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After new hires, Manuel still feels secure in role

PHILADELPHIA -- Charlie Manuel called himself a 24-hour-a-day baseball guy in 2004, when the Phillies introduced him as manager.

Eight seasons later that has not changed.

But Manuel turns 69 in January and he begins the final year of a two-year contract extension in February, when the Phillies open Spring Training in Clearwater, Fla. A manager entering the final season of a contract can be concerning for the man expected to lead 25 men through a grueling six-month, 162-game schedule, but Manuel is a World Series champion and is comfortable in his skin, even as the Phillies announced they had hired his potential successor to the coaching staff.

"I know how old I am," Manuel said Thursday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. "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 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."

The Phillies announced several coaching changes Thursday, most notably the addition of Ryne Sandberg as third-base coach and infield instructor. They also hired Steve Henderson as hitting coach and Rod Nichols as bullpen coach. Mick Billmeyer moves from bullpen coach to catching coach. He will be in the dugout during games to confer with Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee. Dubee and Billmeyer will serve as Manuel's unofficial bench coach.

Juan Samuel has been offered the first-base and outfield/baserunning instructor position.

The Phillies, who relieved Pete Mackanin, Sam Perlozzo and Greg Gross of their duties Wednesday, also said they will be hiring an assistant hitting coach.

But Sandberg is the most interesting name because of his pedigree as a Hall of Fame second baseman and his potential as a big-league manager. The Phillies promoted Sandberg from Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he managed with success for two seasons. The Phillies view Sandberg as a manager in waiting, and it is more than reasonable to think Sandberg could be at the helm if Manuel leaves following the 2013 season.

But Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. made one thing perfectly clear Thursday: he has made no promises or guarantees to Sandberg.

"Obviously, that's the sexy thing to think about," Amaro said. "But the fact of the matter is he's not the heir apparent. We've made no promises to Ryne Sandberg. Ryne Sandberg is part of this coaching staff and we're happy to have him. I told Ryne that I think he's going to get an opportunity to be a Major League manager at some point, whether it's with the Phillies or with another club. We don't know."

Amaro said if Sandberg has a chance to get a managing job elsewhere (the Red Sox and Indians have openings), the Phillies would not preclude him from pursuing the opportunity.

But Sandberg's presence could make things interesting next season. The Phillies were 37-51 on July 13 this year, although injuries to star players certainly played a role in that. But there will be an outcry from fans and media if they get off to another slow start, regardless of the reason.

"I'm not worried about it because I don't think Charlie's worried about it," Amaro said.

"I'm not worried about it," Manuel echoed.

Manuel was asked if he thinks the possibility of Sandberg replacing him could come up next season, if things get hairy.

"It just came up," he correctly pointed out.

But the reality of the situation is Manuel's job is secure entering his final season. He guided the Phillies to five consecutive National League East championships, two National League championships and one World Series championship.

He is the winningest manager in franchise history.

For a guy in the final year of his deal, Manuel is as secure as anybody.

"One of the things I think makes an organization stronger, frankly, is being able to hire people that may eventually take our jobs," Amaro said. "I hope there's people here that we've hired in our front office that when I'm let go or I move on 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 the beauties of hiring strong people. Give them opportunities to grow. Give them opportunities to step up later on. That's part of the real word."

Manuel sounds excited about working with Sandberg. They've gotten to know each other over the last couple years.

"I absolutely like everything about him," Manuel said. "I get along real well with him. I question him all the time because I want to see what kind of knowledge he's got and how close he is with me and things like that. I think it's going to be real good."

The Phillies hope Henderson, who served as the organization's roving hitting instructor, will provide a fresh voice to their hitters. He was the Tampa Bay Rays' hitting coach from 2006-09, so he has big-league coaching experience.

It remains to be seen who becomes Henderson's assistant, but Amaro certainly has embraced the idea of two hitting coaches.

"I think the system will be better with an assistant in so much that different guys take information in different ways," Amaro said. "I think it's important for our players to see different points of view and get information in different ways. I talked to [Henderson] about adding that other element and he thought it was a very good idea. There are some guys who would be resistant of that. Some of the old-school guys. It's a situation where we have some candidate I feel who can maybe relate to players in a different way to try to get some of the points across or to try to get the philosophy going so they know we're doing the right thing or we're making the right outs or we're having a better approach at the plate."

This is just the beginning of the changes for the Phillies this offseason. In reality, coaches can only help so much. It is the players that truly make the difference. That is Amaro's next task: finding the right players to put on the field.

Philadelphia Phillies