2013 Will Be a Different Year For Charlie Manuel
For all Charlie Manuel's had to deal with throughout his managerial tenure in Philadelphia -- the chorus of "Fire Him, NOW" into perpetuity, for being loyal to a fault, having tunnel vision about the lineup and, most of all, failing to wring the best out of the second-biggest payroll in the sport -- he's never crossed a lame duck situation.
"It just came up," Manuel said at the Phillies year-end press conference Thursday, the first time such speculation was presented to him.
That's the perception now, with Ryne Sandberg's Wednesday promotion to big-league third base coach and hitting instructor, from Triple-A skipper for the Cubs and Phillies since 2007. Sandberg's record was 439-409-1. His resume earned him a bid to Cooperstown. He's seen as a consummate baseball man, same as Manuel.
For those reasons, Sandberg is figured to be the next guy, maybe before the now guy's time is up.
Forming that perception didn't take long. Before the Phillies cleaned coaching staff house Tuesday -- they "didn't renew the contracts of" Greg Gross, Pete Mackanin and Sam Perlozzo -- Ryne Sandberg was still kicking around in the minors, far too far from the stage to pose a legitimate threat to Manuel's longevity.
Now, Sandberg's within arm's reach.
"Obviously, that’s the sexy thing to think about," Amaro said. "But the fact of the matter is (Sandberg's) not the heir apparent. We’ve made no promises to Ryne Sandberg."
But there have been considerations. When asked who would spell Manuel as skipper -- in the event Manuel were thrown out, had a death in the family, caught a stomach bug -- Manuel and Amaro offered immediate responses, as if this had been discussed before.
Amaro said that Sandberg has his blessing to interview for big-league skipper gigs elsewhere.
But, to date, the only openings are in Cleveland, which Thursday invited Terry Francona for an interview, Houston, which gave the interim tag to home-grown Tony DeFrancesco, and Miami, which will be hiring as soon as Jeffrey Loria returns from vacation to fire Ozzie Guillen officially.
The likelihood, then, is that Sandberg open the season in Philadelphia.
Might close it out, too.
Less "sexy" than obvious, if not obligatory, the presumption that Manuel will have a short leash next year should be automatic. Given how ungracefully his $173.4 million payroll stumbled in 2012 and the value-added from Amaro's annual offseason splash will translate on the balance and betting sheets in 2013, Manuel will be expected to keep this thing closer than he did before August.
What's interesting, though, is that despite the fact that Manuel was a part of it, the team's late-summer surge might actually work against him. If the team starts to sag in the standings next year, critics will use the cookie-cut lines about Manuel's "voice becoming stale" and draw from this year's example to how, with the new postseason format, a properly motivated team can crawl out of even the seemingly deepest holes.
Sandberg may be viewed as the fresh voice, the proper motivation.
"I’m not worried about it," Manuel said.
Even if, for the first time, he finds himself in limbo.
Ultimately, his performance won't be what determines his job status. As always, Manuel's career will be cut and weighed by the measures of his team. Same as he was the benefactor for 2008 and 2010 contract extensions, he'll be up for a contract contraction if things go awry this year.
Still, Manuel keeps on keeping on.
Manuel's not eager for another bump, which would bring with it buy-out money that would make letting him go before it's up more complicated than it is now.
"I think my contract is fine," said Manuel. "I think at the end of the year, I’ll be glad to sit down and not only take inventory of myself, but talk to the people and see where I’m at and see what I want to do."
Manuel said he still has passion for the game.
"I’m not saying I’m going to retire or I’m going to quit or nothing like that. I’ve been in the game a long time and I love it. I’m looking forward to this year because I think it’s a great challenge, a great challenge for me and a great challenge for our team. I’m very satisfied with where I sit."
Even if that's, for the first time, just inches ahead of the guy behind him.