Several hours after the Dodgers confirmed Don Mattingly wouldn’t return to their dugout next season, Gabe Kapler was asked if he was ready to take over as the team’s manager.
“I have to go work out,” Kapler said.
He smiled, politely declined to comment further and slipped into an elevator.
Kapler, who recently completed his first season as the Dodgers’ farm director, has emerged as the early industrywide favorite to replace Mattingly. The former major league outfielder is one of three in-house candidates under consideration for the position, along with bench coach Tim Wallach and third base coach Ron Roenicke.
The Dodgers are also expected to reach out to Chicago Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez and former San Diego Padres manager Bud Black.
Andrew Friedman, the team’s president of baseball operations, said he would like to hire a manager in time for baseball’s annual winter meetings in early December.
“I imagine it will be a very thorough process,” Friedman said.
Previous managerial experience is not a requirement.
“My sense is that we’ll have candidates who have prior managerial experience and others who don’t,” Friedman said.
Kapler has managed for only one season — and that was back in 2007, with a Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.
Kapler resumed his playing career the following season. He played three more years, the last two with the Tampa Bay Rays. At the time, Friedman was the team’s general manager. When Kapler retired as a player for the second time, Friedman offered him his first front-office position with the Rays.
From the time Kapler became the Dodgers’ farm director, there were rumblings within the organization that he might be the front office’s handpicked manager-in-waiting. True or not, this perception could present an obstacle for Kapler if he is selected to manage the team. If players see him as an extension of the front office, they could view him with suspicion.
Already, Kapler has raised some eyebrows with the Dodgers.
He was responsible for introducing organic food and eliminating soda in the team’s dining room at spring training, a move that was unpopular with veteran players.
Kapler also authors a blog about nutrition and fitness. In August, he used the platform to encourage baseball players to expose their private parts to sunlight as a method of increasing testosterone production.
Kapler has presented himself publicly as someone open to the application of statistical analysis, which is probably a prerequisite to manage under the Dodgers’ sabermetrically inclined front office.
“I don’t think fluency with that stuff is as necessary as just openness to ideas,” General Manager Farhan Zaidi said. “One of the things we really enjoyed about working with Donnie was he was very open to new ideas.”
Zaidi described the front office’s working relationship with Mattingly as a “good model” to follow with the team’s next manager. Management often guided Mattingly’s decisions on lineups, defensive shifts and pitching changes.
“There was a lot of collaboration,” Zaidi said. “Look, people don’t always agree on how to interpret information. Andrew and I will look at the same information and sometimes come to different ideas of who should play or what the lineup should look like. But the most important thing is that everybody communicates and when you come up with decisions in the end, that everybody is on board and on the same page.
“That’s going to be what we’re looking for going forward. Somebody we can collaborate with and exchange ideas.”
Friedman acknowledged that whoever is chosen as manager will probably have some shortcomings, but that the front office would attempt make up for them by surrounding him with the right coaches.
“Whatever we perceive to not be that person’s strengths, we’ll look to fill that in around him and figure out ways to help make it as well-rounded as possible,” Friedman said.