PITTSBURGH - Meet the next boss, won't be the same as the old boss.
It will be a few days if not weeks before the Pirates choose a successor to manager John Russell, who was dismissed on Monday morning as expected. But whoever the person turns out to be, he's likely to have previous major league experience and a history of some success at that level if not a different personality entirely.
According to a team source, the organization was prepared to spend as much as necessary within reason to secure the right candidate.
Paul Ladewski, Pladewski@piratesreport.com
"It's a good question," general manager Neal Huntington said in a conference call on Monday afternoon, when he was asked what traits he would look for in the next field leader. "We certainly have our criteria in place. We certainly have a strong feel for what type of leader, what type of manager, what type of communicator, what type of teacher we'll look for. "We don't want to provide a road map for the candidates as they come through. We want to learn about them and their particular styles and how they impact players in different backgrounds and how they may impact all of the elements that go into managing and leading a major league team."
In 2007, when the organization conducted its last manager search, the team was about to embark on a youth movement. Russell was hired because of his low-key demeanor and ability as a teacher more than anything.
Now that the Baby Bucs have grown up a bit, a more established, experienced type appears to be in order.
"It will be one of the criteria that we take into consideration," said Huntington, who went on to say, "We'll go out and find the man that we feel will be the best manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates."
Eric Wedge would appear to be the early favorite based on his experience, track record and history with Huntington in the Cleveland Indians organization. Wedge served as Indians manager in the 2003-09 seasons, the first five of which Huntington was Indians assistant general manager. In 2007, he guided the Indians to within one victory of the World Series and was named Manager of the Year for his efforts.
"In some cases, they may be people that are familiar," Huntington said. "In some cases, they may be people that are outside. As we've put our front office and groups together in the past, we've certainly done everything in our power to reach outside our comfort zones. That said, there may be people within the comfort zone that will be in the interview process. There may be people outside the familiar ranks."
Other potential candidates with major league experience: Phil Garner (Houston Astros), Mike Hargrove (Indians, Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners), Ken Macha (Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers) and Willie Randolph (New York Mets).
On Monday, the Brewers announced that they would not renew of the contract of Macha, a Monroeville, Pa., native.
The process began immediately after Russell was informed of the decision. Given that seven other major league teams also had no full-time manager in place, there was some urgency for the organization to act soon.
"The process is the process we've got to work through it," Huntington said. "It may happen quickly. It may take some time. We have got to make sure that we're thorough, diligent and do everything in our power to find the right man to led this (team).
"We'll begin the search immediately. It will be a detailed and very thorough search, and we'll conclude it when we find the right person.
Huntington said the other areas of the baseball operations would remain intact. Rather, the immediate challenge was to find a manager that could take a talented young nucleus to the next level and beyond in the near future.
Huntington believed that the next manager would inherit a far better situation than the one that Russell took over three years earlier.
"We have a lot deeper farm system," Huntington said. "We have a lot more in place beneath the surface to build that foundation and move in a solid direction. Unfortunately, one of the bigger disappointments and frustrations for a person such as J.R. in this situation is, we've gone through a lot in these three years and he won't be able to reap the benefits. In our minds, it's a lot better situation for the new person that comes here."
Interim bench coach Jeff Banister, third base coach Tony Beasley, bullpen coach Luis Dorante, first base coach Carlos Garcia, hitting coach Don Long and interim pitching coach Ray Searage were given permission to pursue opportunities outside the organization. Huntington said one or more could return next season.
"They certainly will be given due consideration to remain not only in the organization but potentially on the major league staff," he said. "The new major league staff will be a collaboration between the manager and myself. We've got some quality baseball people as well as quality people that we believe can continue to make a positive impact on this organization."
Huntington told Russell of his fate in Bradenton, Fla., where the annual organizational meetings began this week.
Asked how Russell took the news, Huntington said, "As you would expect disappointed but (with) extreme professionalism."
Russell was under contract in the 2011 season but was not offered another position in the organization.
"In situations such as this, sometimes it's difficult to offer the manager a position elsewhere," Huntington said. "We decided that it was best to part ways."
In three seasons, Russell compiled a 186-299 record. His .384 win percentage ranked ahead of only Alan Trammell (.383), Mickey Vernon (.373) and Roy Hartsfield (.343) in the post-expansion era.
Once again, Huntington emphasized that the won-loss record was the work of more than one person.
"The last place that I'll place blame for those losses is on the manager," he said. "We all share that burden. We all share that accountability and responsibility. I've said if before and I'll say it again we gave (Russell) an incredible challenge. It's not about where to place the blame.
"This was an ongoing evaluation. It has not been an easy decision. There's a very valid argument that John Russell deserves an opportunity to be the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2011. There wasn't a single factor that swayed the decision in one direction or the other. It was a combination of everything that we put into the decision process, and we felt that a change was best for this organization."
At the same time, the Huntington conceded that the team underachieved to a considerable extent this season.
At least one front office member expressed concern about the lack of urgency in the final weeks of spring training. The team finished with a 7-21 record in Grapefruit League play, the worst in the major leagues, which Russell dismissed as meaningless.
Last month Russell conceded that the pitchers weren't ready for the start of the regular season.
"We did not anticipate a 105-loss season as we came out of the chute," Huntington said. "There are a multitude of reasons as to how and why it happened, and now we have got to focus to move forward and how we accentuate the positives and minimize the negatives and take the steps necessary to play better baseball, which leads to more wins.
"John was incredibly committed this plan. He was committed to make good things happen. A valid argument could be made that he deserved a better fate given the difficulty of the challenge before him. In my mind, it was important to make a change to continue to move this organization in a forward direction."