TORONTO — As the first pitch of the World Series looms on Tuesday, the Blue Jays and general manager Ross Atkins are inching closer to hiring a new manager.
Since the search began at the beginning of the month, Atkins and a large group of front office decision-makers have cast a wide net, informally talking to “twenty-something” candidates, some more seriously than others.
From there, the Jays conducted a “pretty big number” of formal interviews, according to source with knowledge of the process, and, over the past week, that list had been whittled down to a handful of serious contenders.
One of those finalists landed a job Sunday when the Cincinnati Reds hired David Bell, formerly the San Francisco Giants’ vice-president of player development.
The original 20-25 day timeline Atkins suggested Oct. 2 during his exit presser is in the ballpark, so to speak.
While the Jays will make the hire when they’re ready to do so, the World Series throws a wrench into things, as MLB frowns upon any sort of news being officially announced during its showcase event.
With the Reds and Los Angeles Angels filling their vacant managerial roles Sunday, it leaves four teams searching for a new skipper, with many of the same candidates dotting the lists of the Jays, Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles and Minnesota Twins.
Here’s a look at three names that are considered favourites in the wide-ranging search that has yet to produce a clear front-runner publicly:
Joe Espada, Houston Astros bench coach
In high demand as the Astros were ousted by the Boston Red Sox, Espada has reportedly been interviewed by the Twins, Angels, Rangers and Blue Jays over the past couple of weeks. The Jays are eager to spend more time with the 43-year-old this week in person as they close in on a decision.
After spending four years in the New York Yankees organization as their infield and third base coach, Espada was hired by the Astros last winter as bench coach when Alex Cora was introduced as the Red Sox new skipper.
The native of Puerto Rico served as third base coach during a pair of silver-medal performances at the World Baseball Classic, and has managed in the Puerto Rican Winter League.
Espada also has some familiarity with Canada, suiting up in the Pacific Coast League for Vancouver (1999) and Calgary (2001) during his 644-game minor-league journey that ended at the age of 29.
Rocco Baldelli, Tampa Bay Rays field co-ordinator
If you followed the draft and the minor leagues a decade or so ago, you’re very familiar with Baldelli.
As the sixth-overall pick in the 2000 draft, The Woonsocket Rocket’s career was sidetracked by a rare muscular disorder, and his playing career ended in 2010 after seven seasons.
In 519 games, Baldelli slashed .278/.323/.443 with 60 home runs and 60 stolen bases.
Since hanging up the cleats, the 37-year-old’s star has been on the rise in coaching circles.
After learning the ropes in the Rays’ baseball ops department for four years, Baldelli moved into the first base coach role and has been rumoured as a potential managerial candidate ever since.
Like the other names on this list, the 37-year-old has been popular this month, drawing interest from the Angels, Reds, Twins, Rangers and Jays.
Brandon Hyde, Chicago Cubs bench coach
MLB Network’s Jon Morosi first reported that the Jays had interest in the 45-year-old Hyde, who has bounced from bench coach to first base coach and back again over the past few seasons on the north side of Chicago.
Last winter, the New York Mets almost made him their new manager, before deciding to go with Mickey Callaway, a friend of Atkins from their time with the Cleveland Indians.
The former catcher and first baseman in the Chicago White Sox minor-league system has been a popular man this winter, as the Rangers, Twins and Angels had all expressed interest.
While Hyde has never been a manager at any level, the California native does have a sliver of managerial experience, guiding the Florida Marlins to a 2-1 loss in June of 2011 as acting manager after Edwin Rodriguez resigned.