Cora in ’09?

It’s official, Joey Cora has been interviewed as a potential candidate for the Mariners open managerial post. The interview took place Tuesday afternoon and early reports indicate no tears were shed by either of the involved parties, so good news there.

All jokes aside, the real question we should be asking right now is, “Is Joey Cora a good fit for the Mariners?” He’s without a doubt the most recognizable figure amongst a crowd of no-names–Brad Mills and DeMarlo Hale (Red Sox), Chip Hale (Diamondbacks), Jose Oquendo (Cardinals), Don Wakamatsu (A’s), and Randy Ready (Padres) are the other six candidates, none of whom (including Cora) have Major League managing experience–and is easily the fan’s choice for next M’s skipper, but let’s be honest here: Does Joey Cora really strike you as the managing type? And for this ballclub?

Cora has spent the last six seasons as a coach under Ozzie Guillen with the Chicago White Sox. Since 2006 he has been Guillen’s bench coach, the second-in-command to a man who frequently is ejected, often times leaving Cora in charge. Quietly, Cora has become one of the most prominent names mentioned for managerial jobs, thanks in part to the White Sox success and for his daily dealings as the middle man between Guillen and the Sox clubhouse.

But what we don’t know is how all of that will translate into wins. In Chicago, Guillen is a polarizing figure who, whether you love him or hate him, commands respect and gets his players to carry out the orders on-field. The White Sox are also a veteran-laden club with recent playoff experience, as well as a 2005 World Series Championship to their credit. With the Mariners, Cora would be walking into a complete 180 of a situation, with a team (supposedly) in full rebuilding mode and a dugout full of youngsters to run out 162 times a year.

While some of Guillen’s fire may have rubbed off on Cora, the man once-dubbed “Little Joey” doesn’t come across as a fear-inducing demon of a leader. The past four Mariners managers (Bob Melvin, Mike Hargrove, John McLaren, and Jim Riggleman) haven’t been that either, leaving fans wanting for the days of Lou Piniella, when there was a clear and discernable gap between the players and the coaching staff.

In recent years, we’ve seen the fire-and-brimstone-type manager take control of a young ballclub and translate it unexpectedly into wins. That was 2006, when Joe Girardi implemented a militaristic style upon the youthful Florida Marlins, a team with the lowest payroll in baseball that year, who despite their financial situation still put together 78 wins and remained in playoff contention until September. Girardi, a leader in the clubhouse during his playing days, maintained a clear distinction between manager and player and went so far as to ban facial hair in its entirety (including mustaches) from the ballclub (which, let’s be honest, shouldn’t be a problem with a team as young as the ’06 Marlins were). For his efforts, Girardi was awarded the distinction of National League Manager of the Year and subsequently fired after his only season in Florida after squabbling with owner Jeffrey Loria. He has since taken his act to the Bronx, where he failed to guide the Yankees to the postseason in his first season, 2008, but did manage to soften up his act a bit with a more veteran-heavy club.

Unlike many rebuilding teams, however, the Mariners situation is unique. In addition to the likes of Jeff Clement, Wladimir Balentien, and Matt Tuiasosopo that we should see at Safeco next season, the new M’s skipper will also be burdened with the contracts and egos of a few big-name players, presenting a quagmire in which to operate. Barring trades, Ichiro will be back in either center or right next season, as will third baseman Adrian Beltre. The baggage that is Erik Bedard is slated to take the hill every fifth day, along with the inflated contract of Carlos Silva. Younger vets like Yuniesky Betancourt, Jose Lopez, and Jeremy Reed will be given opportunities as well, leaving some tough decisions to the manager regarding playing time and roster spots.

So where does Joey Cora fit into all this? Who knows for sure, but regardless of which of these seven candidates ends up becoming the next M’s manager, there is no doubt that he will have a tough task at hand in establishing a winner on the field.

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