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The Chicago Cubs will search far and wide for their next manager, as they should. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a first choice already – and according to “sources,” that top man is former Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez.

Sources say that Gonzalez is at the top of general manager Jim Hendry’s wish list in the early stages of the process and that he prefers a manager with major-league experience — with Class AAA manager Ryne Sandberg considered the strongest, if not only, serious candidate without that.

Gonzalez’s communication skills with Latin players he has managed, as well as his swift and decisive handling of Marlins star Hanley Ramirez’s loafing earlier this season, are considered significant strengths in his favor.

Gonzalez, 46, has a strong relationship with Hendry that goes back three decades and included time together in the Marlins organization.

Reached by phone Tuesday night, Gonzalez would neither confirm nor deny interest in the job or contact by the Cubs.

”I don’t have anything I can tell you,” he said, ”except Jim and I go back to my high school days. He coached one of the opposing teams when I played. And we worked together with the Marlins.”

Asked specifically whether he had interviewed or expected to, he declined comment. But indications are he’s in the first group of candidates on Hendry’s interview list. CHICAGO SUN-TIMES.

Gonzalez is also expected to be pursued heavily by the Atlanta Braves to replace retiring skipper Bobby Cox. Gonzalez was a coach with the Braves from 2003 to 2006.

While with the Marlins, Gonzalez had a .497 winning percentage, including back-to-back winning years in 2008 and 2009. He was widely regarded as one of the best young managers in the game, if not one of the best regardless of experience.

For my part, I view Gonzalez and Joe Girardi as options 1 and 1A in the managerial search. If the Cubs land one of them, I certainly won’t complain, but that said, I remain open minded with respect to whomever the Cubs end up with. So far, I don’t see anyone on the list that I’d scream bloody murder about – like I did (on the inside) when the Cubs went with Dusty Baker, and, to a lesser extent, Lou Piniella.

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