Throughout the World Series, the national media and the self-proclaimed best fans in baseball have held up the St. Louis Cardinals as the model franchise. The Cubs are looking at that blueprint as they search for their next manager.
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Brad Ausmus could be the answer to Mike Matheny, as a former Gold Glove catcher hired more for his leadership skills and organizational fit than actual managing experience. Multiple sources say the Cubs have discussed Ausmus internally and kept him on the radar, even as he interviewed on Monday with the Detroit Tigers.
Ausmus, 44, retired after an 18-year playing career in 2010 and joined the San Diego Padres front office as a special assistant. Future Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer hired Ausmus for that role, which sent him out scouting future Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo at Triple-A Tucson and working with the organization’s catchers.
Matheny, 43, retired after the 2006 season, dealing with post-concussion symptoms, the price of catching more than 1,200 games in the big leagues. Matheny had only worked as a Cardinals special assistant before replacing the iconic Tony La Russa and becoming the youngest active manager in the majors.
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In the afterglow of the 2011 World Series, Matheny beat out a field that included former Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona and Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg. Since then, the Cardinals have made the playoffs twice, winning more than 200 games (including the postseason) and a National League pennant.
The Cubs aren’t that kind of win-now team. Team officials have cast a wide net and plan to meet with Eric Wedge on Tuesday in Chicago. Wedge managed the Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Indians for 10 up-and-down seasons and interviewed for the Cubs job in 2010.
Once the World Series is over, the Cubs are expected to contact Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo, who once worked with team president Theo Epstein as the manager of Boston’s Triple-A affiliate in 2010.
The Cubs are said to be doing more background work on Padres bench coach Rick Renteria and Padres executive A.J. Hinch. Tampa Bay Rays bench coach Dave Martinez and ESPN analyst Manny Acta also interviewed earlier this month.
Ideally, the Cubs would hire someone with managerial experience, World Series rings, the right personality to deal with young players and an understanding of the Chicago market. But New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi is not walking through that door.
After firing Dale Sveum four weeks ago, Epstein acknowledged the Cubs would prefer someone who had done it before. But Epstein also stressed the need for a proven leader, saying those qualities could be shown as a player and/or in the front office.
Ausmus was not viewed as a primary target at that time. His only managing experience came with Team Israel during a qualifying tournament for the World Baseball Classic. But he was considered a future manager during a playing career that stretched from 1993 to 2010 and included stops with the Padres, Tigers, Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers.
Sources say the Cubs are intrigued by Ausmus’ potential, believing his major-league resume as a player would give him credibility in the clubhouse. There’s a feeling that experience would help him handle the pitching staff and work with building-block catcher Welington Castillo.
There are also those New England connections with the Cubs front office. Ausmus grew up in Connecticut, graduated from Dartmouth College, bought a house on Cape Cod and interviewed for the Red Sox job last year.
The Cubs understand other teams are out there looking now, though the right fit in Chicago doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing in Detroit or Seattle. Renteria has reportedly interviewed with the Mariners and made the list for the Tigers.
It still comes down to talent. Matheny inherited the best catcher on the planet, Yadier Molina, and a pitching staff loaded with homegrown power arms. Matheny benefits from a front office that picks the right free agents and a development system coaching up all those prospects. But Ausmus and the Cubs could be a getting-in-on-the-ground-floor deal.