

Jaramillo a nice addition

Former Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo might be a steal for the Cubs, even at more than $800,000 per season over three years.

Players rave about Jaramillo, and an executive who knows him well says that Jaramillo works hard, instills confidence in hitters and excels with mechanics.

Another exec says that Jaramillo also relates exceptionally well to Latin players — good news for the Cubs, who need left fielder Alfonso Soriano and catcher Geovany Soto to bounce back from subpar seasons.

Holliday vs. Teixeira: A quick primer

Agent Scott Boras caused a stir earlier this week when he compared his next big free agent, left fielder Matt Holliday, to his last big one, first baseman Mark Teixeira, calling both “blue-collar superstars” in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

Holliday’s park-adjusted career OPS is a tick below Teixeira’s, according to But Holliday, 29, is one year older than Teixeira was as a free agent. Teixeira is a switch-hitter and far better defender. He also was a proven hitter in both leagues by the time he hit the open market

Holliday, on the other hand, performed below his usual standards with the A’s this season, and re-established his value only after returning to the National League with the Cardinals.

It remains to be seen whether interested AL clubs such as the Angels and Red Sox will view Holliday’s stint with the A’s as an anomaly or pursue him as vigorously as they might have otherwise.

Around the Horn

Multiple teams are in contact the Cubs about outfielder Milton Bradley, with one source saying, “You would be shocked at the level of interest.”

The Cubs remain confident that they can trade Bradley without assuming the vast majority of the $21 million remaining on his contract over the next two years.

New owner Tom Ricketts has set a limit for how much money the Cubs will include in a deal, one source says. The Cubs can take back a contract but pay only a fixed amount of cash.

  • Former Padres GM Kevin Towers attended Game 4 of the ALCS as the guest of White Sox executive Dennis Gilbert, who is leading one of the groups that is trying to buy the Rangers.

    Towers likely will end up in an advisory role with the Yankees or Red Sox after the winter meetings, but still wants to be a GM Gilbert’s ties with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf — and, by extension, commissioner Bud Selig — could boost his group’s bid.

    Gilbert has vast experience in the game — he was a top agent before he became an executive.

  • Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia gave a terrific answer Wednesday when a reporter asked him what he might say to Indians fans about a potential Sabathia-Cliff Lee matchup in Game 1 of the World Series.

    “I don’t know what to tell ’em,” Sabathia said. “It’s not our fault.”

    The Indians traded Sabathia to the Brewers last season and Lee to the Phillies this season.

  • Finally, here is how Yankees GM Brian Cashman responded when I asked him Wednesday if he ever imagined that Alex Rodriguez would rebound this strongly from the lowpoint of his career — his admission of past steroid use last spring.

    “The way life can be, I know anything is possible,” Cashman said. “In tough, difficult times, if given a chance, things can turn around for you. There is always hope that tomorrow might bring a better day.

    “As tough a time as that was for Alex and the organization, it makes everyone appreciate how far he has come and what he has fought through, in life and his career.”