As everyone who would have an interest in the subject already knows, on Monday St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa announced his decision to not return for a 17th season at the helm of the newly-crowned World Champions.
Of course, at this point, no one knows for sure all the names of those who are being considered, let alone interviewed. That hasn’t stopped pretty much anyone with an opinion on the subject to weigh in on who they think the prime candidates may be and which one they favor.
That is all well and good. In fact, I will get around to that myself - in an organized manner.
I tend to look at this a bit differently than others. The purpose of this exercise is to try to project (a fancy word for “guess”) how the Cardinals might evaluate the various managerial candidates. In other words, this is a “play the GM" effort.
Once we establish this yardstick, we can use it for any and all comers.
Truth be known, this isn’t the first time I have done this type of thing. It seems like every time La Russa moved into the final year of whatever contract he was on at the time, some media members began publicly fretting about what might have been ahead. Until now, it was nothing but wasted ink.
This time, there is a real opening – a huge, immediate and strategic need. This may test general manager John Mozeliak in ways unexpected – in conjunction with dealing with the future of superstar Albert Pujols.
Our first step is to define the desired characteristics of a new skipper. Then, we will prioritize them by importance. Finally, we will stack up a list of potential candidates against them and see what the rankings tell us.
Let me be clear right up front that this is highly subjective. I selected the scoring categories, their weighting and the scoring of the candidates themselves. Any changes along the way may lead to a very different conclusion.
OK, after that disclaimer, let’s get going. I chose six categories. After considerable thought, I weighted three as high importance, two medium and two low. They are as follows:
Organizational fit – high
One of the most important factors of the DeWitt ownership period and La Russa’s time as manager was continuity. I think in hiring a skipper, the Cardinals will want an orderly progression, not revolution, while continuing the organizational tradition.
Another very important factor is an ability to work with the only coach assured of returning in 2012, Dave Duncan. By definition, this also means a reasonably-consistent approach to La Russa’s. While Mozeliak has said that the new manager will have the leeway to hire his own coaches, the St. Louis staff is top-notch and loyal.
Major League managerial experience – high
I believe in giving minor league coaches and managers a chance at the big league level. However, whoever takes this job will face extraordinary pressure. The team is coming off a World Championship after a long period of success.
All things equal, at this point in time, I believe the Cardinals would prefer an experienced hand to a first-timer. Of course, things are never equal. They have already made it clear they will interview non-MLB experienced candidates. That does not mean, however, that any of those men will come out on top. That remains to be seen.
Public reaction – high
No one should forget the bottom line is to make money. While the choice of manager would probably not sell many tickets on his own, the importance of the perception of the selection by the ticket-buying public should not be underestimated.
In other words, this is not the time and place to generate controversy and unrest in the fan base.
Availability/cost - medium
Some of the candidates already work in the organization and others have in the past. Some have expressed interest in the job. Others may be between jobs while others are under contract elsewhere and would require compensation to the current organization. The Cardinals’ willingness to ante up could be a factor.
Then there is the issue of salary. First-time managers would require less pay. At the other end of the spectrum, a proven winner will want more money and more years. Same as above – what is the team’s expectation level and how will that align with the candidates?
The reason this isn’t high priority is that all these issues can be solved with the proper level of willingness – in other words, compensation.
Player development - medium
Certainly having a manager familiar with developing young players is good. After all, the Cardinals have a veteran core, a considerable number of pre-free agent eligible players and a filling minor league pipeline.
Having that development experience recently is better and if that familiarity is within the Cardinals system, best. Likely all managerial candidates can score in this race, so it becomes a relative comparison.
Minority – low
MLB’s hiring guidelines will dictate that minority candidates should be interviewed. That doesn’t mean a man should get the job unless he passes the rest of the tests. That is why I ultimately assigned the lowest priority to this factor.
With a primary minority candidate like Jose Oquendo (Puerto Rican) and perhaps Terry Pendleton (black) showing interest, scoring a meets-minimum here should be easily attainable.
Coming up in Part 2 of this article, exclusively for The Cardinal Nation subscribers, I will score a dozen managerial candidates in each of these six categories. The results will declare my front-runner for the job to replace Tony La Russa.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Look for his weekly minor league column on Thursdays at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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