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Hunsicker near agreement to join Rays

The former Astros GM would join in time to help pick from among three managerial finalists.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published November 2, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - After cutting the field of managerial candidates to three, the Devil Rays on Tuesday night moved to the verge of a bigger acquisition, closing in on a deal to land former Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker to play a key role in their front office.

A multiyear deal with Hunsicker could be completed today and announced as soon as Thursday.

Hunsicker's path to the Rays was cleared Tuesday when the Phillies decided instead to hire Pat Gillick as their general manager. The Dodgers and Red Sox still have openings, but indications Tuesday night were that Hunsicker was headed to Tampa Bay, where he will work with Andrew Friedman, the Rays' 28-year-old chief of baseball operations. It is not yet clear what their job titles will be.

Hunsicker, 55, spent nine years as GM of the Astros, resigning after the 2004 season for still undisclosed reasons, and played a key role in building the team that reached the World Series this season and fell one game short the year before, combining young homegrown talent with key acquisitions.

Assuming final details are worked out, one of Hunsicker's first tasks will be to help the Rays choose a manager. Tuesday they named incumbent bench coach John McLaren and Angels bench coach Joe Maddon as finalists and also said Bobby Valentine, whom they have yet to formally interview because he is still managing in Japan, remained in contention.

They plan to conduct followup interviews with McLaren and Maddon at next week's general managers meetings in Indian Wells, Calif., and expect to make a hire by Nov. 15.

"We think the Devil Rays would be very well served by any of these potential managers," team president Matt Silverman said.

Though Valentine has the most impressive credentials, having spent 15 seasons managing the Rangers and Mets before leading Chiba Lotte to the Japan Series title, he remains a longshot to join the Rays. They are unlikely to approach the $3-million a year he is making in Japan, with reports of a more lucrative extension pending, and can't match his long-term relationship with the Dodgers, who reportedly are planning an aggressive pursuit.

Most likely, the Rays will pick between Maddon and McLaren, who followed similar career paths to become top major-league coaches but don't have major-league managing experience beyond occasional fill-in work.

"We thought given the places they are in their careers and their personalities, they are well suited to lead our clubhouse as it's currently composed and as we expect it to be composed in current years," Silverman said.

"We're inclined to give someone an opportunity to prove himself as a major-league manager, but it will be important if it's either of these two to assemble an experienced coaching staff."

Both Maddon and McLaren have had other opportunities: Maddon has interviewed for managing jobs with the Angels (who hired Terry Collins and Mike Scioscia), the D'backs (Bob Melvin), the Mariners (Mike Hargrove) and the Red Sox (Terry Francona); McLaren has interviewed with the Mariners (Melvin) and the Reds (Dave Miley).

But both are confident this is the right opportunity.

Maddon: "Based on my observations of the (new ownership/management) group and what they told me, I think I really fit in with that group. ... I'm willing to be patient. I like to build. I'm a development person at heart. ... I think my talents and my skills fit well with what the organization needs right now. ... There so many positive things going on, I think the future looks really bright there. ... It seems like a nice place to see if what you think works, works."

McLaren: "My background has been in development and I've had the luxury of coaching 20 years in the big leagues. I've gotten to know these players the last three years, and I'd like to take the reins from here and keep this thing going. ... I like what (the new group has) had to say. It's exciting to the town and it's excited me. ... I just think it's a good fit. Hopefully I can leave them with the impression that I'm the guy. ... I think this is my time."

The six candidates who didn't make the cut were Rays coaches Tom Foley and Billy Hatcher, Triple-A manager Bill Evers, former Tigers manager Alan Trammel, Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton and Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt. The Rays also interviewed Joe Girardi, who was hired by the Marlins.

Foley and Hatcher, who have been with the Rays since the start, could end up staying on the big-league staff. Silverman said the new manager will have flexibility in forming his staff but will be "encouraged" to at least consider the current coaches, who are signed through 2006. Evers is expected to return to Durham.

Also, the Rays picked up their half of a $1.4-million mutual option with Casey Fossum. The left-hander has until Friday to decide whether to exercise his half or go through arbitration.

[Last modified November 2, 2005, 00:47:16]

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