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Leading questions addressed

Managerial pieces being put into place

When the decision on the Yankees' new manager comes early this week, it will be just part of a whirlwind period for managers - some who have gone, some who have stayed, and some who are about to land a big payday.

There was no bigger name than Joe Torre, who rejected the Yankees' offer of a pay cut, leaving the door ajar for Torre protégé Don Mattingly or Joe Girardi. Torre is a free agent, but for the time being there's no place to go. You can bet he'll be in the mix should things fall through with the Dodgers or Mets, or perhaps be the replacement in Atlanta when Bobby Cox retires after next season.

The Yankees have groomed Mattingly as Torre's replacement for a few years. They must have believed he was ready to take the reins or they wouldn't have made Torre an offer they knew he would refuse. It'll be awfully hard to bypass the popular Mattingly. Those who watch the Yankees say Mattingly still gets the biggest ovations of any Yankee past - and sometimes present - when he's introduced. Yet there's tremendous support for Girardi from general manager Brian Cashman, whose recommendation will weigh heavily on the Steinbrenner family's decision.

Another huge managerial name, Tony La Russa, came close to hanging it up but opted for a two-year, $8.5 million extension with the Cardinals. Major league sources indicate La Russa had a chance to sign a multiyear deal with the Cincinnati Reds because of his relationship with owner Bob Castellini but would not commit to anything beyond two years.

According to his longtime financial adviser, Jack Sands, La Russa was never contacted by the Yankees.

"Tony is quite close to Joe Torre and he was not going to make contact with the Yankees until that situation was resolved," said Sands. "By the time it was resolved, Tony had made the decision to go back to St. Louis. Nothing ever developed there."

Sands said La Russa and Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt negotiated the deal, which for now makes him the highest-paid manager in baseball with Torre's $7.5 million salary no longer in play.

Sands said the conversations with DeWitt focused heavily on the possible candidates to replace general manager Walt Jocketty, who was dismissed after 13 seasons. According to Sands, La Russa felt comfortable with whichever candidate on the list was chosen.

La Russa's decision also involved his coaches. He's been extremely loyal to Dave Duncan and Dave McKay through the years and knew that whatever he decided would affect them. Sands said he asked La Russa whether he would follow a similar path as good friend Jim Leyland, who walked away from the game for a year and then returned. La Russa told Sands that once he walked away, he would never come back.

"It was a difficult year for Tony with all of the things that happened," Sands said. "He has the amazing ability to compartmentalize things. Touching base periodically with him over the year, his mood was really based on whether the Cardinals had won or lost the night before."

When La Russa declined the Reds job, it went to Dusty Baker, who signed a three-year, $10.5 million deal.

Which leads to Terry Francona. The Red Sox manager has been earning $1.75 million the past two years and has a year remaining at that salary. But if Francona hangs up his second world championship, the feeling is that he vaults into Lou Piniella (three years and an option, $10.5 million), La Russa, Baker, and Bobby Cox ($3 million) money.

"There's no doubt he would deserve to be there," said Sands. "With managers, it's about not only the quality of their work, but the quantity of their work. The guys who have been around the longest also make the most money."

Managers with less experience have been hired for 2008. John McLaren became Seattle's permanent manager. The Royals hired Trey Hillman, who has been managing in Japan. The Pirates are searching for a new manager, with Sox pitching coach John Farrell, Pirates' Triple A manager Torey Lovullo, and Indians third base coach Joel Skinner the leading contenders.

But it's been a disappointing time for others, including former A's manager Ken Macha, who was not interviewed for any of the vacant jobs despite having the best lifetime winning percentage among viable candidates. Also out are former Rockies and Cubs manager Don Baylor and Larry Bowa, who went from Yankee third base coach to Seattle coach under McLaren. It doesn't appear that Tony Peña will get the Yankee job, which he interviewed for, but he may accept a coaching spot, perhaps even as Mattingly's bench coach.

Following Dusty's trail

A few questions for new Reds manager Dusty Baker:

Are you doing a lot of things behind the scenes with your new job as you conclude your duties at ESPN?

DB: "Sure am. I'm trying to learn the organization. Trying to learn the people. I'm trying to make a few calls every day, ask a lot of questions, trying to gather a bunch of literature to find out as much as I can."

Do you have all of your coaches and personnel in place?

DB: "Yes. I kept some of the guys that were there already. I thought that was a better idea because they've had a lot of changes there in a short period of time and I didn't think it was fair to the players to change all the coaches around. I read sometimes in football where the quarterback has four offensive coordinators in four years, I can see where that would be confusing to some of the guys, so I'm just trying to get some level of consistency."

Did you have a lot of ideas about improving the Reds?

DB: "I know I want to win. I know that. I don't have a bunch of ideas yet because I don't know the personnel yet. I know we have to stay healthier and get the players to buy into conditioning and a fitness routine, work on fundamentals big-time, improve on our defense and our pitching, starting and relieving. We have a lot of work to do."

You had a superstar in San Francisco (Barry Bonds), you've got one in Cincinnati (Ken Griffey Jr.). How do you turn those guys to an advantage?

DB: You hope those guys are among your best leaders and your best producers to show the young guys coming up how to be and how to act in order to make my job easier. The important thing is to keep those guys on the field."

Active in free agency and trade?

DB: "I think I'll be active once I figure out what we need. I don't sign the checks. Hopefully I'm one of the advisers in that decision."

The Great Debate

An issue with an edge to it: Fenway or Coors?

Where is the home-field advantage greater, in Colorado or Boston? We asked Ellis Burks, who played for the Rockies and Red Sox and is now a special assistant to Indians general manager Mark Shapiro, and longtime Orioles scout Deacon Jones:

Burks: "I give a slight edge to Boston mostly because of the fans and the nooks and crannies at Fenway that their fielders can play better than the opponent. The fans are so into their team there, win or lose, and that support is really felt by the team and can impact things. We saw with our own team [Indians] against the Red Sox where Manny [Ramírez] played those balls off the wall and threw us out, and that ball that ricocheted off the railing in left field was definitely a Fenway-type hit that impacted the game. Now in Colorado, the advantage used to be greater because it was like Arena Baseball. But now with the humidor and its effect on the balls, it's pretty different there. They have great fans, too, and they can be loud and supportive, so I think Colorado is a much more confident team at home and their record is ridiculous there. The one advantage there for the Rockies is it does take a couple of days to get your lungs used to the altitude."

Jones: "I've watched the Red Sox for 18 or 19 years and I think I've seen them lose maybe a dozen ballgames in that ballpark. I think one of the toughest things to do in that ballpark against that lineup is to get them out 27 times. They have the ability to score add-on runs like no other team I've seen, especially at Fenway. The kid at the top of the order [Dustin Pedroia] is such a pesky kid. He's so aggressive and in that ballpark, he can pop one out for you. He has really done a great job in that lineup. They hit so well at Fenway that most pitchers probably have an inning or two taken off their outing because it's so exhausting trying to deal with that lineup in that ballpark. I have to admit, I haven't seen a lot of Colorado, and I know based on their record that they're really tough to beat at Coors Field, but I know firsthand how tough the Red Sox are at Fenway."

Etc.

Touching the bases

Apropos of nothing: 1. Bone-crunching handshakes at the World Series: Dwight Evans and Rob Dibble. 2. The best Red Sox uniform ever was the 1918 road jersey. 3. Orioles general manager Mike Flanagan did not attend the recent organizational meetings in Florida. Is broadcasting in his future? 4. After he threw out the first pitch and held a brief press conference before Game 1, Carl Yastrzemski literally drove off into the sunset. 5. If I'm the White Sox, I don't pick up shortstop Juan Uribe's $5 million option but I sign Omar Vizquel for a year.

Desert won't be a hotbed of activity

Arizona GM Josh Byrnes doesn't plan on changing much this offseason, feeling the 90-win Diamondbacks far exceeded expectations and should only improve. Count on Byrnes not re-signing veteran righty Livan Hernandez, who is looking for a three- or four-year deal. The Diamondbacks will get Randy Johnson back by spring training, and if he's healthy, that should improve their pitching. Byrnes will likely entertain offers for first baseman Conor Jackson and would have dangled third baseman Chad Tracy had he not undergone knee surgery in September. They may also dangle top outfield prospect Carlos Gonzalez in a package for a No. 3 type starter.

Not catching him at his best

The Brewers may keep catcher Johnny Estrada around, knowing he played most of '07 with a bone spur in his right elbow that allowed runners to have a field day with him. Estrada threw out only 7.6 percent of base stealers, and his injury also affected him greatly at the plate; he hit only .254 with 2 homers and 20 RBIs in the final 50 games, when the Brewers needed his bat most. Estrada is going to have the spur removed. But look for general manager Doug Melvin to protect himself and bring in another catcher.

Cardinals may keep it in-house

Hard to get a read on the Cardinals' GM situation. They'd love to get Chris Antonetti from the Indians or Rick Hahn from the White Sox, and they may speak to Jed Hoyer of the Red Sox or Paul DePodesta of the Padres after the World Series. But with Tony La Russa signing on for two more years, it appears another option is to stay with John Mozeliak, who was Walt Jocketty's assistant. Mozeliak was reupped with a multiyear deal and a pay raise, an indication that he might be considered as a GM in the long term. He has already re-signed pitchers Joel Piñeiro and Russ Springer and appears to be the one game-planning for the offseason.

Reading the signs in Los Angeles

There are strong statements coming from Los Angeles that Grady Little will be the Dodgers manager next season, but there is also just as much talk about who will replace Little should he get off to a slow start. Joe Torre's name has been mentioned, and Joe Girardi has been mentioned as a bench coach/manager-in-waiting. The feeling is the big-market Dodgers need a spark in a division where the Rockies and Diamondbacks could be formidable for some time. Owner Frank McCourt and his management team don't want to create a place where turnover is more commonplace than stability.

High praise for Hanley

Aaron Boone, who played third base next to Hanley Ramirez in Florida, had this to say about his teammate while working at Fenway last week for CBS Sportsline: "He's without a doubt the most talented player in the game. Maybe A-Rod is there with him. You'd be hard-pressed to find a guy who can do more than Hanley can. He's got unbelievable power, bat speed, he can obviously run like the wind. This year I think he established himself as one of the best players in the league. And now he's developing those intangibles. That term 'the sky is the limit' really suits this guy. He's special."

Bird watching

With CEO/president Andy MacPhail taking over the Orioles operation, you may see a couple of things develop, starting at the GM meetings in Orlando in early November. First, MacPhail will likely look for takers for Miguel Tejada. The Orioles might have waited a year too long to deal him, but they'll make the attempt and hope to find a team that thinks he can play third base. The second might be a surprise deal. The name heard most is lefty Erik Bedard. The feeling is the Orioles have enough starting pitching and need everyday players. Bedard could bring two or three major league-ready players.

Extra bases

A few quick things: On Friday, we asked our go-to guy, Tony Clark of the Diamondbacks, what he thought about the Rockies losing two at Boston and whether the eight-day layoff had an effect. "I'm not sure it was the long layoff as much as it was Beckett/Schilling, a talented bullpen, and facing the most potent offensive lineup in the American League on their home field," he said. "Colorado is a very good ball club, and one win could do a lot toward giving them the confidence that they deserve to be there." . . . I had the pleasure of meeting Yankees public relations intern Matthew Wasser in New York not long ago. This wonderful young man, 22 years old, was respectful and courteous of others and was destined to do great things, but he was tragically killed in a traffic accident last Sunday morning in Waltham following Game 6 of the ALCS. He was a passenger in a cab that was hit by a person charged with operating under the influence of alcohol. Our deepest sympathies to his family . . . Happy 46th birthday, Bob Melvin.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com

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