Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Then There Were Four

In light of the recent machinations having to do with the Indians’ managerial search, I’m going to put the “Forward Thinking” series on hold until this search for a skipper starts to wind down or until information slows down on it. Obviously, the most recent happenings at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario have to do with Manny Acta going in front of the assembled press as part of his candidacy as a “finalist” for the job.

How much can really be gleaned from Acta’s words remain to be seen (although it certainly sounds like he did his homework and talked in the “we” and “us” sense when discussing the team) , but it does appear as if there are four candidates that are finalists for the Indians’ managerial position – Acta, Bobby Valentine, Torey Lovullo, and Don Mattingly.

Since the topic of Manny Acta has already been touched upon a few times in this space (a smart baseball man in a bad situation in Washington who may be pining for the Houston job over the one in Cleveland) , let’s hit on the other names on the list that apparently fill out the Indians’ pickings for their new skipper.

The name on the list that has the most MLB experience as a manager (because Acta is second in that category with…gulp… 2 ½ seasons as a MLB manager among the four) is Bobby Valentine. The same Bobby V that comes through on your “Baseball Tonight” (and I say “your” because I stopped watching that show years ago) and the one who has often been portrayed as an egomaniac, an attention hog, and a lightning rod for criticism out in front of the cameras and microphones talking as much about himself as his team. We all remember when he came back to the dugout as the Mets’ manager in disguise and laugh about it, but the episode serves as a microcosm of what you get with Valentine – a manager driven to succeed (almost blinded by that drive) who is all too willing to allow himself to become the focus in lieu of all else.

Valentine is certainly the antithesis of what the Indians dugout has looked like as “even-keeled”, “vanilla” and “robotic” are never words that you’ll see associated with Bobby V (and could you imagine The Atomic Wedgie in this scenario), but lest we get lost in the winds associated with the hurricane that is Bobby Valentine, you have to get back to the actual task at hand and ask the pertinent question – can he win with the Indians?

Since it’s been more than a few years since Valentine has managed on American soil, it’s easy to forget that Bobby V. is not just a mustachioed cartoon character, at home smiling in front of the bright lights of the TV. No, prior to all of that, Valentine was a young manager in Texas who went 581-605 from 1985 to 1992, finishing with a winning record in 4 of the full 6 seasons he managed. While his teams in Arlington only finished better than 3rd in the AL West once and never won a pennant, they were constantly in contention – often up against the “Bash Brothers’ Era” in Oakland. Interestingly, Valentine was fired from a team that had a winning record (45-41) and contained the collected young offensive talent that would eventually mature (with some chemical help) into a juggernaut as his 1992 team boasted Pudge Rodriguez (20), Juan Gone (22), Dean Palmer (23), Ruben Sierra (26), and Rafael Palmiero (27).

After his dismissal from Texas and after spending some time in Japan, Valentine was hired in Queens in 1996 and compiled a 536-467 record over his tenure there, during which he compiled a winning record in all 5 full seasons he managed. While he never won the NL East there (Bobby Cox and the Braves had a monopoly on that), he did win the NL Pennant in 2000, only to lose in the Subway Series to the Yankees.

Interestingly, when asked by the NY Times a few years back about what went wrong with the Mets, Valentine offered this explanation:
I thought we went outside too much. The key word was building, and I think after we got to the World Series, then we just wanted to create. We just wanted to pluck it out of the sky and have it. I thought we lost our mode of what made us pretty good - that we were a good team, we were going to build our own players and add a few pieces.

Sound like a philosophy that falls in line (in theory) with that of a team you know…“build our own players and add a few pieces”?

Of course, after Valentine was dismissed by the Mets, he returned to Japan and now finds himself occupying an ESPN chair, trying to get back into the mix as a MLB manager. Does he see a job like Cleveland as a stepping stone to getting back into the spotlight or does he just want to get back into MLB? If it’s the latter, you would have to assume that Valentine will do what he has always done in the MLB – win consistently, his way.

The question with Valentine (other than the fact that he made $4M last year in Japan and may be looking for substantial compensation to return to managing) is whether the Indians want to put up with the histrionics associated with having Valentine calling the shots and taking the spotlight from the team. Or is that exactly what the Indians need – a manager to take the spotlight, to generate some flavor from the dugout, a little Bobby V?
Perhaps…but at what price, both monetarily and in terms of the spotlight?

Outside of Valentine, the most intriguing candidate is Don Mattingly, who comes with instant credibility from his playing days and, more recently, from his success as the hitting coach for the Dodgers as he has assisted in the development of the young offensive talent in Chavez Ravine. However, he has no managerial experience of any kind and as nice as some memories may be of Donny Baseball as a player, the Indians would be handing the reins to a team whose biggest issue is pitching to a hitting coach who has never handled a pitching staff at any level. Truthfully, the best argument that I can make on Mattingly’s ability to handle a pitching staff is that both he and Mike Scioscia were in the greatest Simpsons’ episode of all time – “Homer at the Bat”.

It’s true that Mattingly was supposed to be the heir apparent in NY and was Torre’s bench coach in 2007, but his resume looks to be missing some key ingredients that should be contained on a cover page. Of course, Mattingly could build a coaching staff around him to surround himself with more experience, but Mattingly’s situation in Los Angeles (with Torre) is more reminiscent to me of John Farrell’s in Boston. Mattingly has coached high-priced talent in high-exposure markets in the past and, while his stated intentions that he wants to be a manager could ring true, one has to wonder if the specific situation in Cleveland is the one that he wants to cut his managerial teeth on.

Perhaps he wants a challenge and wants to get out from the shadow of Torre, but his lack of experience and a realization that he may be sitting in the proverbial catbird’s seat in SoCal, waiting for Torre to hang it up, may prevent Mattingly from committing fully to coming after the Indians’ job too hard.

As for Torey Lovullo, as nice as an MLB managing prospect as he might be, he simply has too much of the stink of Eric Wedge Part II on him to legitimately be considered a candidate, particularly one that the Dolans have to sign off on.
Remember this from last week:
Aren't we really just waiting for the final 3 to be Lovullo (with the explanation that they wanted to hire from outside the organization, but that Lovullo's interview was SO impressive that he made the final list)…

Lovullo probably has a spot on the Indians’ 2010 coaching staff and the Indians are doing him a favor by introducing him as a final candidate to put him on the greater MLB radar; but if Lovullo’s the final selection, it likely means that the Indians have been turned down by the other three or any other names that might emerge.

If you’re looking at the known candidates as a whole, I’d say that Acta and Valentine would have to be considered the most compelling choices among the four, based on experience and bringing the total package to the table, though neither comes without worries (Acta in Washington) or warts (Bobby being…well, Bobby). Acta’s interest in the Houston job and the fact that Valentine can sit in Bristol if the financial package offered is not to his liking could put Mattingly on the map to take the job.

With the list of “finalists”, we’re getting closer…to what I’m still not quite sure.


scotto313 said...

I realize it has been stated before but they fired Wedge for this? Since the Indians are already paying him for next year shouldn't they just ask him back for one more season and let Fryman get some more seasoning?

Cy Slapnicka said...

why couldn't this happen in spring training? i hope she goes after kruk next.


Alex Trebek said...

Nice find Cy, Phillips is such a clown. My favorite Simpsons episode has to be "Boy Scoutz 'N The Hood". The whole thing with Ernest Borgnine and the Deliverance canoe trip is priceless.