On October 22, the Los Angeles Dodgers announced that, through a mutual agreement, they would be parting ways with Don Mattingly, their skipper since 2011. Mattingly, 54, was named the new Miami Marlins manager shortly after, replacing interim manager and then-GM Dan Jennings. Mattingly will have his hands full facing the New York Mets in the NL East going forward, but the baseball world's managerial focus has shifted away from the stressed south Florida skipper and onto the Dodgers, as they prepare to conduct final interviews to find Mattingly’s replacement.
The Dodgers started with a field of nine serious candidates. Earlier this month, Jon Heyman reported that Dodgers farm director Gabe Kapler and San Diego Padres bench coach Dave Roberts were both favorites among other candidates like Darin Erstad, Bob Geren, Davey Martinez, Bud Black, Kirk Gibson, and Ron Roenicke. Mattingly expects Dodgers bench coach Tim Wallach will join him in Miami, although Wallach was among the interviewees.
The team has since narrowed the pool to four finalists, who are going to be brought back this week for the last round of interviews. ESPN’s Jim Bowden recently confirmed that the Dodgers trimmed the list to Kapler, Roberts, Erstad, and Black.
Erstad, the 41-year-old head baseball coach at the University of Nebraska, chose to withdraw his name from the hat in order to remain with his school. The Los Angeles Times quoted Erstad explaining his loyalty to the baseball program in Nebraska as a love for the Huskers, who made the NCAA Super Regional in 2014 and have gone 139-97 in the four seasons under Erstad. His decision to remove himself from consideration leaves the Dodgers with Black, Kapler, and Roberts as the finalists for one of the most interesting managerial jobs in the game.
Bowden noted that the final decision will fall into Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman’s lap. However, Friedman will certainly consider the opinions of other team executives, like Alex Tamin, the Director of Baseball Operations, Josh Byrnes, Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations, and GM Farhan Zaidi. The organization will be in search of a manager with the will and ability to push the team past the playoff barrier that ended their season in 2015. In doing so, they are deliberating on two candidates with no experience managing at the major league level.
Photo credit: Jake Roth
Black, with the most experience, was abruptly dismissed midseason after serving as the Padres manager since 2007. 1362 career games as Padres manager make up the entirety of the 58-year-old’s time as a manager. Black worked under strict payroll constraints and produced a 649-713 record. Although he is still in the running, it seems likely that LA will settle on either Kapler or Roberts given the reports we've heard so far.
Photo credit: Rob Tringali
Kapler, 40, has limited experience managing the Boston Red Sox affiliated Class A team. In 2007, he interrupted his playing career to take the position. Even with his lack of practice managing or coaching in the major leagues, Kapler seemed to stand out as the front-runner early in the search. Kapler was one of the new regime's first new hires after taking over last year and is known for his appreciation of modern analysis. His ability to sell certain front office beliefs from a player's perspective would seemingly be in high demand. He’s not a clear favorite though, as the Dodgers continue to lengthen the process – they expect to have chosen a new skipper by the start of Winter Meetings on December 7.
Photo credit: Jake Roth
Roberts, 43, gained coaching experience with the Padres after his nine-year playing career across five teams. Rumors circulated that Roberts became a top contender for the manager spot through an impressive first-round interview, which is consistent with what we've heard from people who have spoken about Roberts post-playing career.
While some teams have been bitten by hiring people without experience in the manager's chair, Friedman and company likely won’t hesitate to award the position to the inexperienced Kapler or Roberts. Kapler's reputation as a communicator and his path through the player development department is reminiscent of Byrnes' hiring of A.J. Hinch while in Arizona. Dave Roberts' also started out in the front office but has gotten his feet wet at the field level with the Padres over the last few years.
Black has experience, but if the Dodgers were impressed enough by Kapler and Roberts to let them get this far, it stands to reason that one of them would get the job. If the Dodgers were looking for a seasoned manager, they could have kept their old one. Instead, it looks like they'll be charting a new course, and Kapler or Roberts would serve as a good choice to do so. Soon enough, the Dodgers will name their 2016 manager and relieve themselves of the weight of being the last team in Major League Baseball without a skipper.
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Rachel Heacock is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score.