The Cardinals have two advantages as they begin the process. La Russa had notified his employers about two months earlier that he was leaning toward retiring. And for at least two or three years, he took time at the end of every season to ponder whether to return. Thus, Mozeliak has a mental list of potential candidates.
That list, though, is likely to change a good bit in the coming days. Some candidates will emerge who are not currently under consideration, as it becomes known that the job is available. And some will be removed from consideration for various reasons.
Mozeliak didn't give a specific timetable for a hire. Ideally, he'd love to have something done before the General Managers' Meetings in mid-November, but he allowed that Thanksgiving might well be a more reasonable target.
The bigger priority, of course, is to get it right.
"I think it's critical that you get the right guy," DeWitt said. "I don't think you rush out and get the first candidate that looks like he might be worthy -- particularly with this franchise, this team."
Both internal and external candidates will be considered. DeWitt expressed some reluctance to contact another club about a sitting manager, but Mozeliak said he would not rule it out.
The list of candidates is long, but a few names would be obvious. Jose Oquendo, the longtime bench coach in St. Louis, has expressed a desire to manage and has interviewed before with other clubs, but has never gotten especially far down the road toward being hired. Terry Francona, recently let go by the Red Sox, has established himself as one of the game's best managers and wishes to manage in 2012.
Then there's the wild card, such as Rays manager Joe Maddon. It's quite certain that Tampa Bay would require compensation to hire Maddon, if it even allowed St. Louis permission to talk to him. But he's arguably the best manager in baseball and has an oft-expressed affinity for St. Louis and the Cardinals.
Potential candidates with Cardinals ties include former Nationals manager Jim Riggleman, who was the club's Minor League field coordinator, and Braves coach Terry Pendleton. Pendleton played for St. Louis under Whitey Herzog and coached under another likely Hall of Famer, the Braves' Bobby Cox. Triple-A Memphis manager Chris Maloney and Double-A Springfield manager Ron "Pop" Warner could seek to be considered, but neither has been on a Major League coaching staff.
Whoever is hired, he will likely be given leeway to hire his own coaching staff. The only Cardinals coach currently under contract for 2012 is pitching coach Dave Duncan, whose status is uncertain. Duncan took a leave of absence late in the year to tend to his wife, Jeanine, who underwent brain surgery, before returning for the final day of the regular season and the postseason.
Overall, there aren't a lot of restrictions. It's not as though La Russa was dismissed, so the Cardinals won't be looking for an opposite to him. They have money to spend if they want to hire a veteran, and they have some public goodwill in the bank if they want to take a chance.
"We want somebody who's a good leader, has had some experience managing and would fit into the organization, and understands our club and would be able to take us forward," DeWitt said.