Ryno Re-Upped: Phillies Make Sandberg Full-Time Manager


Sep 15, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Philadelphia Phillies interim manager Ryne Sandberg (23) in the dugout prior to a game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

In a move that should have come as very little surprise to those following the Phillies, the franchise decided to remove the ‘interim’ tag from manager Ryne Sandberg, and make him the full-time manager of the future for the time being. Officially, the deal is a three-year deal with an option for a fourth that could have Sandberg manning the Phillies bench through the 2017 season. Sandberg, who took over in mid-August for the departed Charlie Manuel, managed the Phillies to an 18-17 record in 35 games. Sandberg will be tasked with taking the Phillies franchise through a crucial, delicate transition, as the one-time National League power has fallen on hard times over the past few seasons, unable to turn in a winning record either of the past two years.

According to many reports, the decision to lock up Sandberg for the foreseeable future was made by general manager Ruben Amaro, and that several factors including players opinion, on-field performance, and the consideration of upper management all were taken into account.

Sandberg’s transition from Hall of Fame player to major league manager as been a unique, arduous process to say the least. The Cubs, who Sandberg spent the better part of his well-decorated career with, were the first organization to give him an opportunity in a managerial capacity. Sandberg worked his way through the minor league ranks and was in consideration to take back over for Chicago when Lou Piniella left the organization. When he was passed over for the Cubs position, Sandberg was brought in by the Phillies to man up the Triple-A Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. The former draft pick of the Phillies franchise endeared himself to the organization immediately. After guiding Lehigh Valley to the playoffs, Sandberg was named Minor League Manager of the Year for 2011. As hot a name as there was in the managerial pool, paired with yet another opening in the Cubs dugout, Sandberg seemed to be the prime candidate to return to the Cubs under new general manager Theo Epstein.

However, the seemingly perfect marriage between team and manager was not to be, as the Cubs opted for Dale Sveum and Sandberg decided to return to the Iron Pigs and remain at the Triple-A level. Sandberg’s patience was rewarded entering the 2012 season, as he was given a full-time position on Charlie Manuel’s staff as the team’s third base coach. Despite a few hiccups as far as sending runners in questionable situations, Sandberg’s rapport with the team combined with his knowledge and familiarity with the organization payed dividends when it mattered.

When Philadelphia made the decision to cut ties with Manuel, a widely unpopular move at the time, Sandberg was the unquestioned choice to take over in the dugout. While one can only  make so many judgments based on a chunk of games with a team that has not been in serious playoff contention since the all-star break, Ruben Amaro Jr. and company apparently saw all they needed to from Sandberg to give him a full-time job prior to the offseason.

Sep 21, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies interim manager Ryne Sandberg (23) relieves pitcher Tyler Cloyd (50) during the sixth inning against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the lack of turnover in the roster with Sandberg running the ship, there were a handful of developments that seemed to inspire a bit of hope moving forward that the Phillies may not as far off from contention as one may have thought earlier in the season. Sandberg had a better pulse of a bullpen full of young arms than Manuel did. While the Phillies bullpen never inspired much hope to hold down games on a consistent basis this season, Sandberg had multiple situations where he would pull his starter perhaps a bit earlier than Manuel might have to see if his reliever could handle the situation. Because of this, Philadelphia has a better grasp on players such as Jake Diekman and Justin De Fratus moving forward.

Some of the Phillies veteran players, most notably Carlos Ruiz and Jimmy Rollins, two players who adamantly favored Charlie Manuel’s presence in the clubhouse, saw their production trend upward following Sandberg’s hire. With Ruiz entering a free agency period and Rollins the continued target of trade rumors, one can argue how much value their late-season production actually meant as far as their future with the organization. Whether it was due to Sandberg’s influence, or simply the added motivation to perform under a new manager, it was a good thing to see Sandberg’s more regimented, detail-oriented approach work on some of the Phillies veteran players.

March 28, 2013; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee (33), starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick (38) and starting pitcher Cole Hamels (35) out prior to the game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Bright House Networks Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

While neither Sandberg, nor any sort of magic could work out the issues with Roy Halladay upon his return from the disabled list, the team’s other two ace pitchers: Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, also performed their best in the stretch following Manuel’s departure. Prior to his loss Sunday afternoon vs. the Mets, Lee had gone 4-0 with a 1.95 ERA in the previous 4 weeks. While his recent loss to the Mets boosted his ERA for the same stretch a bit, Hamels was also impressive the last month, turning in a 3-1 record with a respectable 3.60 ERA. No matter what the team does during the offseason from a player personnel standpoint, should they decide to hang on to both Hamels and Lee, they will need both of them to pitch at a consistently high level should they expect to return to contention.

Sep 20, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Cody Asche (25) reacts to being tagged out at third base while trying to stretch a double into a triple during the sixth inning against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park. The Mets defeated the Phillies 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the most important development with the Phillies looking toward the future will be the performance of some of the position players that will be integrated into the lineup over the next several months. In his sample in the big league to this point, third baseman Cody Asche has been a solid, at-times even better than solid, performer at the plate and in the field. The difference between him and the now-departed Michael Young at the hot corner was night and day. Asche’s range, awareness, arm, and athleticism allowed him to get to several balls that Young could not, and the rookie even turned in his fair share of highlight worthy plays. Asche’s defensive exploits were well-documented prior to his call up, but several people wondered if he would be able to contribute enough at the plate to warrant a look as an everyday player. At 42 games, the sample size is small, but for a third baseman to bat .261, and chip in five home runs and 22 RBI, is more than acceptable at that position. If Asche is able to continue to improve and carry his professional approach to the game over the offseason, I expect Sandberg to pencil him in as the every day third baseman come Spring Training. Another player who performed well under Sandberg to keep one’s eye on is Cesar Hernandez. The second baseman-turned-centerfielder hit .345 during the month of September and showed a more than acceptable fielding presence in the outfield. Considering Ben Revere’s impressive performance prior to his injury, and Hernandez’s lack of power it is hard to imagine he has the tools to lock down a starting outfield spot next spring. With that said though, it is important to have bench players that one can turn to in a high-pressure situation, and Sandberg showed a great deal of confidence in Hernandez during his stint with the big-league team.

One could argue that the main reason that Sandberg was able to garner serious interest as a managerial candidate within the Phillies was his ability to achieve success in what was considered a very barren minor league organization. With a great deal of money tied up in several position players, and the strategy of paying high-profile free agents huge sums of money starting to prove ineffective, it is crucial for teams to be able to build through their farm system. Following the core of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, and Ryan Howard, the Phillies have not been able to produce many everyday players from their minor league system. Domonic Brown looks as if he can hold down one of the two corner outfield positions for the next five years if he remains healthy. However, it must become a higher priority for this organization to utilize their minor-leauge stocks to replenish their talent, rather than being the highest bidder for aging veterans. It is true Sandberg does not have control in this department, as Ruben Amaro Jr. is one of the more aggressive individuals when it comes to handling personnel decisions. Having said that, Sandberg must be able to continue to get the most out of his players, both young and old.

While it would have been a fitting tribute for the Phillies to win their home finale against the Mets Sunday afternoon, at 18-17 under Sandberg, one has to consider the move a successful one to date and their is optimism looking down the road. With an offseason to put together his coaching staff, many outlets have rumored a potential return to the bench for Larry Bowa as Sandberg’s bench coach.

With Bowa’s relationship with most of the remaining core of the Phillies team, one has to consider the potential addition of Bowa to be a positive. Unfortunately, only because he was never able to regain his Cy Young form, the expectation is that the Phillies will not use their team option on Roy Halladay for the 2014 season, and the right hander will hit the free agent market following an unceremonious end to his career in Philadelphia. With the financial flexibility that comes with having Halladay off the books, it is interesting to see what the team’s approach in free agency will be considering their situation in the landscape of Major League Baseball. I expect that Sandberg and Amaro Jr. will have to conduct a series of conversations as far as what direction the new manager feels is the best way to turn the Phillies back into a contender and stop the downward trend that has been the norm the last few years.

One thing is for certain, having a huge question mark like the future manager for a high-profile club like the Phillies taken care of prior to the offseason is a major positive. With all the problems and hurdles that this franchise has to overcome over the coming months, it will require all resources toward fixing a flawed team and the direction of a manager with a secure future. I would say at this point that Sandberg has probably performed better than I had expected when they made the hire. I was skeptical of his in-game baseball acumen after watching him coach third base under Charlie Manuel, but sometimes certain figures conduct themselves better when they are in charge of an entire operation. Sandberg has the will, drive, and knowledge to win as a manager. The Phillies organization will do all they can to continue to provide the team with what it needs to try to return to the postseason. At that point, it is up in the air as to whether the 52nd manager in Phillies history has what it takes to do what his predecessor did, bring a World Series to the City of Brotherly Love.