And then there were three.
After interviewing 10 candidates, the Tampa Bay Rays are down to their final three choices in the competition to replace Joe Maddon as the club's manager. The Rays announced on Friday former Seattle Mariners' manager and current Kansas City Royals' bench coach Don Wakamatsu, free agent DH Raul Ibanez and current Cleveland Indians bullpen coach Kevin Cash as the finalists to manage the Rays in 2015.
Wakamatsu is the only finalist who has experience managing at any level. Both Ibanez and Cash had long MLB careers, with Ibanez not even officially retired from his playing career. Cash retired from playing after the 2011 season. He spent one year as a scout in the Toronto Blue Jays organization and then joined the Indians as a bullpen coach before the 2013 season.
Several prominent names did not make the cut, including longtime Rays' bench coach Dave Martinez, who was thought to be the favorite going into the interview process. Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, current special assistant to the Milwaukee Brewers' GM Craig Counsell, San Francisco Giants' bench coach Ron Wotus and former Indians' manager Manny Acta were among those interviewed but left off of the final list. According to Tampa Bay Times beat writer Marc Topkin, the Rays are expected to hold final interviews the week of December 1.
The Rays appear to be heading into a rebuilding mode after missing out on the playoffs in 2014. Over the past calendar year, the Rays have traded ace David Price and lost longtime manager Joe Maddon and longtime GM Andrew Friedman. Tampa Bay designated for assignment back-up catcher Jose Molina and traded veteran reliever Joel Peralta on Thursday in an attempt to make the roster younger and less expensive. Tampa traded starter Jeremy Hellickson to the Arizona Diamondbacks earlier in the off-season. The Rays are also reportedly shopping Matt Joyce, who is in his third year of arbitration-eligibility.
The Rays still have plenty of talent set to return for 2015, with Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings, Wil Myers, Kevin Kiermaier, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb, Jake McGee and Drew Smyly under contract. But it may be a transition year for the Rays, who could look to trade veterans such as Joyce and Yuniel Escobar and fill holes with younger talent from their farm system.