Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Orlando, Fla. -- When Carlos Beltran announced his retirement as a player on Monday, he instantly became the best known option to replace Joe Girardi as Yankees' manager.
"You're looking at a future Hall of Famer there," GM Brian Cashman said. "I am aware of his interest in managing in the future, and I'll leave it at that right now. "
Cashman has suspended interviews until he returns to New York later this week, and made clear that he was not downplaying the possibility of Beltran earning the job -- he simply was not ready to publicly confirm or deny any candidacy. He and Beltran are on friendly terms with one another, so much so that Cashman was aware before Monday that Beltran planned to retire after winning the World Series as a member of the Houston Astros.
"I've had a number of dialogues with Carlos that I would consider friendly," Cashman said. "I think we have a personal and professional relationship. I know he has aspirations to manage. I'm not going to talk about who our potential candidates until we present those candidates to the media conference calls after the interviews go through."
The Yankees have already interviewed former Indians and Mariners manager Eric Wedge and bench coach Rob Thomson, and reportedly plan to consider former third baseman Aaron Boone and Hensley Meulens, the former Yankee prospect and longtime San Francisco Giants coach. All could be terrific, as could talented catching instructor Josh Paul.
But no candidate can match Beltran's history as leader, or his credibility as one of the most respected figures of his era.
I covered and knew Beltran for many years, beginning with his deeply underrated time as a Met, and watched him grow from a man uncomfortable in New York ("They act like like they own you," he once told me of fans in the city) to a strong, self-assured presence who chose to spend offseasons with his family on the Upper East Side. By the time he signed with the Yankees prior to the 2014 season, Beltran had become a one of the most formidable clubhouse leaders of his era, quietly tutoring teammates on everything from hitting to handling the media.
Early in his Mets tenure, Beltran was more reticent, often hiding out in the players' only lounge at Shea Stadium, ducking reporters along with his teammate Carlos Delgado. As a elder statesman on the Yankees, Beltran had become much more relaxed, sitting at his locker hours before most home games, welcoming anyone who wanted to chat about the game. And those chats were always informative; you'd walk away having learned a great deal about whatever the topic happened to be, from opposing pitchers to the art of hitting to the experience of being a young player from Latin America trying to break into the big leagues.
Beltran was especially passionate about the latter topic. His voice would rise when he remembered having to deal with minor league coaches who had no patience for his limited English skills (Beltran later became not only fluent, but cutting and funny), and teammates who isolated him during lonesome bus rides through an unfamiliar country.
Those formative experiences led him to later advocate for younger Latin American teammates, and even successfully push Major League Baseball to hire full-time interpreters (I remember how offended he was once when Yankee teammate Ivan Nova had to discuss his need for Tommy John surgery without the help of a translator).
In a league where clubhouses are so often divided along ethnic and cultural lines, Beltran has a rare ability to unite all factions. His leadership interests extend to hands-on involvement in his youth baseball academy in Puerto Rico, and aggressive fundraising this fall to help rebuild from the devastation of Hurricane Maria.
In the current climate, inexperience is a non-factor; if Gabe Kapler can be a big league manager, Beltran is certainly qualified. The most significant unknown about him is whether he will be capable of implementing the ideas in a front office. The Yankees are among the game's most sabermetrically-inclined teams, and as a player, Beltran did not often have to dive into analytics.
But as one baseball official put it to me, "It's not like the manager really has to understand analytics. It's more that the trust has to be there with the front office to work with them on that."
That official mentioned Terry Francona as a manager who is not a sabermetrics native, but is personable enough to collaborate first with Boston, and then with the Cleveland front office on cutting-edge ideas.
Can Beltran adapt in the same way? The Yankees have the luxury of time to evaluate that question. With a championship-caliber roster already in place, Cashman does not foresee an offseason busy with player moves.
"We have a lot of good players signed so we're not in a situation where we have to be pressured into moving fast on anything," the GM said.
That affords him time to think about and talk to Beltran, and determine if his presence as a player will carry over to a bigger job. The bet here is that it will, if Beltran is given the chance.