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Thursday, June 19, 2008
Updated: June 26, 9:17 AM ET
Plenty of options for GM, managerial openings

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

The Mets will be looking for a manager this winter. You might have heard something about that this week.

The Mariners, meanwhile, will be searching for a manager and a general manager this winter. You might have caught wind of those, too.

And they may not be alone, given that five teams with $100 million payrolls currently reside on the wrong side of the .500 equator.

Well, if they're shopping, they'll need a shopping list. So Rumblings and Grumblings is here to help, with our handy-dandy list of some of the best manager/general-manager candidates they'll find on the market this winter:

The GM shopping list

• The all-stars (Brian Cashman, Theo Epstein, Kevin Towers): Cashman and Epstein are both in the last year of their respective contracts, so you never know. Towers has done terrific work in San Diego for 13 seasons. But even though he just signed an extension through 2010, there are persistent rumblings that he has lost clout in the Sandy Alderson era and might be willing to listen to inquiries from a place like Seattle. Stay tuned.

• Ghost of Mariners past (Pat Gillick): Gillick has already announced he's retiring after this season. But it's hard not to notice that he's been hedging just enough lately to leave his options open. And he's long had a soft spot for his previous destination, plus he has a home near Seattle and an unusually high level of interest in the state of the franchise. So don't count out a return to some sort of high-ranking position, even though the official title might not read "general manager."

• The Seattle Alumni Club (Dan Evans, Dan Jennings): The highly regarded Evans was the runner-up when Gillick was hired in 1999, then later spent three years (2005 to 2007) as Bill Bavasi's right-hand man before departing this winter to lead West Coast Sports Management, his own player-agent group. He's not looking to leave that job, but he has enough affection for the city and organization that nothing is impossible. Jennings, meanwhile, is a vice president of player personnel for the Marlins, and the club has such a high regard for his evaluation skills that it keeps bumping up his paycheck and title to discourage him from leaving. But he once spent seven years working in the Mariners' scouting department and might emerge as a great fit for his old team.

TRIVIALITY

Of the 18 active managers who have managed as many games as Willie Randolph (555), only four had a better lifetime winning percentage than Randolph had the day he got fired (.544). Can you name them? (Answer later.)

• The GM Alumni Club (Gerry Hunsicker, Wayne Krivsky, Jim Duquette, Paul DePodesta): Hunsicker seems unlikely to give up a tremendous gig in Tampa Bay. Krivsky deserves another chance after dramatically upgrading the Reds' talent pool. Duquette was undermined by office politics in both Flushing Meadows and Baltimore. And DePodesta is a bright, creative guy who ought to get a mulligan one of these days, because he did make the playoffs in his only full season with the Dodgers.

• Great scouting minds (Logan White, Mike Arbuckle, Tony LaCava, Mike Rizzo, Chuck McMichael, Mike Radcliff, Damon Oppenheimer, Al Avila, Jack Zduriencik): This could be a much longer list. But the impacts that White (Dodgers), Arbuckle (Phillies), LaCava (Blue Jays), Rizzo (Diamondbacks and now Nationals), McMichael (Braves), Radcliff (Twins), Oppenheimer (Yankees), Avila (Tigers) and Zduriencik (Brewers) have had on their franchises have been as good as they get. So something is wrong if all nine don't get serious GM consideration.

• Rising stars (Chris Antonetti, Jed Hoyer, Ben Cherington, David Forst, Peter Woodfork, Jerry DiPoto, Ruben Amaro Jr., Kim Ng, Bill Geivett): This sport has never teemed as much with sharp, ingenious assistant GMs who think about baseball in ways that Paul Owens, Bob Howsam and Calvin Griffith never contemplated. So a team looking for a fresh start should look at everyone in this group. Antonetti is Mark Shapiro's designated heir in Cleveland, so he probably isn't going anywhere. But the talents of Hoyer (Red Sox), Cherington (Red Sox), Forst (A's), Woodfork (Diamondbacks), DiPoto (Diamondbbacks), Amaro (Phillies), Ng (Dodgers) and Geivett (Rockies) are so highly thought of that each of them should wind up on somebody's interview list.

The managerial shopping list

• The stalwarts (Bobby Valentine, Jim Fregosi, Buck Showalter, Ken Macha, Bob Brenly, Jim Tracy): It's hard to envision Bobby V would get his old Mets job back, but let's just say you'll read his name in some tabloid near you. Fregosi would love another chance, and his Mets roots would make him an intriguing name in Queens. Showalter has too brilliant a managerial brain to sit on the "Baseball Tonight" set forever. But his next job "should probably be a young team," said one AL executive. "Most of his challenges seem as if they've been interacting with veterans." Macha, Brenly and Tracy have all won, have all gotten fired and have all had trouble getting interviews since the gong sounded. But no shopping list would be complete without them.

• Joey Cora: The White Sox bench coach is a name already bouncing around the Mets' rumor mill -- and not just because he's from the same town (Caguas, Puerto Rico) as the Mets' VP for player development, Tony Bernazard. Cora is a bright, bilingual man who has won as a player and a coach. And he's viewed as a guy who could make an impact in a heavily Latino clubhouse. "My only reservation," said one baseball man who has known Cora for nearly 20 years, "is, I don't know how well he'd handle the media in New York City."

• Ryne Sandberg: We're still trying to figure out how the most mild-mannered player in Cubs history turned into a fiery, umpire-bumping managerial volcano in Peoria. But when Hall of Famers are willing to spend two years managing in the Midwest League -- and actually seem to care about doing it right -- let's just say it gets people's attention. So Sandberg just might have a future in the managerial business. Who knew?

• The Red Sox Spinoff Dept. (Brad Mills, John Farrell, DeMarlo Hale): It seems overkill to nominate three members of the same coaching staff. But we've heard their names nonstop from so many people all over the sport, so we're nominating them all anyway. Mills, the bench coach, is an intelligent guy with great presence who seems destined to manage. Farrell is so highly regarded for his people skills and attention to detail that he should be on the manager and GM lists. "I'm not sure he's in a rush to leave Boston," said one friend. "But when he does, I think his next step is as a manager." And Hale's credentials include nine years as a minor league manager, seven years as a big league coach and renowned teaching skills. He's probably best suited for a young team but deserves to be on this list.

• Bench Coaches 'R' Us (Ron Wotus, Ron Roenicke, Ted Simmons): Wotus has spent nine years as the Giants' bench coach, and baseball people constantly sing his praises. ("Has the temperament. Has all the abilities. Solid candidate for somebody.") Roenicke has played, managed in the minors, coached third and been Mike Scioscia's bench coach in Anaheim. Sharp. Likable. Succeeded Joe Maddon as the Angels' bench coach and just might follow the same career path. And Simmons is a unique, outside-the-box thinker who was a Hall of Fame-caliber player, a general manager in Pittsburgh and a farm director. Wouldn't work for everybody, but viewed as a big-time candidate in Milwaukee if the Brewers ever decide they need a voice other than Ned Yost.

• No longer interim (Pete Mackanin, Joel Skinner): Mackanin got trampled in Cincinnati because the Reds couldn't resist sprinting after a bigger name (Dusty Baker), but he actually did a terrific job: He took over a team that was 20 games under .500 and went 29-19 in his first 48 games until the Reds' regularly scheduled rash of injuries hit. He managed 13 years in the minor leagues and deserves another go-round. Skinner had a half-season run as the Indians' interim manager in 2002, going 35-41 with a team that didn't do much for his won-loss numbers when it traded away its biggest names. But he's the son of a manager (Bob Skinner), managed six years in the minor leagues and is such a pro that he had no issues with serving as a coach on the staff of the man who got hired as the full-time manager in Cleveland instead of him (Eric Wedge). "He would be great," said one NL executive, "with an older team that needed a calming influence."

• Ex-Cardinals Third Basemen Club (Terry Pendleton, Ken Oberkfell): Pendleton has been a hot candidate for years. But he keeps turning down interviews out of loyalty to the Braves and his family. So the guess is, as long as he's a potential candidate to succeed Bobby Cox, he'll keep coaching hitters and biding his time. Oberkfell makes this list for two reasons: (1) He's a one-time Baseball America Minor League Manager of the Year, and (2) the Mets' new first-base coach is said to be a big favorite of the team's Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon. "I'll tell you this right now," said one baseball man who has known Wilpon for years. "Jeff wants Ken Oberkfell to manage that team someday." Whether that day comes soon could be determined by how the rest of this season unfolds. But it sure doesn't seem to be a coincidence that he was just elevated to the big league coaching staff.

• The next wave (Gary Varsho, Andy Fox, Eddie Perez, Tim Bogar): None of these guys seems to be on the cusp of a big league job at the moment. But Varsho has been a bench coach in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and has long had "future manager" written all over him. And Fox, Perez and Bogar are all young coaches (in Florida, Atlanta and Tampa Bay, respectively) with great baseball minds, a terrific feel for people and growing numbers of fans within the sport. So their time is coming, even if it doesn't arrive in 2008 or '09.

• Other names nominated: Jose Oquendo, Tom Foley, Scott Ulger, Jamie Quirk, Don Wakamatsu, Dave Jauss, John Mizerock, Pat Kelly, Lenn Sakata, Mike Quade, Ty Waller, Lorenzo Bundy, Torey Lovullo, Robby Thompson, and (any time he's ready) Don Mattingly.

• Most shocking name nominated: Whitey Herzog. (Well, he may be 76. But he is younger than Jack McKeon.)

Ready to rumble

• Lock those windows: You can probably forget that widespread assumption that any team willing to trade three high-ceiling young players for C.C. Sabathia would first ask for a 72-hour window to try to sign him. The Indians have been telling teams they're not interested in complicating their lives by opening any negotiating windows. And if Sabathia attracts the number of bidders they expect him to attract, they can afford to take that hard line.

Erik Bedard

Bedard

Aceless in Seattle? Bill Bavasi got booted in Seattle as much for what he wouldn't do (fire his manager, trade his Opening Day starter) as for anything he did do. So the biggest initial impact of his firing is that it means Erik Bedard is now officially on the market.

The first order of business for interim GM Lee Pelekoudas, according to one rival exec, was to "call around, and give instructions to all his scouts, to quietly get the word out that they're open for business."

So what can the Mariners get for Bedard, who has damaged his reputation significantly by showing no interest in being a true No. 1 starter?

SURPRISE PARTY

PART I
"If I'd told you in March," one American League GM said the other day, "that we'd get to June and the Orioles would have a better record than the Tigers, Indians and Mariners, you'd have thought I'd have been out of my mind, right?"

Well, right. But it's not an accident. One scout said recently the Orioles are the only AL team he has seen all year that takes regular infield practice. And that's all part of manager Dave Trembley's master plan to change the culture.

"It all starts with the manager," third-base coach Juan Samuel told Rumblings. "When things come up, we don't let guys get away with anything." So the Orioles do a variety of spring-training-type drills at least twice a week. And even the veteran players have bought into it "because they see the results," Samuel said. "The results are there. We're all trying not to have the same situation we had last year. We don't want to go through that again."
PART II
We asked Sean Casey to list the three things about the Red Sox that have surprised him the most now that he sees them from the inside. Two you might have expected -- (1) the breathtaking speed of Jacoby Ellsbury and (2) the dedication and leadership of Jason Varitek. But the third? It was (better sit down) the "professionalism" of Manny Ramirez.

"I was really surprised how professional he is," the Mayor said. "How he goes about his game. How he hits. How he works. Every at-bat, you get a professional at-bat. Every at-bat, he's got a game plan. You look at that and you say, 'That's why this guy is a great player.'"

Manny Ramirez -- "professional." The Red Sox had better not let that secret get around. It will ruin Manny's whole reputation.

"I'm really not sure anymore," said one AL assistant GM. "They're not going to get what they gave up (five players). So realistically, what can they get -- 5 cents on the dollar? Maybe 10? They can still get a good package, but they won't get five players back. … If I were them, I'd shop him hard to the National League. He's a guy who'd be dominant in that league."

"He proved he's not a No. 1," said another prominent baseball man. "But if you're in the race, it means you probably already have a starter who's better than Bedard, which means you're not counting on him to be your No. 1 guy. And on a team like that, he's still a valuable piece."

One team's nomination of a club to watch on the Bedard front: St. Louis -- a place where the fans embrace everybody, where they're tired of piecing together a patchwork pitching staff, and where their farm system has improved enough to assemble a decent package.

Phretting in Philly: With the help of a number of clubs that have spoken with the Phillies, we've assembled this shopping list of starting pitchers it appears they've at least kicked tires on: Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Bronson Arroyo and (surprisingly) Jarrod Washburn. Bedard just hit the market, so you can add his name any minute now.

But those same clubs say the Phillies might have the hardest decisions to make of just about any team with win-the-World Series upside. If they go for it now -- and decimate their still-thin system to deal for a big-name rent-a-pitcher like Sabathia or Burnett -- this might be the only year they'd be capable of contending.

To make a trade like that, they'd probably have to give up both of their two most advanced starting-pitching prospects, Carlos Carrasco and Antonio Bastardo. So if they lose Brad Lidge and their rent-a-starter to free agency, and Jamie Moyer retires, Brett Myers doesn't rebound and Adam Eaton's first half turns out to be a mirage, the Phillies' pitching staff next year would essentially consist of Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson, an uncertain Myers and seven question marks.

"So that's a tough call," said one NL executive. "Do you say, 'Go for it, and the hell with next year'? Or do you think big picture, but maybe not have enough [pitching] to win this year? It's a scary choice to have to make."

Seeing Red: Despite all the talk about the Reds' trading Junior Griffey and/or Adam Dunn, the player who might attract the most interest is actually Ryan Freel, a guy who's "on everybody's radar," said one executive.

We've heard Freel's name connected, in some form, with every contender in the NL East (Phillies, Braves, Mets, Marlins), just for starters.

Junior Griffey Rumor of the Week: It's officially OK to ignore last week's Rumblings item that suggested our man Junior was no longer interested in a triumphant return to Seattle. In recent days, he's been telling players on other clubs he now wants to finish his career in Seattle. Meanwhile, we're hearing more and more people in baseball say that because his bat looks soooooo sloooooow, that final chapter needs to come sooner, not later.

"I keep thinking he's going to get traded to Seattle for next to nothing, spend the last two months there and then retire," said an official of one team. "If I were him, I'd just retire at the end of the year -- retire as a Red or a Mariner, tip your cap and say goodbye. Does he really want to bounce around and end his career by getting released by Tampa Bay in July? Is that really how he wants to go out? Based on the way he's playing, that's a scenario you could actually see happening."

Mark Teixeira

Teixeira

Don't mess with Tex: What's up with all that speculation that the Braves are on the verge of making Mark Teixeira available? Clubs that have inquired about him said they were shot down instantly. An official of one team says he was told the Braves believe "they're not even remotely out of it." So they're still looking to add pitching, not subtract cleanup hitters.

Change those Sheets: Here's another name to scratch off your rumor list: Ben Sheets. In case nobody noticed, the Brewers are only three games out in the wild-card race. And GM Doug Melvin is telling clubs the Brewers would have to collapse to the point where they're "way out of it" before he'd even think about moving Sheets. So if he pops out on the market at all, it won't be until the last minute before the trading deadline.

Gone fishing: The Marlins are so convinced they're going to be in the race to stay that other clubs report that they're beginning to hunt for center fielders, catchers and bullpen help. But this has never been a team interested in quick fixes. So indications are they might be amenable to dealing some of their young players who would be eligible for arbitration this winter (Josh Willingham, anyone?), plus prospects, to bring back players they could control for several years. And their lack of interest in starting pitching indicates they're confident that Josh Johnson -- clocked recently at 96 mph during a rehab start -- is going to make a big impact in the second half.

TRIVIA ANSWER

Bobby Cox (.560), Joe Torre (.551), Mike Scioscia (.545) and Ron Gardenhire (.546). And now the winning percentages for all your incorrect guesses: Tony La Russa (.535), Dusty Baker (.526), Jim Leyland (.495) and Lou Piniella (.520). The closest miss was actually none of the above. It was Charlie Manuel, at .541.

•  Price of the Giambino: Two months ago, we would have set the odds of Jason Giambi's returning to the Bronx next year at approximately, well, zero. But we're hearing the Yankees have sent signals to Giambi that, assuming he stays healthy and reasonably productive, they would be amenable to bringing him back next year. There's zilch chance they'll pick up his $22 million option. But a modest one-year offer, on top of his $5 million buyout, apparently is no longer out of the question. Who'd have thunk it?

• What The Mets Should Have Done Dept.: Here's the take of one former GM on how Omar Minaya could have avoided the embarrassment of Willie Randolph's middle-of-the-night cyberfiring:

"If you're going to fire the guy, you've got to do it before he gets on that plane. If you're not going to fire him before then, you've got no choice but to let him do the whole road trip, and you take that time to put your ducks (i.e., replacements) in a row. You don't do it in the middle of the trip. And you sure don't do it at 3 in the morning. Once he gets on that plane to go West, the only way to handle it is, he's got to manage the rest of that trip."

•  What The Mariners Should Have Done Dept.: The biggest question people have been asking about the Mariners this week isn't this: Why'd they fire their GM? It's this: Why the heck did they move Ichiro back to right field?

"When you do that on the first day after you change general managers, isn't the timing like saying, 'This is Ichiro's team'?" asked one veteran baseball man. "Doesn't it look like, 'We're going to do this because we're going to placate Ichiro here'? But even if that's not the reason, the bottom line is now they don't have a center fielder, and their defense is really exposed. So instead of having a center fielder who can really go get it, they're going to wind up with an inferior defense, which just compounds their problems."

For the record, only one center fielder in baseball was within 50 putouts of Ichiro's 619 the past season and a half -- Aaron Rowand (575).

And furthermore …

Memo to Hank Steinbrenner: You know how many American League pitchers besides Chien-Ming Wang have landed on the disabled list because they suffered an interleague-play injury while running the bases in the past five seasons? How about none, according to Baseball Prospectus' Will Carroll. So it's time for Hank to head for the dictionary and study the definition of "freak injury," because that's what this was.

Headline of the Week

From the consistently hilarious parody headline site, ironictimes.com:

BASEBALL TO USE INSTANT REPLAY
But only for home runs, foul balls, stolen bases,
pickoff plays, strikes, balls and obscene gestures.

Quotes of the Week

From Red Sox manager Terry Francona, on whether he ever wears his World Series ring:

From David Letterman, on the firing of Willie Randolph:

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.