The top candidates to replace Tony La Russa as White Sox manager

    Jesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers MLB for ESPN.com.

Following Monday’s announcement that Tony La Russa is stepping down as Chicago White Sox manager due to health concerns, general manager Rick Hahn has begun the search for a new skipper. Hahn’s criteria for the next manager included recent dugout experience as a coach or manager for a winning organization, good communication skills and an understanding of how the game has evolved over the last decade. He also added this twist:

“One thing that perhaps breaks from the mold of at least the last few hires, having a history with the White Sox, having some sort of connection to White Sox DNA is by no means a requirement,” Hahn said.

The description would almost immediately eliminate several names who had been speculated as possibilities, including former catcher A.J Pierzynski and former manager Ozzie Guillen. But it leaves several intriguing candidates as the White Sox look for a fresh voice. Here are some potential best fits for the role.

The internal candidate

Miguel Cairo — Hahn indicated Cairo would be the one exception to the idea he could be looking outside the organization. As the current acting manager, he seems to have provided a burst of energy as the team played well under him for a short time. But that all came to a halt when the Sox were swept at home by the Guardians in a critical September series. The White Sox went on to lose eight straight under Cairo despite his attempts to instill some accountability in the clubhouse.

Outside the organization

Davey Martinez — The current manager of the Washington Nationals has one year left on his deal, but could be a leading candidate for the White Sox job — assuming he could be lured to Chicago.

Martinez, 58, played for the White Sox from 1995-1997 and was the bench coach on the other side of Chicago, in 2016, when the Cubs won a World Series. He also won a ring in 2019 as the man in charge of the Nationals. Despite his years with the team in the 90’s, he would fit the criteria of going outside the organization’s comfort zone.

Washington is at the beginning of a rebuild in an extremely tough NL East while the team is also up for sale. The timing might be right for Martinez to return to Chicago.

Sandy Alomar Jr. — Alomar left a great impression on the organization during three separate stints with the White Sox as a player back in the early 2000s. Though he hasn’t been around the team for over a decade — again filling the criteria of going outside the organization — he is still familiar with the market and team.

The current first base coach of the Cleveland Guardians, Alomar also has some recent managing experience. While manager Terry Francona dealt with health issues midway through the shortened 2020 season, Alomar guided the Guardians to a 28-18 finish and a playoff appearance.

Joe Espada — He’s been the hot candidate over the past few seasons having been the bench coach for the Astros’ current run. It remains to be seen if he’s in line for Houston’s job when Dusty Baker retires, but Espada has already interviewed for several recent openings — including with the Cubs and Rangers. It’s only a matter of time before Espada gets a top job, and he certainly would have an understanding of how the game has evolved having worked for an organization at the forefront of innovation.

Will Venable — Venable is a name that is picking up steam across the industry as he’s well regarded as the bench coach of the Boston Red Sox. Now that he’s been back in uniform for about five seasons, the former major league outfielder should start getting more managerial consideration. His dugout experience for a franchise with recent success matches one of Hahn’s criteria.

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Pedro Grifol — Grifol has seemingly done everything else as a coach or coordinator after playing eight seasons in the minors, and it might finally be his time to manage whether in Chicago or elsewhere. As a current bench coach in the division with the Royals, he’d be familiar with White Sox personnel. One admirer called him ‘the complete package’ and noted that his experience working with Latin players could make him a strong fit in Chicago’s clubhouse.

Don Mattingly — The former Marlins and Dodgers manager checks a lot of the boxes Hahn is looking for after having just announced he won’t be returning to the dugout in Miami.

Outside-the-box option

Joe Maddon — OK — this a longshot candidate, but it wouldn’t be the first time the White Sox hired a former Cubs manager. Ricky Renteria managed the Cubs in 2014 then the White Sox from 2017-2020. Maddon brings experience, but his best managerial years came while growing a culture with younger teams and the White Sox should be past that stage.

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