1 -- Ryne Sandberg.
2 -- Everybody else.
Only Sandberg, by virtue of his Hall of Fame playing career, has a built-in reservoir of goodwill with the Cubs' immense and uniquely devoted fan base. And the new manager might require something resembling a honeymoon period, given where the team is now -- fifth place in the National League Central.
Plus, Sandberg has been paying his managerial dues, managing in the Minors and working his way up to Triple-A Iowa. No resting on Hall of Fame laurels here, just the same commendable work ethic that Sandberg always displayed on the field.
On the downside, Sandberg has obviously not been a Major League manager. Every Major League managing career has a starting point, but of the 30 jobs in this category, the Cubs is, by any objective standard, one of the most difficult. It requires someone who can somehow find a comfort level in a fishbowl existence. Sandberg is a man of genuine modesty, but maybe this job actually requires somebody who is a relentless self-promoter. In that case, Bobby Valentine could be available.
Still, Sandberg, even though an unknown quantity as a Major League manager, would be a popular choice. There will be competition for qualified managers this offseason, but the Cubs have a head start due to Lou Piniella's announcement of his retirement. Fortunately for them, there is not any shortage of qualified managerial candidates. Here are some of those potential candidates, along with pluses and minuses:
Bob Brenly: He's already on site as a Cubs broadcaster. He won a World Series championship as a manager, in '01 with Arizona. He can do this. He's bright, he's candid and he's excellent with the media. Hey, right now he is the media. There are those who say his criticism of current Cubs on air might make managing the Cubs difficult. I think it just makes him a realist. And maybe some of those players won't be Cubs forever.
Bob Melvin: Brenly's bench coach with Arizona in '01, Melvin was the '07 NL Manager of the Year with the D-backs. Looking back on it, that team should have won a lifetime award for overachievement. Those D-backs won a division title and also swept the Cubs in a Division Series. When the club could not sustain a winning level, Melvin took the fall, but after his departure, the Arizona club declined much further. Melvin is intelligent, supremely organized, focused and competitive. On the downside, he's been fired twice as a manager. But both of those dismissals were more a matter of timing than managerial shortcomings.
Clint Hurdle: He was in charge for the Rockies' incredible '07 run that took them from just outside oblivion to the World Series. He is also a bright man. He can be a commanding presence, and his personality is large enough to make him a focal point, even in a media market as competitive and crowded as Chicago. The fact that the Rockies took off after his dismissal in '09 works against him, but again, a manager isn't on the open market because he won the World Series every year.
Willie Randolph: It's time for revisionist history on Randolph's managerial tenure with the Mets. He took them to within one game of the World Series in '06. What has happened with the Mets since then indicates clearly that Randolph wasn't the problem. He's bright, he's a top-shelf baseball man and if he displayed more of his passion for the game to the public, he could still be a popular manager anywhere.
Pat Listach: Here's another man who successfully managed in the Cubs' Minor League system. Listach, now a coach with the Washington Nationals, doesn't have the high profile of the other candidates, but anyone who knows him also knows what a solid, devoted baseball man he is. He would also have the advantage of knowing firsthand the abilities and personalities of the Cubs who have come up through the farm system.
Joey Cora: Would the Cubs hire a bench coach from the White Sox as a manager? Cora is a legitimate managerial candidate elsewhere. He's known as an extremely knowledgeable baseball man who does the organizational work on Ozzie Guillen's staff. His coaching credentials are in order. He hasn't carved out a big public niche for himself as a managerial candidate, but again, not being a publicity hound should not be a disqualifying factor.
The big, big, big names will be mentioned, but they're probably not going to be managing the Cubs in '11. Bobby Cox has announced his retirement. His attachment to the Braves organization is such that, even if he had second thoughts about retirement, taking a job elsewhere might feel like treason.
Would Tony La Russa take on what will be something of a rebuilding task at this late date? His Hall of Fame credentials do not need further polishing, no matter how historically significant the task of managing the Cubs is.
Joe Torre has offered some hints that this might be his last year with the Dodgers. Does that mean it is his last year as a manager, period? His affection for Chicago is real and on the record. His ability to connect with the complete spectrum of player personalities is beyond dispute. But he's 70. Is this the time to start life's largest challenge, managing the Chicago Cubs?
And Joe Girardi. I know, I know, he's from Illinois and his wife is from Illinois. He has a degree from Northwestern and he played for the Cubs. But he is managing the New York Yankees, and of the 30 jobs in this category, that is the only one that guarantees a manager that every single year, his roster is supposed to be as good, if not better than any of the other 29. He doesn't have a contract for '11, but he won a World Series as the Yankees' manager and he will not be mistreated by Yankee management. This is not a sentimental journey. Girardi, while he would be a completely worthy candidate for the Cubs job, is not a likely candidate for the Cubs job.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.