KANSAS CITY — After Buddy Bell steps down at the end of the season, who will get the next shot at trying to manage the Kansas City Royals back to respectability?
Joe Girardi, whose on-field success in Florida was offset by his clashes with the front office? Terry Pendleton, the Atlanta hitting coach whose organization already has been raided repeatedly by Royals general manager Dayton Moore? Former Kansas City second baseman Frank White, the hometown hero who has done just about everything in baseball except manage in the bigs?
Moore wouldn’t say Thursday whether any of them lead his wish list, or if there is someone else he would rather pursue.
“This process is going to remain very private,” Moore said. “It’s something that, I’m just going to leave it at that. It’s going to remain very private, because at the end of the day, that’s how you get the best people.”
Bell announced his decision to resign on Wednesday. He will join the Royals’ front office in 2008 as a senior adviser to Moore.
Girardi, who in June turned down an offer to become Baltimore’s manager, declined Thursday to even take questions about whether he is interested in the Royals job. If he is, though, his experience with the Florida Marlins last year would make him an attractive candidate.
In his only season as a manager, he took a young team with a $15 million opening day payroll, baseball’s lowest by far, to a 78-84 record and kept them in playoff contention for much of the year.
Girardi was the National League’s manager of the year, the first such honor for the leader of a losing team. But he was fired in October, the result of an ongoing dispute with owner Jeffrey Loria.
Pendleton, 47, has no managerial experience. But hiring him would continue the Royals’ recent trend of looking to the Atlanta Braves’ organization for help. It’s run by the same man who helped to put together the most successful team in Kansas City’s history.
Moore was an assistant to Braves GM John Schuerholz, passing up an opportunity to succeed him to take the Royals job. One of his first acts was to hire Dean Taylor, a former assistant to Schuerholz in Kansas City and Atlanta, as director of baseball operations.
Since then, Moore has plucked other front office and scouting personnel directly from the Braves.
Schuerholz was Kansas City’s general manager for nine years, including their World Series-winning season in 1985.
The Royals have looked to Atlanta for help on the field as well, trading before the season for rookie shortstop Tony Pena Jr. and sending closer Octavio Dotel to the Braves on Tuesday for starter Kyle Davies.
Pendleton said no one has suggested he pursue the Royals job.
“We’ll see what happens in the end. But nobody’s mentioned one word, as far as front office people, anything like that,” he said before Thursday night’s home game against Houston. “I haven’t been contacted in any way, shape or form about that.”
The 56-year-old White, a five-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glove winner at second base, played his entire 18-year career with the Royals and helped them win the 1985 World Series. He was 218-200 in three seasons as manager of their Double-A affiliate, the Wichita Wranglers.
While in Wichita, White worked with young players now in Kansas City. That list includes third baseman Alex Gordon, designated hitter Billy Butler and Zack Greinke, who has found success as a short reliever after struggling as a starter.
White is beloved in Kansas City, where he grew up. His statue stands outside Kauffman Stadium, a stadium which he literally helped build, working on the construction crew in the 1970s while he also attended the Royals’ baseball academy.
But the last two times the Royals hired a manager, Tony Pena in 2002 and Bell in 2005, White couldn’t get an interview.
White, now a special adviser in the Royals’ front office, still wants to manage.
But he took a diplomatic tone Thursday.
“I’m just hanging loose,” he said. “I’m going to respect the fact that Buddy, who is a good man and a good friend, will be running the team for the next two months. I’m just going to be neutral for a while and let things play out.”
Hiring White or Pendleton also would help diversify a managing corps that — after a peak in 2002, when there were 10 black or Hispanic managers — is again almost all white. The only other black managers now are Texas’ Ron Washington and the Mets’ Willie Randolph.
Whoever takes the Royals’ job will inherit a better situation than Pena or Bell did.
Since ending May on a seven-game losing streak, the Royals have gone 29-24 and posted their first back-to-back winning months since 2003.
Kansas City is developing a solid core of young position players, improving its rotation and spending more to do so.
“Our organization has made a lot of improvement,” Moore said. “We’ve still got work to do in that direction.”
The Royals, whose game Thursday in Minnesota was postponed due to Wednesday’s deadly highway bridge collapse, open a weekend series in New York against the Yankees today.