Los Angeles Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said the team will go into the search for its next manager with no preconceived notions. "We'll have candidates who have managerial experience and others who don't," Friedman said at the press conference to discuss the departure of manager Don Mattingly. "For us to cast as wide a net as we want to, we're going to go into it with an open mind."
Friedman's track record suggests he'll do exactly as he said. One of the first things he did after taking over as general manager of the Tampa Bay Rays after the 2005 season was to hire Joe Maddon, a longtime Angels coach with whom Friedman had no previous connection. Maddon simply blew him away in the job interview.
Let's explore some of the presumed candidates who could take over for Mattingly.
Wednesday: Gabe Kapler
The national consensus seems to be that Friedman will hire Kapler, his longtime friend and the only candidate who is now a member of his front office inner circle. He’s the farm director, but his influence seems to be greater than that of the average player-development paper pusher.
He’s certainly the most versatile possibility, with an interest in advanced analytics, nutrition, fitness, psychology and, yes, baseball. Kapler as a manager would be an entirely different experience than any of the other candidates as a manager, which will -- of course -- intrigue a Dodgers front office that’s always looking to explore outside the box.
He played in the major leagues for parts of nine seasons, the last two under Friedman in Tampa Bay. He managed in the minor leagues of the Boston Red Sox system in 2007 before returning to a playing career. He worked as a broadcaster for a while.
He runs a fitness and lifestyle blog while, it seems, leading the good life in one of those gorgeous Malibu canyons.
Here’s what Friedman said about him after he hired him:
"He's incredibly bright, he's a tremendous leader of people, and he's an exceptional communicator. It's so hard for players, who are so mired in it, to sometimes see the bigger picture or even look at it from a different perspective. Gabe is incredibly skilled at seeing things at different perspectives."
In a post on Kapler's blog about building a winning culture, he gives us a good glimpse into his potential mission statement were he to become a major league manager:
"Unfortunately, in sports and in life, we don’t always have the luxury of choosing our ideal teammates. Our responsibility, as leaders, becomes to guide and develop the individuals we are surrounded by," Kapler wrote. "Not all teammates are created equal, and, because we are acutely aware that a powerful culture is a sum of its parts, we must be constantly and relentlessly seeking out ways to build individuals capable of contributing to that endgame."
The main question with Kapler seems to be: Will the players buy in? His most celebrated contribution to the major-league team -- aside from whatever influence you think he might have had on Corey Seager -- was ridding the spring training clubhouse of junk food. The players, for the most part, seemed to be OK with it, but there was some undertone of push-back. Scott Van Slyke, who grew up around major league clubhouses with his dad, Andy, smuggled in a big box of Cheetos and shared them liberally.
“Call me old school. I like choosing what I eat,” Van Slyke said at the time.
Kapler would challenge players’ assumptions, which should be good, right? He already tried to get his minor-leaguers to concentrate on numbers the front office holds to be more valuable than the dusty old ones like RBIs, batting average and pitcher wins. A fresh approach might be just what the team needs. Then again, it could always backfire, with players challenging his intrusions into what they view as their autonomy or perhaps growing tired of his starry-eyed energy.
The fact that the perceived insider for the job would also be the most revolutionary choice probably tells us a lot about this front office.