ST. LOUIS — The Red Sox have compiled a very good list of managerial candidates this time around, and at the top of that list should be Brad Ausmus.
Ausmus, a Cheshire, Conn., native and Dartmouth graduate, interviews with the Red Sox Wednesday. He probably will be the smartest man in the room, and he should be impressive when grilled by the Sox hiring team.
Ausmus is a walking testimonial. Everyone who ever has come in contact with him will tell you he was born to manage.
Paul Ricciarini, a longtime scout with the Houston organization, said he thought Ausmus “was going to be a big league manager 18 years ago.’’ That’s when he was 25 years old.
“He’s got a great reputation in the game,’’ said Giants general manager Brian Sabean. “He’s a rising star in this profession.’’
Born to manage? Sure is.
People here at the National League Championship Series believe Ausmus could be the next Mike Matheny — a former catcher who really understands pitching and catching and can relate to players. At 43, Ausmus is in that age group in which he can relate to players and what they need to succeed and what they need to motivate them.
The success of Matheny with the Cardinals and Robin Ventura with the White Sox has given rise to a new wave of thinking that there are a chosen few who can overcome a lack of managerial experience with their general intelligence.
Ausmus would surround himself with top coaches (if the Red Sox allow him to choose). His strongest ties are with the Astros, whom he played for when they were good. He played for Phil Garner, who raves about him. He has ties to people such as Jim Hickey, the current Tampa Bay pitching coach (what a coup it would be if the Red Sox got Hickey) , Craig Biggio, and former Sox second baseman Mark Loretta.
One of the people closest to Ausmus is Tigers third base coach Gene Lamont.
Of course, Ausmus could turn out to be the greatest manager in the world, but the Red Sox still would win only 69 games under him if the roster isn’t improved.
Ben Cherington has to surround the new manager with a much better roster than he gave Bobby Valentine. Nobody could have been successful with the Triple A players Valentine was forced to play, just as John Farrell couldn’t have succeeded in Toronto because of the same situation.
If there’s one criticism of Ausmus, it’s that, according to a veteran coach who has worked with him, “He may be too low-key.’’
But the elephant in the room is Farrell.
There are mixed signals as to whether Farrell is being discussed by the Red Sox and Jays right now. There are different levels where this could be taking place — the Cherington-Alex Anthopoulos level, and the Larry Lucchino-Paul Beeston level.
There are two schools of thought: The Blue Jays will just let him go without a fuss since he has had a couple of trying seasons, or they will hold out for unrealistic compensation, as they did last year (Clay Buchholz) because Boston is a division rival. The Jays know that the Red Sox believe Farrell will improve them because of his familiarity with Jon Lester and Buchholz.
Though Cherington wants someone familiar with pitching, he knows the manager has to be the manager and the pitching coach has to be the main person to improve the pitching. That’s why you can make the argument that the new pitching coach is a far more important hire than the manager. Which means a guy like Rick Peterson would be a huge hire.
The other managerial candidates are also solid.
Tony Pena always should have been given another shot at managing. He was the last Royals manager to finish above .500 (2003) and he won Manager of the Year for it. He had a challenging roster in Kansas City, which is why you can’t go by won-lost records to determine how good or bad a manager is. The biggest factor in the success or failure of a manager is the talent on the field. If he has little, he’ll have a poor record.
Pena has stepped back from managing and spent years as a Yankees coach with Joe Torre and Joe Girardi. He has been Girardi’s bench coach and is considered a rock-solid part of the Yankees instructional core. He has greatly improved the catching. As a manager, he wanted the game played right. He wanted players to hustle, to run out ground balls. He made demands and led with a firm hand. There was no doubt who was in charge.
Pena certainly knows the Red Sox culture. He is AL East battle-tested and would have great knowledge of the Yankees. When Pena was in Kansas City, his boss was GM Allard Baird, who is now Boston’s vice president of player personnel.
Tim Wallach, by all accounts, had an impressive interview with the Red Sox. He is considered very solid in all areas of the game, and has a good personality and a fair-minded way about him. As a former hitting coach, he knows that part of the game, and he is a former Gold Glove winner, so he knows the importance of defense.
DeMarlo Hale would have the best product knowledge. The Sox roster has turned over significantly, but Hale still knows a lot of the players and would have instant respect from team leaders Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz.
Hale became Terry Francona’s bench coach after Brad Mills left to manage Houston and Francona grew to depend on him. Hale wasn’t interviewed last season, the Sox brass reasoning that he was too close to the Francona camp and the whole chicken-and-beer stuff in the clubhouse.
So he stepped back for a year and was the third base coach for the successful Orioles, working under Buck Showalter. He’s a very good teacher of young players and did a great job breaking Manny Machado into the major leagues.
There likely will be others interviewing, but so far this is a solid list. The Sox would do well to interview Mills, San Francisco bench coach Ron Wotus, Tampa Bay bench coach Dave Martinez, and make another attempt at pitching guys such as Mike Maddux and Dave Righetti.
It appears that current Red Sox bench coach Tim Bogar will not be in the mix.
The Red Sox seem to be at a different place than they were at this time last season, when Dale Sveum or Torey Lovullo didn’t make sense for a team that had just collapsed but still had veteran presence. It did make sense to go after someone like Valentine, but that didn’t work out because nobody was ever on the same page and Valentine never had a chance with the numerous injuries and brush fires.
So now the time may be ripe to go with the best managing prospect.
Right now, that guy is Brad Ausmus.