Reds' focus is on the present
The sound of silence surrounding manager Dusty Baker’s future in Cincinnati says plenty.
Baker is in the final year of his contract, but it is no big deal.
Baker and general manager Walt Jocketty’s focus is on the present. They are putting their efforts into giving the Reds the best chance possible to win the NL Central, where it has become a two-team race between Baker’s Reds and his one-time manager, Tony La Russa, and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Baker’s future is with the Reds. He knows it. Jocketty knows it.
There are plenty of other managerial situations to debate so Baker’s situation in Cincinnati doesn’t have to become the soap opera that Baker had to live through back in his San Francisco managerial experience.
Baseball is awaiting the July 31 deadline for non-waiver trades, has not even reached the dog days of August and is still only wondering what might happen in the September stretch drive, but it already has become clear that the offseason will be as much about managerial maneuvering as free agent signings and trades.
Before the season began, managers Bobby Cox in Atlanta and Cito Gaston in Toronto eliminated speculation by announcing their retirement, effective at the end of this season. This week, Lou Piniella of the Chicago Cubs echoed the decisions of Cox and Gaston.
Los Angeles manager Joe Torre has dropped hints that he’s ready to pack his bags, too, but in the aftermath of Piniella’s decision, Torre said he wants another month or so before making any decision.
Baltimore, Florida, Arizona and Kansas City already fired their managers, and brought in interim replacements, which means they will be re-assessing their managerial situation by season’s end.
In addition to Baker, La Russa, Ron Washington in Texas and Joe Girardi with the New York Yankees are in the final years of their contracts. Bob Geren in Oakland, Ken Macha in Milwaukee, Jerry Manuel with the New York Mets and John Russell in Pittsburgh have club options for 2011, and it wouldn’t be a shocker if none of the four teams opted to exercise the options.
That’s 16 of the 30 managerial jobs in which contract decisions have to be made.
The biggest question in Cincinnati will be how to handle compensation for Baker, who is in the final year of a three-year, $10.5 million deal, a rich managerial salary for a team that is in one of the game’s smaller markets. Both sides are going to have to be flexible to work out a deal that will serve each other’s needs.
The fact that neither side is making an issue about Baker’s future shows a respect that both sides have for each other, and the fact that neither wants to create an unnecessary distraction for a young team with a legitimate chance to win a division.
Between the lines, however, as Baker addresses his managerial experiences, it is apparent that he has found happiness in Cincinnati. He talks about having a veteran team in San Francisco, and dealing with the distractions in Chicago, where each manager is seemingly held responsible for more than a century of failure. And then he smiles when the discussion turns to the Reds.
"This is a young team," he said. "It’s the kind of team I like. There are so many factors that managers don’t really pick their teams very often."
It’s not like Baker had carte blanche in putting the Reds roster together. But it is obvious that he likes what the Reds are all about.
"As a manager, you like the challenge of taking a young team and teaching it how to win," Baker said. "I had a lot of people who helped me along the way."
It is an impressive list that Baker will reel off when he talks about those who impacted his career, starting with Hank Aaron, who provided guidance to the rookie Baker in Atlanta, to Dodger teammates, such as Reggie Smith and Steve Garvey, to his former managers, including Tommy Lasorda with the Dodgers, La Russa in Oakland and Roger Craig, who managed San Francisco when Baker began his coaching career, to his original bench coach with the Giants, Bob Lillis.
"Now, maybe I can repay the help I received by providing a foundation for others,’’ Baker said.
With the Reds there is talent to mold. It extends past a big league roster that includes young talent like first baseman Joey Votto, outfielders Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs and Chris Heisey, starting pitchers Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Edinson Volquez and the lefty, Travis Wood.
And the word among scouts and execs is the Reds’ have more young talent than any organization at Triple-A Louisville, including Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman, who is adjusting to the bullpen with the idea he could provide help in the next couple of weeks.
It is that kind of young talent, nurtured by Baker that dives the Reds reason to feel things are changing for a franchise that hasn’t had a winning record in a decade, made a postseason appearance in 15 years, or won a world championship in 20 years.
Gaston has a strong relationship with the Blue Jays front office and he has given an endorsement to Rockies hitting coach Don Baylor to replace him as the Toronto manager. Baylor was the original manager in Colorado and also managed the Cubs.
San Diego bench coach Ted Simmons name has surfaced as a managerial candidate in Florida. The challenge will be owner Jeffrey Loria, who is starstruck and has indicated he wants someone with big-league managerial experience.
Simmons, however, would be an interesting fit with a small market team in that he was a general manager who dealt with tight budgets in Pittsburgh, was an All-Star catcher who was slighted in Hall of Fame consideration, has been a farm director and a scout, as well as a bench coach.
Other names to keep in mind with the Marlins include Philadelphia coach Pete Mackanin, who did a solid job as the interim manager in the final months in Cincinnati in 2007, and Atlanta special assistant Jim Fregosi, whom Loria may see as a Jack McKeon-type. In 2003, Loria fired Jeff Torborg midseason and McKeon rallied the franhcise to a world championship.
Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg would seem a lock with the Cubs. Told he needed to get dugout experience, Sandberg now is in his fourth year managing in the minors, including the first two years at the Single-A level, but has impressed observers with his passion in the dugout.
A sleeper would be Girardi, a former Cubs catcher who attended Northwestern and native of Peoria, Ill., although in light of last year’s world championship and the strong play of the Yankees this year it is hard to think he would walk away.
Fired Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez is the expected heir to Cox in Atlanta, although Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton has made his interest in the job known.
If Torre retires it will be interesting to watch the power struggle at Dodger Stadium. Torre is a big believer in hitting coach Don Mattingly. Special adviser Tommy Lasorda is pushing Triple-A Albuquerque manager Tim Wallach for a big-league job.
Even before San Diego became the surprise in baseball, it was apparent that new general manager Jed Hoyer had a special respect for Buddy Bell, the manager Hoyer inherited, and the manager who was given a three-year extension this week.
When Boston was involved in the managerial search that resulted in hiring Terry Francona, Black was the pitching coach with the Angels, and declined to be a candidate.
Hoyer was a member of the Red Sox front office at the time, was impressed with Black’s resume, and that was reinforced when he took the Padres job, and both Francona and Boston pitching coach John Farrell, who played with Black in Cleveland, gave Black glowing recommendations.
This spring, Hoyer, without prodding, admitted his strong impression of Black, talking about the manager’s calm demeanor being critical in helping young players develop confidence and also pointing to Black’s ability to analyze situations and put together a long-range plan.