Indians Should Consider All Options During Managerial Search
By Mike Brandyberry
Last Thursday the Indians did the inevitable and fired Manager Manny Acta. While the timing may have been a little bizarre, with only six games remaining, the move itself had to be assumed by most Indians’ fans.
After being in first place after 70 games and only trailing by 3.5 games in the standings after a July 26 defeat of Justin Verlander, the team has spiraled to the bottom of the standings. While the team may not be the contender General Manager Chris Antonetti believed he built and told everyone when he opened his, “window of contention,” in July 2011, it also isn’t a last place team that will lose more than 90 games. This team was capable of more and in the end it cost Acta his job.
Now, Antonetti and the rest of the front office brass is left to find a manager to lead the 2013 team, a team that will likely have a different goal and direction than the one the 2012 team left Goodyear, Arizona with. Most likely veterans Shin-Soo Choo and Chris Perez will be traded for young players or prospects to be a part of a young core centered around Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana and Vinnie Pestano.
The signs are all there, 2013 is no longer a window of contention.
Antonetti and the front office certainly are taking this into account when selecting the new manager to lead the Indians. The immediate front runner is now, Interim Manager Sandy Alomar Jr. The Tribe legend from 1990-2000, played 20 seasons for seven different teams, including two trips to the World Series and six All-Star Games. He was the Major League catching instructor for two seasons with the New York Mets before joining Acta’s coaching staff in 2009 as the first base coach and this season progressed to be the skipper’s bench coach.
Alomar’s playing career, five years experience as a coach and dedication makes him a suitable leading candidate. If the Indians eventually decide to hire Alomar he could be a perfect fit for a team that will take a step back and begin to re-develop a young core with hopes of them growing up together and winning together, much like he did with Carlos Baerga, Kenny Lofton and Albert Belle in the early 1990s before finding mid-decade success.
However, the Indians need to make an extensive search and should look far and wide for the right fit, not just the easiest or most logical fit. Alomar’s voice and message could be too much like Acta’s, the man he learned under.
The immediate news and speculation points to former Boston Red Sox Manager Terry Francona being considered for the Indians’ job. Francona is a former special assistant to the Indians’ front office and played for the team in 1988 before managing in Philadelphia and Boston. Their interest in Francona is an obvious one, he led the Red Sox to two World Series rings in four years.
However, Francona took over a young, struggling team in Philadelphia and never saw prosperity. Not until the team signed Jim Thome and developed Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard did the team become a World Series contender and winner under Charlie Manuel. In Boston, Francona inherited a team just an inning away from the Fall Classic when Grady Little mismanaged the 2003 American League Championship Series. Francona was the final piece to a puzzle that was ready to win. The situation in Cleveland has many pieces to build before contention.
While Alomar may be the leading contender and Francona the big name or proven winner, hopefully the Indians are doing their due diligence and considering other possibilities like Ryne Sandberg or Dave Martinez.
Sandberg, a Hall of Fame second baseman with the Chicago Cubs in the 1980s and 90s, has the desire to manage in the big leagues. He returned to the minor leagues, managing in the Cubs organization beginning in 2007 and working his way to the Triple-A level in 2010 with the Cubs before being passed over for Chicago’s head job when they hired Mike Quade. Sandberg left the organization and has managed at Triple-A with the Phillies the last two seasons and is perceived as the heir apparent to Manuel when he retires.
But when Manuel retires, remains to be seen. Sandberg is already 53-years old and eager for his big league chance. He may be willing to listen to other options or offers. If Sandberg waits to inherit Maunel’s team, it may be at the end of Philadelphia’s run. A job in Cleveland could take advantage of his ability to grow and develop young players and create a team on the rise.
Finally, Martinez is Joe Maddon’s bench coach in Tampa Bay and has had several opportunities to interview for managerial positions but has yet to land a job. He was a 16-year Major Leaguer, most notably with the Cubs and White Sox but has learned under Maddon for the last five seasons. Large markets, like Boston, have tried on occasion to pry Maddon from the small market Rays, but to no avail.
Who better to take over a team with small market and attendance problems, than a man who has watched Maddon succeed with a team in a small market with attendance problems? The Rays are the current model for small market teams and how to compete in an imperfect system. The spirit Maddon generates is infectious and something Martinez must respect and embrace, while the organization’s ability to assess and develop young talent is something the Indians must improve.
To date, the Indians have only publicly discussed Alomar and Francona and while the fan favorite or big name may be the leading contenders, the Indians must leave no stone unturned in their search for a manager. The current formula has not been successful and a new outlook and perspective on an organization that needs life could be just what the organization needs.
Photo: Yong Kim/Philadelphia Daily News