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Could be Ryno time soon

With Phillies going nowhere, Manuel should step down and turn team over to Hall of Famer

Phil Rogers

On Baseball

4:07 PM EDT, June 22, 2013

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Ryne Sandberg sold his three-bedroom unit in a vintage building in downtown Chicago in March. He had listed it a year earlier, less than six months after Cubs President Theo Epstein handed Dale Sveum the job Sandberg always wanted when he was riding busses and airplanes around America as a manager in the Cubs' farm system.

No knock on Sveum, but as a Hall of Fame player willing to work his way up the managerial ladder, Sandberg deserved a shot. Denied first by Jim Hendry and then by Epstein, he took a job managing the Phillies' Triple-A team.

Baseball's most brilliant executive, Pat Gillick of the Phillies, was among those who dug into Sandberg's background trying to learn why his own organization had bypassed him in favor of Mike Quade and Sveum. He came away impressed with Sandberg, as did the Cardinals when he finished as runner-up in the search that led to Mike Matheny being picked to replace Tony La Russa.

All signs point to Sandberg's time coming soon.

Added to the big-league staff as third base coach after an offseason purge claimed three of Charlie Manuel's coaches, Sandberg is along on the Phillies' expensive ride to nowhere this season. You can't help but wonder if he will be the guy calling the shots when they visit Wrigley Field two months from now.

The Phillies entered Saturday 35-39, and have been below .500 for 77 of 82 days this season. The franchise lost its equilibrium when Ryan Howard tore his Achilles tendon making the last out in a classic elimination game against La Russa's Cardinals in 2011, but since then added Jonathan Papelbon, re-signed Jimmy Rollins and handed Cole Hamels a six-year, $144-million extension rather than turning him into two or three good, young pitchers, as the A's Billy Beane would have done.

Keeping Hamels was a mistake, just as it was for the Cubs to extend Carlos Zambrano on the heels of his assault on Michael Barrett and for the White Sox to extend John Danks just because Mark Buehrle was headed into free agency.

It's easier to make tough decisions when you are on a tight budget, like the one Beane manages in Oakland. But there can be a tremendous return when you trade players when they have their most value, and a look at the Athletics of 2012-13 illustrates that.

Beane widely was seen to be dooming the A's to doormat status when he traded Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill after they had combined to go 28-26 on a 74-88 team in 2011. But those moves freed up the money that allowed the Athletics to steal Yoenis Cespedes from the Cubs and brought pitchers Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone and Ryan Cook, along with pitching prospects Brad Peacock (who Beane traded for Jed Lowrie) and A.J. Cole (who Beane traded for John Jaso).

Along with homegrown, inexpensive pitchers like A.J. Griffin, Sean Doolittle and Dan Straily, the guys from the Cahill and Gonzalez trades have been the guts of a team that has embarrassed the Angels and gone toe to toe with the Rangers the last two years. Meanwhile, the grind is taking a toll in Philadelphia.

Cliff Lee, signed to a five-year, $120-million contract after the Phillies lost the 2010 NLCS to the upwardly mobile Giants — a team built around young pitching and capable of making tough decisions — and Papelbon have become frustrated by the lack of a clear road back to the playoffs. Hamels, who dropped to 2-11 after losing Friday, is trying to avoid reporters.

General manager Ruben Amaro and Manuel are doing their best to keep a business-as-usual posture. But at the very least, it would seem, the Phillies are caught in a riptide, moving toward choppy waters.

If they are smart, they will trade Lee and Papelbon before the July 31 deadline. Then they will figure a way to finesse the lineup card out of Manuel's stubborn grip, setting themselves up for their next run behind a new manager.

Manuel's contract is up after the season, and he can make Amaro fire him. Or he can do the right thing, which is to say he has had a great run and it's time to move into a different role. That's when Sandberg steps in and we find out if Hendry and Epstein were right not to make the easy decision.

Spoiler: No one has won the Triple Crown twice since Ted Williams. No one has ever won it two years in a row. Miguel Cabrera seemed a decent bet a month ago but the big guy has been almost mortal in June, which seems likely to be his least productive month in more than a year (his .955 OPS entering the weekend was his lowest since May 2012, when he was at .839).

After hitting six home runs in four games May 19-23, Cabrera had 14. He was one behind the AL leader, Chris Davis of the Orioles, but it was only a matter of time till he blew past him, right?

Not so much. Davis out-homered Cabrera 11-5 over the next four weeks, building a seven-home run edge. Adam Dunn and Edwin Encarnacion also out-homered Cabrera in that period, leaving three men in the race to take the home run crown off Cabrera's head.

Davis out-homered Cabrera 3-1 in a series at Comerica Park last week, including homers off Rick Porcello and Jose Valverde in the series finale. The homer off Porcello was a great bit of hitting, as he went to the opposite field on a good sinker on the outside half of the plate.

"I was actually looking at a lot of video before the game of balls I hit the other way, staying on balls a little bit better," Davis told the Baltimore Sun. "I feel like I've had some pitches the last few games to drive the other way, and I've kind of pulled off of them. That's something I was kind of working on before the game. He left it out over the plate and I didn't swing real hard, I just barreled it up and was able to get it over the first wall."

In limbo: While the Royals have surged since George Brett and Pedro Grifol became the hitting coach combination, it's incorrect to credit Brett for the improvement and unclear if the Hall of Famer will have a long tenure in the role.

Brett told the Kansas City Star's Bob Dutton that he will meet with GM Dayton Moore in the near future to discuss whether he wants to remove interim from his job title. Players hope he will but Brett is holding his cards close to the vest.

"It has been all right," Brett said about the new role. "We've won a lot of games. Baseball is always a lot of fun when you win.''

While third baseman Mike Moustakas seems on the verge of becoming a dangerous hitter again, the Royals' team batting average has dropped since Brett and Grifol replaced Jack Maloof and Andre David. The run that gave them renewed life as contenders is based on pitching and defense.

Brett's a great resource for hitters needing timely hits to win low-scoring games.

"Just having George's mentality in the dugout helps a lot,'' first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "He's a competitor out there. And I think Pedro is one of the most intelligent hitting coaches I've ever been around. Being around those guys has definitely been a big help for us. We'll see what happens (with Brett). That's up to him."

Mixed feelings: It's going to be fascinating to see how MLB handles the variety of issues that will arise from the city of San Jose's challenge of its antitrust exemption. The guess here is that it will force a quick resolution that clears the way for the A's to buy out the Giants' territorial rights and get their badly needed new stadium, with San Jose being the heavy, not owner Lew Wolff.

But almost everyone involved seems to feel a sadness that Oakland will lose the franchise that relocated from Kansas City in 1968.

"A new stadium would be sweet, but at what cost and what gain?'' reliever Ryan Cook said. "I don't know. I love the loyalty of our fans. That's something not every team has — it's a genuine love for the players. And I don't know if moving jeopardizes that or not. I know some fans would make the drive to San Jose for games, which is great, but I know others couldn't or wouldn't, and that's not great."

While the old Coliseum has been home to great players from Reggie Jackson to Yoenis Cespedes, it was bypassed long ago as a revenue generator by the wave of modern stadiums that followed the opening of SkyDome, U.S. Cellular Field and Camden Yards. The sewage that overflowed into clubhouses recently was the last straw for many.

"We'd obviously like a new place,'' A's pitcher A.J. Griffin said. "I feel like if an area wants to have a team, they should be able to have a team. … (But) if they made the Coliseum nice and updated the amenities, I'd be fine with it."

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