I pondered both in June and at the beginning of September as to whether or not the Phillies 2012 season would cost manager Charlie Manuel his job. Well, after a restructuring of the Phillies coaching staff after Wednesday's season finale against the Nationals, it appears Manuel will stay for 2013, but not beyond.
Long-time Phillies coach Greg Gross, serving as the hitting coach this season, was fired along with Manuel confidants Sam Perlozzo and Pete Mackanin. Replacing Gross as hitting coach is Steve Henderson, a Phillies minor league coach and the Rays' former hitting coach. The new bullpen coach will be Rod Nichols, replacing Mick Billmeyer who was promoted to catching coach. And the new first base coach? Well, it's Juan Samuel, who was the Phillies third base coach last season. Replacing Samuel at third base will be one of the hottest managerial candidates on the market, former Phillies AAA manager and Baseball Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.
Manuel is under contract through next season, and he'll turn 69 before the 2013 season. That compares similarly to former Braves manager Bobby Cox (who retired after the 2010 season at 69), former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa (who retired after the 2011 season at age 67), and former Hall of Fame Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda (who retired midway through 1996 at 68). Logic seems to indicate that Manuel won't be managing past next season, and it would be wise for the Phillies to start prepping his successor, especialy when said successor is a guy who could be in play this offseason for many teams looking for a new manager.
Sandberg has been bandied about as a managerial candidate for years, and he left the Cubs organization after the 2010 season when he wasn't given an interview for their managerial position after Lou Piniella retired mid-season. That job eventually went to interim manager Mike Quade, who was fired after his one full season by the new Epstein/Hoyer regime in the Second City. He's spent the last two years managing the Phillies AAA affiliate in Lehigh Valley, leading the team to a playoff berth in 2011 and a third place finish in 2012, finishing above .500 in both seasons despite having largely veteran, prospect-barren clubs.
Now, is that a testament to Sandberg's managerial ability, or does it say more about other factors, such as the composition of the club or the lack of impact players in the league? At any rate, the Phillies have gone to great lengths to protect what is essentially an investment in their future in Sandberg. I'm not complaining either, I think it's a very smart move from their front office to have a successor in place that knows when he's taking over. This isn't a situation like in several college football programs, where a "coach in waiting" is named, only for them to bolt when it appears the current coach doesn't want to hang it up.
We only know of two managerial vacancies thusfar this offseason (Boston and Cleveland), but I'd expect more to start rolling out in the next week or so. And the Phillies have essentially taken one of the most popular names off the market. It's a shrewd move by them, and ensures that next fall (or perhaps earlier), they won't have to conduct an exhaustive search in looking for Manuel's replacement.