With the Cubs managerial search about to enter its fourth week, let’s look at what I’ve been able to learn about the known list of candidates.
A.J. Hinch – Vice President/Assistant General Manager- San Diego Padres (Former manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks)
Perhaps no candidate that I have called about has evoked more negative response than Hinch with most everyone I spoke with, believing the Cubs would be making a major mistake hiring him to succeed Dale Sveum. In fact, a high-level baseball executive told me that he believes that Hinch is one of the worst managers that he has evaluated over the past decade. He is considered highly intelligent and well-versed in player development, but his reputation around the game as a managerial candidate is not strong.
Manny Acta – ESPN and ESPN Deportes Baseball Analyst (Former manager of the Washington Nationals and the Cleveland Indians)
Acta has managerial experience, but he failed miserably in both places he worked. His teams also improved immediately following his departure which, no matter the circumstances, does not speak highly of his abilities. A former GM perhaps put it best when I asked him about Acta, saying, “I don’t know why he hasn’t done better because he knows the game but the word out of the clubhouse was not very positive on him in a leadership role.” A former player of Acta’s said that Acta always seemed to be behind the game and that he was not in control of the clubhouse. Not exactly a glowing recommendation for a managerial candidate.
Rick Renteria – Bench Coach – San Diego Padres (Minor League Managerial Experience)
Renteria has received excellent recommendations from everyone that I have spoken with as a teacher and for his ability to get the most out of players that he works with. However, he has no managerial experience at the major league level so hiring him comes with some degree of risk. His personality is very low-key, according to those that I have spoken with, and the only question is his ability to command a locker room and 25 different personalities. Several executives spoke positively of his X’s and O’s abilities.
Dave Martinez – Bench Coach – Tampa Bay Rays
Martinez has no managerial experience but he has played for the Cubs and understands the culture in Chicago more than any of the other candidates. He is well respected for his knowledge of the game and his bilingual ability is a plus in dealing with Latin players. Working alongside Joe Maddon in Tampa has given Martinez a unique perspective because Maddon is considered one of the game’s best managerial minds. A former GM who has watched Martinez for many years said he would have no trepidation hiring him to run the Cubs and believes Martinez is one of the top candidates ready to become a manager.
So, who would I hire after doing all of my homework and talking to several experienced baseball men?
The Cubs are in an unusual position because whoever they hire will probably not see great success in 2014. In fact, from all appearances, it does not appear that the Cubs will start to see significant success until either the latter stage of the 2015 season or the 2016 season when many of their top prospects should be in the major-league lineup. That allows Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to take a chance on a less-experienced hire if it is someone that they truly believe will be an excellent manager down the road, but needs seasoning and experience to develop fully.
Epstein and Hoyer have been transparent about their plan since arriving in Chicago in October 2011. They have also cautioned the fan base that even their best minor-league prospects will need time to develop at the major-league level once they arrive. Then, why not utilize that same thought process in the hiring of the club’s next manager?
If there is a candidate that truly looks to have the necessary ingredients needed to succeed in a big league dugout but lacks the experience now, why not allow him to develop while the team is in the middle of a building process? What is wrong with hiring a man who has a track record of baseball knowledge, is a quality person and possesses a burning desire to succeed?
Of the available options, the guy I believe should be the next manager of the Chicago Cubs is Brad Ausmus who is currently a special assistant to the general manager of the San Diego Padres. Ausmus is highly intelligent with a degree from Dartmouth and he has an 18-year playing career that should serve as an excellent barometer of how he would approach the game from a managerial standpoint. Everyone I spoke with talked glowingly about Ausmus’ ability to handle a pitching staff, his knowledge of advanced metrics and his passion for the game.
The Cubs are known to have interest in Ausmus and he has an excellent relationship with Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, which should help him in his transition to a potential managerial role in the Cubs clubhouse. However, they have not yet formally requested permission to interview him while the Washington Nationals recently did as they search for a replacement for Davey Johnson. Though Ausmus was not drafted until the 48th round of the 1987 draft, he played in the major leagues longer than any of the 1,150 players drafted ahead of him did.
Epstein and Hoyer need to make an excellent hire after striking out on Dale Sveum and while the field of candidates is not especially strong, the timing of this decision allows them to be creative and to think outside of the box.
While Martinez and Renteria are interesting candidates with solid reputations as baseball men, the time has come to take a chance and to make a bold hire. That bold hire is Brad Ausmus.