Several days ago, I wrote a piece about the ten candidates in the Rays managerial search and predicted that the field would soon be cut to five. My choices for the final five candidates were Don Wakamatsu, Dave Martinez, Ron Wotus, Craig Counsell, and Doug Glanville. Matt Silverman made the cut last Friday but it was instead to a final three: Wakamatsu, Kevin Cash, and Raul Ibanez.
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I was a little surprised at the final three choices, but I had only the candidates’ baseball resumes to go by while Silverman had the advantage of interviews with each of them. Wakamatsu is a solid and safe candidate, but Cash and Ibanez must have blown Silverman away with their interviews as neither of them have impressive off-the-field credentials. In fact, Ibanez has yet to retire as a player. It was also sad not to see Dave Martinez’s name not on the list, but it seemed from the beginning that Matt Silverman was looking for a clean break from the Joe Maddon era.
As mentioned above, Wakamasu is a safe choice. He was a hot managerial candidate in 2008 and managed the Seattle Mariners in 2009 and two-thirds of 2010. He had a winning season in 2009, but in a strange move, was fired before the conclusion of the 2010 season. He has since been a bench coach for Toronto and Kansas City the past three years. He combines managial experience with a seemingly good feel for today’s game.
Cash, meanwhile, is a bright guy who was a major league backup catcher for parts of eight years, including 13 games with the Devil Rays in 2005. Catchers are constantly involved in the flow of the game and often make good managers, with Joe Girardi and Brad Ausmus coming to mind.
However, Cash’s post-playing career is a little strange as he was an advanced scout and a bullpen coach. These are not exactly the jobs that prepare you to be a major league manager–a couple of years as an A-ball skipper might have been better. However, he was a surprise finalist for the Texas Rangers’ managerial opening, and clearly the Rays thought just as much of him.
Raul Ibanez’s resume is even thinner. He has had a solid nineteen-year career as a player, but he has never spent a day in the coaching box or running a team from the dugout. Does that make a difference? It’s very hard to say.
Many in the game will say that relating to ballplayers is a manager’s top priority. That was Maddon’s strength and a reason that he turned so many rosters without a lot of stars into winners. Ibanez was known to be good in the clubhouse, and that will certainly help him here.
One baseball insider also mentioned that he thought Ibanez that managed every inning of every game in his head. While we won’t truly know anything until he gets a coaching opportunity, that suggests that Ibanez also possesses the analytical talents to be an effective big league manager. It was certainly unconventional for the Rays to interview Ibanez–although the Colorado Rockies did interview another active player in Jason Giambi–but he may be a better candidate than he appears.
Now we move on the next round of interviews. Silverman says that he will talk with Wakamatsu, Cash, and Ibanez in person over the week of December 1st. The choice probably will come fairly quickly afterwards so the new manager can participate in the Winter Meetings starting on December 7th.
Who will be the next manager? I’m going to say Raul Ibanez with a fallback choice of Wakamatsu in case both Ibanez and Cash blow their second interviews. Ibanez is very much in touch with today’s game and ballplayers and may just have the right type of mind to manage. He can hire a veteran bench coach or move Tom Foley into the dugout to take care of the managerial details. That will allow him to spend the majority of the time on player relations and strategy.
The Rays have always been on the cutting edge of baseball and hiring Raul Ibanez could be just another way for them to get ahead of the game. We will have to follow the Tampa Bay Rays managerial search to its conclusion, but the first round of cuts created enough controversy and the officially hiring of the new Rays manager promises to be just as interesting.