Alomar may be Cubs' front-runner

If the Chicago Cubs’ managerial search were a golf tournament, you’d have to say the leaders are in the clubhouse with a round to go. The team’s front office – led by president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer – completed its fourth interview in eight days on Friday. Cleveland Indians bench Sandy Alomar Jr. was the latest candidate to get consideration.

Hoyer said Friday afternoon that he’s not sure if there will be any more interviews. He characterized the process as “going into the seventh inning.” That comment came a day after Epstein told season-ticket holders that the hiring process was in the “sixth inning.” If you believe both executives, the team is going to need a closer soon. Hoyer said follow-up conversations with candidates – both on the phone and in person – are likely to take place over the next week. At this point, no other interviews are setup.

The wildcard in the process remains former Red Sox manager Terry Francona. Major league sources have indicated Francona is close enough with Epstein to have two or three conversations a day if necessary about where he may stand in the process. Francona is also said to be a top candidate for the St. Louis Cardinals’ opening, which he interviewed for this week.

Let’s take a look at my managerial leader board. Please remember, this is for amusement purposes only.

1. Sandy Alomar Jr., Cleveland Indians bench coach:Look past his lack of experience as a bench coach or a third-base coach. A baseball lifer, Alomar has been training to be a manager since his father, Sandy Sr., began to teach him and brother Roberto the game 40 years ago. Alomar has enough coaching experience and instant credibility with players, having retired in 2007. The no-nonsense former catcher knows pitching – one of the front office’s most sought-after attributes for the team’s next manager. He can communicate with both American and Latin players. Alomar is a nice guy who can also be tough when he needs to get his point across.

1a. Mike Maddux, Texas Rangers pitching coach: The Cubs’ front office loves the idea of a top pitching instructor managing their team. There’s little question that Maddux fits that bill. Hoyer worked with manager Bud Black, a former pitching coach, in San Diego. So don’t discount this type of process working with Maddux and the Cubs. The reason Maddux might be a bit behind Alomar was his heart-felt comment to the Cubs’ brass, admitting he might hesitate to move his family from Texas after having uprooted them for previous jobs.

2. Pete Mackanin, Philadelphia Phillies bench coach: This outstanding baseball man has the most experience of the four baseball men the team has interviewed thus far. Mackanin has managed 100 games as an interim manager in both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. His resume also includes the longest coaching career to offer among the group. At age 60, Mackanin is the oldest candidate, but he still could be an outstanding choice. He's also a candidate for the opening in Boston.

3. Dale Sveum, Milwaukee Brewers hitting coach: Sveum has one advantage over the other three candidates: his previous relationship with the Cubs’ brass – he worked with Epstein and Hoyer for two seasons in Boston. Although it’s only a small sample size, Sveum had a successful 12-game managing record in Milwaukee under extreme pressure. He came away a winner in 2008 with the Brewers. It’s hard to judge his candidacy with just one news conference. However, he is highly thought of in both the Chicago and Boston camps.

If Epstein, Hoyer and team chairman Tom Ricketts can work their way through Francona’s sudden departure in Boston, he may still end up being the favorite for the Cubs’ opening. The GM meetings in Milwaukee this coming Monday and Tuesday will preclude either exec from doing much work on the manager search. Don’t expect a conclusion to the process until the end of next week at the earliest.