And then there were three.
The Tampa Bay Rays have been seeking a new manager since Joe Maddon opted out of his contract and then headed for the misery laden franchise known as the Chicago Cubs. Initially, there were eight candidates for the job, including Royals bench coach Don Wakamatsu and outfielder/DH/unofficial coach Raul Ibanez. Now, according to Adam Berry, the Rays reporter for MLB.com, Tampa Bay has narrowed the decision down to Wakamatsu, Ibanez and Indians bullpen coach Kevin Cash.
This is certainly an interesting final three. Cash was in the majors as recently as 2011, and is just a couple of weeks older than Grant Balfour, the oldest player currently on the Rays roster. Ibanez hit 29 home runs in 2013, which was more than what any Rays player hit this year. Perahps, if Ibanez is given the job, we see the return of the player/manager, something that has been shelved since the day Pete Rose decided it was time to hang up the ol’ batting helmet. Wakamatsu may have failed in Seattle, but let us face facts – plenty of other managers failed in their first attempts. Just look at Ned Yost.
With the Royals success this past year, it would certainly make sense that any team with a managerial vacancy would be interested in attempting to bring over one of their coaches. Don Wakamatsu would certainly be a viable candidate, given his previous managerial experience. Yet, Wakamatsu may still be a bit of an unknown, as he lasted 274 games in Seattle before being fired.
The inclusion of Raul Ibanez in that final trio is rather interesting. While it would seem that his playing career is over based on last season, he has not coached on any level. It is also exceedingly rare to find someone who went from the playing field directly to the managerial role, excluding those bygone days when player/managers were commonplace. Ibanez certainly appears as though he will be a major league coach at some point, given his mentorship capabilities and positive influence on the clubhouse.
The Tampa Bay Rays have been known for going in directions that other teams may not, including with their coaching staff. As of right now, it seems likely that they will pluck their next manager from the Royals ranks. After years of the Trey Hillmans and Tony Musers of the world, for as much as losing either may hurt, it is great to see that Royals coaches are now considered to be a valuable commodity.