When the Cleveland Indians relieved Eric Wedge of his future managerial duties back on September 30th, the wheels were set in motion for a new face of the franchise. After seven years of The Grind, many suspected that the Indians would instantly start looking outward for a fresh face to the system and the organization. Chances are however, that this will likely not be the case this coming season. Knowing the financial environment of 2009 and the current order of business under general manager Mark Shapiro, I think the odds are that the Indians will fill their new manager slot from within the organization.
Long ago, the Indians were fresh off a 74-88 record in 2002 and had just suffered through a final season of Charlie Manuel and Joel Skinner. While Mr. Manuel went on to deliver a championship this past season with the Phillies, the Indians went from within with rookie MLB manager Wedge. A successful minor league skipper, he drew immediate praise because of the sound system between him and Shapiro. After the turmoil with Manuel and Shapiro in terms of personnel decisions, a friendliness of the GM and manager roles made the most sense for the team at the time.
Sure there were the ups and downs of the Wedge regime over these seven years, mostly characterized by slow starts and inconsistent player development. Now looking to the future however, the Indians will have to decide if the initial decision to chose Wedge seven years ago was the right one. If they still believe that this was a good initial call, then I think it would once again be the safest move to hire from within and find a manager who has experience with the players on the current Indians roster.
We had TD break down his favorites for the Cleveland job earlier in the week, and now I will begin my descriptions of four candidates (ordered in likelihood of probability):
Torey Lovullo, Clippers Manager - The skipper for the inept Columbus Triple-A team this season, there is no person more likely to become the next Indians manager than this 44-year-old. He is currently in his eighth year in the system, and despite the struggles record-wise of the Clippers this past season has earned much praise for his minor league success. During his four-year tenure with the Buffalo Bisons/Clippers he compiled a mediocre 271-297 record, and was actually interviewed for the recent managerial opening with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Why it will happen? Since the majority of the Indians this past season either looked like or were Triple-A players, Lovullo has seen them at one point or another. A manager for four straight seasons at a team’s highest minor league affiliate has to be rewarded for his loyalty somehow. He is clearly one of the top minor league coaching prospects around, and will probably take some bench coach job if he doesn’t get this.
Why it won’t happen? It really depends on how much the Indians want to shake things up. The easiest, simplest, and cheapest hire with connections to the system would clearly be Lovullo. Farrell has already said no once and would be a ton of money and effort to pull away from the Sox. Outside candidates like Bobby Valentine or Tony Pena would need to be thoroughly interviewed, while Lovullo already is a known commodity.
Jon Nunnally, Clippers Hitting Coach - This former journeyman major league outfielder found his niche with the Columbus Clippers this past season. Although the team struggled at just 57-85 at year end, Nunnally’s fourth season in the Indians system was a smashing success. A current 38-year-old with over 1,200 games of minor league playing experience, reporters and scouts raved about his potential as a major league coach all season. He will probably be a lock for some job with the Tribe in 2010.
Why it will happen? No coach in the system might be more ready for a major league job that Nunnally. He was a player in the minors or majors from 1992-2005 and ever since has been involved in some form with the Indians organization. He earned a lot of credit for the resurgences of Andy Marte and John Drennen in the organization over the past couple years, and really could turn a few heads this off-season.
Why it won’t happen? A hitting coach on a team that had one of the worst bullpens in the major leagues last season? I understand the concept of catchers becoming MLB managers, but a journeyman outfielder might be too big of a stretch. He will probably be your next Indians hitting coach, but he is probably a long way away from the managerial experience necessary for a head position at the major league level.
Mike Sarbaugh, Aeros Manager - The most successful baseball team in the state this season, the Akron Aeros once again dominated the Eastern League for the franchise’s third championship victory. Sarbaugh was one of the rising stars as well, as the former Indians farmhand earned his third Manager of the Year award in just the last seven seasons. He is clearly a rising managerial prospect and held great control over his star-studded Aeros roster this season. At just 42 years old, he still has the room to grow into another homegrown managerial prospect.
Why it will happen? Originally named Kinston’s hitting coach in 1995, Sarbaugh has oodles of experience in the organization as a coach and a player. This was his 20th consecutive year affiliated with the Indians, and this might have been his finest performance ever. Leading an ever-changing minor league roster is not the easiest, but doing it with grace and poise all season are unmatched talents. He will be an MLB coach someday and somewhere for sure.
Why it won’t happen? In the day and age where selling the new manager is just as important as their interview, Sarbaugh’s name does not have eye-catching abilities. Compared with other people on this list or even others on the outside, he will not bring any more fans into the gates. A career minor leaguer in every sense of the word, Sarbaugh is a treasure at his current spot and thus could use more time in the upper levels before getting a job like this.
Travis Fryman, Scrappers Manager – Many individuals are looking for a revival of old names from the major league club and Fryman would be a perfect example of such a star. A third baseman who was afflicted by injuries towards the end of his brief career, he spent the final five years of his playing career with the Tribe between 1998-2002. This past year, he led the short-season Scrappers to the New York-Penn League championship in his second year at the helm of the Mahoning Valley franchise.
Why it will happen? Name recognition? Check. Managerial experience? Check. For the same reasons that Tony Pena is a potential candidate for the job, many fans are bringing up Fryman’s name. Of course, his experience as a 40-year-old manager relies just about short-season ball, but if the Indians trust him enough why not make the move? This would get the fan base excited about the possibilites and put a recent Indians player back in charge of the team.
Why it won’t happen? Comparing his resume to Lovullo’s it just doesn’t make a lot of sense. Sure the fan base would love it, but when was the last time you saw such a decision made in the game today? Fryman will be an intriguing prospect for a coaching job in the majors in three or four years after some experience above Single-A at least. As of now however, it is way too early to tell if he will be the real deal.
Recap: Other individuals with connections to the current Indians organization also include former Aeros manager Tim Boger (currently the Red Sox first base coach) and the father of Aeros prospect Beau Mills, Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills. There are currently three Red Sox coaches in the discussion in some form or another including those two, but it might not matter in the end. My final thoughts are that unless someone from the outside absolutely overwhelms Shapiro and company, this job is Lovullo’s to lose. Nunnally will probably be the hitting coach while hopefully the system can still hang on to a few more years of Sarbaugh and Fryman in the minor leagues.