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Perhaps with the Mets? Torre played his final three seasons with them and would come full circle back to the other New York team. It’s not a far-fetched thought if Manuel is out.

“Well, Joe left the door open a little bit,” Cox said. “Joe’s still a young 70.”

“I’m proud to be a part of Lou and Joe’s careers, managing against them, and they’re class guys, they’re great managers,” he said.

As for dugout newcomers, “I’ll be pulling for anybody that gets a shot at it,” Cox said. “Tough racket.”

“I don’t know what information you can pass along. Have patience, is one,” he said.

The Dodgers are replacing Torre with hitting coach Don Mattingly, giving him his first managerial job. Torre all but anointed Mattingly his successor from Day 1 in Dodger Blue. The Dodgers are dealing with the ugly divorce of owner Frank McCourt and former Dodgers CEO Jamie McCourt, so finances certainly came into play when making the decision to go with Mattingly over a high-profile, experienced skipper.

“There seems potentially to be a lot more openings than in the past,” Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. “It goes in cycles a little bit. We’re pretty clear on what we’re doing. I’m sure for the teams that are contemplating change or have contracts that are up, there are probably a lot of conversations going on.”

Baker has a multiyear contract extension offer on the table from the Reds. Things have worked well there for him and his team is in first place, so he very well might stay despite being so far from his native California.

Macha points to a group of 60-something managers and the efforts by at least some clubs to go younger _ which typically also means a lower salary.

“You’ve got guys who are a little older _ you’ve got Piniella, you’ve got Torre and Bobby Cox, they’ve been around a long time. It’s natural that’s going to happen. They’re not going to manage until they’re 80 years old,” said Macha, who turns 60 later this month. “Everybody’s in this age range. It’s time to go younger. Why not get a younger guy? To me that’s logical.”

Many figure Cubs GM Jim Hendry will promote Triple-A Iowa manager Ryne Sandberg to big league skipper. The 51-year-old Sandberg is a Hall of Famer loved during 15 seasons as the Cubs’ popular second baseman.

Yet there are so many ifs, ands and buts involved in lots of these cases. Does Arizona keep interim manager Kirk Gibson? Has the outspoken Guillen finally worn out his welcome with the White Sox, despite winning a World Series? Will La Russa follow the others and walk away?

Whatever happens in all these places around the league, it’s safe to say a large number of managers are looking to finish strong in the season’s final weeks _ for some not only to make a push for the playoffs but also to lock up jobs for next year. Somewhere.

“I think it’s going to be as different an offseason as ever,” Gaston said Saturday. “It would be a good time to be a manager.”

Skippers could still make a case to their club to keep them, or leave an impression on another team. They all know there should be ample opportunities up for grabs.

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