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Raul Ibanez Out in the Latest Twist in Rays’ Manager Search

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It was surprising that Raul Ibanez got as far as he did in the Tampa Bay Rays’ manager search. Bench coach Dave Martinez had been eliminated from consideration, as had other intriguing candidates like Ron Wotus and Doug Glanville. Even more shocking, though, was just how Ibanez’s quest to be the Rays’ manager has come an end. Marc Topkin has reported than Ibanez has withdrawn from the Rays’ manager search, citing “family considerations” as the reason.

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The Rays are left with two managerial candidates, Kevin Cash and Don Wakamatsu, and Cash certainly seems like the most exciting option. However, this latest craziness with Ibanez reminds us of the value of Wakamatsu as a safe candidate. There are so many variables involved with first-time managers, and the Rays do not want to pay the price for losing track of any of them.

We don’t know what the full story is with Ibanez, but there are a variety of reasons why a seemingly strong managerial candidate simply does not work out. For Ibanez, he had to wonder whether continuing to see his family less than the average husband and dad would be worthwhile if he was no longer playing. Cash does have the benefit of having been a coach before, but what will he think of the additional hours and stress that being a manager would require?

Kevin Cash was praised when we interviewed for the Texas Rangers’ managerial position, and it says a lot that he was also a finalist with the Rays. Clearly teams are impressed by his knowledge of the game and his ability to convey it to others, and if the Rays do not give him their manager job, someone else will before long. However, there’s a difference between a great interviewee and a great manager, and teams have not yet been able to overcome that. There simply is not enough information available to evaluate candidates anywhere near as thoroughly as is the case with players.

You can be a minor league manager, but those positions are more about instruction as in-game strategy. You can be a big league coach, but there’s a critical difference between helping players and leading them. The only real way to know how good a manager is as this point is to let him manage and see how he does. There are no statistics that you can extrapolate, and you can only learn so much from talking to a candidate, the players he coached, or other people with whom he worked.

Don Wakamatsu did a decent job as manager of the Seattle Mariners. He wasn’t great–there are certainly better managers out there–but he led them to a solid season in his first year and could improve with more time on the job. As the Rays decide whether to choose Cash over him, they have to think about whether Cash has enough talent as a manager to make up for the exponentially bigger variability that will come with hiring a first-time manager. There is risk involved with Cash, and the Rays better be confident that he is good enough to hire nonetheless.

The Rays are lucky that Raul Ibanez decided that managing wasn’t for him before it was too late. If they choose Kevin Cash, they will need to hope that he doesn’t eventually come to the same conclusion. Cash may still be the favorite to be the next Rays manager, but Ibanez’s withdrawal just gives the team one more thing to ponder before they make their choice.

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