The Boston Red Sox are taking a major step this week toward hiring a new manager as Dale Sveum will be in Milwaukee on Tuesday to meet with general manager Ben Cherington and Red Sox owners John W. Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the managerial search.
The meeting is the strongest indication yet that he has emerged as the leading candidate. Late last week, team sources said Cherington is extremely high on Sveum.
Cherington will be in Milwaukee for GM meetings that begin Tuesday, with the Red Sox owners also coming to town for a MLB owners meeting that begins Wednesday.
Two new managers have been hired so far this offseason. Robin Ventura, who has never managed or coached a game at any level, was hired by the Chicago White Sox to replace Ozzie Guillen, who took his talents to South Beach and the Miami Marlins.
And on Monday, Mike Matheny will be introduced as the new manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, replacing future Hall of Famer Tony La Russa. Matheny, like Ventura, has never managed or coached since retiring as an active player. He has been a minor league roving instructor for the Cards.
Hiring inexperienced managers isn't totally unheard of. In 2009, former Theo Epstein lieutenant Josh Byrnes hired A.J. Hinch from a front-office job to manage the Diamondbacks even though he'd never coached nor managed. That experiment lasted 212 games, a little less than a season and a third, before Hinch was fired.
But that hasn't deterred the White Sox and Cardinals from taking similar risks on unproven managerial talent, the Cardinals passing on the chance to hire former Boston manager Terry Francona, who still has hopes of being hired by the Cubs in Chicago -- a doubtful proposition, a source close to Cubs president of baseball operations Epstein said Sunday night.
This latest industry trend, if that's what it is, might offer hope to Sandy Alomar Jr., the only candidate interviewed by the Red Sox who has never managed a game and like Matheny earned his reputation for leadership as an elite big league catcher.
But while Alomar made a favorable impression on his visit to Yawkey Way last week, the man clearly emerging as the favorite to be hired is Sveum, who spent two seasons in Boston as third-base coach under Francona. Ken Rosenthal of Fox was the first to report that Sveum was in line for a second interview.
At this stage, Sveum is believed to be the only candidate who has been invited to Milwaukee, reinforcing the notion that he is the preferred choice of Cherington, who has raved about him to associates after Sveum's interview and dinner with the staff that night.
Sveum comes with modest credentials on paper, including a brief stint as interim manager for the Brewers before staying on as hitting coach, after a 12-year playing career with seven different teams, mostly with the Brewers and Pirates. But in that span he earned wide respect as a teammate and smart baseball mind, and while he comes across as low-key, he has satisfied Boston brass that he would have a commanding voice in a Red Sox clubhouse that evidently had wearied of Francona's, by the former manager's own admission.
With an absence of experienced big league managers available -- the Rays weren't going to surrender Joe Maddon, the Jays changed their rules to make sure John Farrell didn't bolt, Bruce Bochy is a fixture in San Francisco, and the Padres weren't going to give Bud Black a chance to interview -- there was never any doubt that the Red Sox list would appear unremarkable on the surface.
Past big league managers have began with credentials as thin, if not thinner, than the names on the Red Sox's list. La Russa managed a half-season in 1978 in Double-A, spent the rest of that season as a big league coach, then began the next season as a Triple-A manager before the White Sox fired Don Kessinger as manager and promoted La Russa, at age 34.
Bobby Cox managed six years at Triple-A in the Yankees' system, spent a year on Billy Martin's coaching staff with the Yankees, then was hired as manager of the Braves. He was 36.
Mike Scioscia spent two seasons as Dodgers' bench coach and one year managing Triple-A before the Angels hired him to manage. He was 41.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com