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Sandberg Phillies' new coach, and possibly manager in waiting

IMAGINE YOU ARE Andy Reid and you just finished your season's work when you find out the Eagles have hired a young, popular, up-and-coming coach as one of your coordinators.

Ryne Sandberg has been promoted to coach third base for the Phillies next season. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)
Ryne Sandberg has been promoted to coach third base for the Phillies next season. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)Read more

IMAGINE YOU ARE Andy Reid and you just finished your season's work when you find out the Eagles have hired a young, popular, up-and-coming coach as one of your coordinators.

Or you're Doug Collins and the Sixers decided to put a hotshot, on-the-rise college coach on your staff. You can continue the analogy with Peter Laviolette and the Flyers, but you probably get the point.

When the proverbial other shoe dropped on the Phillies' end-of-the-season coaching changes on Thursday, Ryne Sandberg found a spot on the major league coaching staff. Unless he's hired away with an offer to manage elsewhere, Sandberg will be the third-base coach and infield instructor for the Phillies in 2013.

Coincidentally, 2013 also happens to be the final year of the 2-year contract extension manager Charlie Manuel signed in March 2011.

You don't have to do a whole lot of thinking to connect the dots and assume that the 53-year-old Sandberg, who has spent the last six seasons managing in the minor leagues, including the last 2 years at Lehigh Valley, is the heir apparent to Manuel. Right?

"Obviously, that's the sexy thing to think about," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. acknowledged. "But the fact of the matter is he's not the heir apparent. We've made no promises to Ryne Sandberg."

But he's also made no promises to the 68-year-old Manuel beyond 2013.

Following a disappointing 2012 season that ended with the first non-winning record in a decade, the Phillies made a series of coaching changes. It began Wednesday when they decided not to renew the contracts of bench coach Pete Mackanin, hitting coach Greg Gross and first-base coach Sam Perlozzo before the Nationals grounds crew cleaned the field following the final game of the season.

The second half of the slew of moves took place before noon on Thursday, with Sandberg leading the way.

Joining Sandberg will be new hitting coach Steve Henderson, a former Tampa Bay Rays hitting coach, and new bullpen coach Rod Nichols, who has worked as the Phillies' Triple A pitching coach since 2005. Additionally, former bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer was promoted to catching coach, where he'll move from the bullpen to the bench to work alongside Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee.

Juan Samuel, the Phillies' third-base coach for the last 2 years, has been offered the first-base coaching job in light of the Sandberg move. Barring any unforeseen changes, the Phils will not employ a bench coach in 2013.

Keeping track of the coaching carousel in the last 48 hours can make one woozy. Unless you're Manuel, of course.

Regardless of what Amaro said Thursday, Sandberg is a major league managing candidate on the rise with Hall of Fame credentials, and Manuel is the second-oldest manager in baseball, behind Washington's Davey Johnson. But don't think for a second the incumbent feels threatened by the new prized pupil on his staff.

"I'm not worried about it," said Manuel, who is happy to have a baseball man with Sandberg's resume on the staff. "I'm about seeing good baseball. The best that can be played. I want us to be the best team in baseball. If we're the best team in baseball that means the Phillies are going to have the best organization. That's kind of how I look at it."

Manuel, who turns 69 in January, is the winningest manager in Phillies history. Since taking over for the popular Larry Bowa, Manuel has won 727 games in eight seasons, five division titles, two National League pennants and the second world championship in the 130 years of Phillies baseball.

The Phils have not had a losing season under Manuel. He is aware of that, and is both confident and secure in his position.

But he also understands the big picture, too.

"I know how old I am," Manuel said. "I have a favorite saying: 'Know thyself.' I know myself. I still have a lot of passion, I have a drive, I still love baseball, things like that. I think my contract is fine. I think at the end of the year, I'll be glad to sit down and not only take inventory of myself, but [also] talk to the people and see where I'm at and see what I want to do.

"I'm not saying I'm going to retire or I'm going to quit or nothing like that. I've been in the game a long time and I love it. I'm looking forward to this year because I think it's a great challenge, a great challenge for me and a great challenge for our team. I'm very satisfied with where I sit."

Whether the Phillies rebound and reclaim their spot atop the National League East or continue a downward trend in 2013 could determine Manuel's fate, which probably also will rely on his players staying healthy and performing up to their capabilities.

But Manuel is not going to be looking over his shoulder to see the guy who could replace him coaching at third base. In fact, he welcomes Sandberg's knowledge and expertise.

"I absolutely like everything about him," Manuel said. "I'm really looking forward to working with him. In the dugout, he will be our defensive guy. He will work with the infielders, of course, and he'll move the defenses. His responsibilities will be a lot more than coaching third base. Also, we're going to use his hitting expertise because he's a Hall of Fame hitter. He's got some real good ideas and he talks a lot about hitting the way that I like. I think he's going to be very valuable to us."

And if the baton is passed at the end of the season, from Manuel to Sandberg, well, that's business in the big leagues.

"One of the things I think makes an organization stronger, frankly, is being able to hire people that may eventually take our jobs," said Amaro, who was originally hired by former general manager Ed Wade. "I hope there are people here that we've hired in our front office that when I'm let go or I move on, that they're able to do that.

"Now, I don't know if that's going to be the case here, but that's one of beauties of hiring strong people. Give them opportunities to grow. Give them opportunities to step up later on. That's part of the real world."