With the news breaking Wednesday that Tim McCarver is retiring from broadcasting at the end of 2013, there has been a lot of discussion as to just who will be paired with Joe Buck for the 2014 season and beyond. Buck and McCarver have been teaming since 1996, and while they're well past their expiration date in many eyes, they've been the top broadcast duo in the sport for a generation. It'll be tough for someone to fill McCarver's role alongside Buck after almost 2 decades, but everyone knew this day was coming eventually, and Fox more than likely has had the wheels spinning for a while.
With that in mind, here are the 10 best candidates to replace McCarver in the Fox booth alongside Joe Buck.
1) Ron Darling. Darling is one of the best color analysts out there, working in the fantastic three-man SNY booth alongside Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez. He also has had national exposure working with TBS and veteran play-by-play commentator Ernie Johnson. Darling is quick, knowledgeable, and insightful, and he'd be an ideal fit next to Buck.
2) John Smoltz. Smoltz is a relative newbie to broadcasting, jumping into the art in 2010 as a color analyst for the Braves. Since then, he's joined MLB Network and TBS, and often serves as the third man in the booth along with Johnson and Darling while also working with veteran broadcasters like Bob Costas, Dick Stockton, and Matt Vasgersian. He's clearly being groomed for bigger things, and his dry wit would be a smash hit on Fox alongside Buck.
3) Dennis Eckersley. Our third straight pitcher who currently works for Turner. Eckersley isn't a guy who gets a lot of attention on TBS, falling behind Darling and Smoltz on the analyst depth chart at Turner. But I think he's got a bright future in the broadcasting game and his current under the radar gig with TBS could result in him being a great buy-low acquisition for Fox.
4) Bob Brenly. I highly doubt this will happen considering Brenly's age, his new gig with the Diamondbacks, and his prior employment with Fox. But what better way to replace a former catcher in the booth with another former catcher with a ton of broadcasting experience? Brenly's pretty close to being a household name among baseball broadcasters, and has the added benefit of calling multiple World Series on Fox with Joe Buck in the past.
5) Buck Martinez. This is another guy that I don't think would get hired due to his age, but he's a familiar name and still has some heat on his fastball, as demonstrated during his commentary during the World Baseball Classic. However, he doesn't do much national stuff (aside from the LDS on TBS) and seems comfortably locked in with the Blue Jays.
6) Jim Deshaies. Although he's #6 on our list, this is the guy Fox should make a huge push for… but after just being hired by the Cubs from the Astros this offseason he might not be a feasible option. Even though his new job in Chicago is much more high profile than his old job in Houston, a national job somewhere is on the horizon for the former Astros pitcher in my opinion. Deshaies is the total package as a baseball analyst and is too good not to be appreciated by a wider audience.
7) Larry Andersen. The Phillies analyst is a dark horse candidate. He's not very well-known outside of the northeast, but is very witty, has a great mind for the game, and doesn't sugar coat anything. He's also occasionally done some work for Fox on the weekends, and I think he'd be a really good complement for Buck.
8) Al Leiter. Leiter is a target that makes a lot of sense for Fox thanks to his relative youth, experience, and knowledge. In fact, he got his start in broadcasting even before his playing days were done calling the memorable 2003 NLCS on Fox and was impressive enough to launch a media career. Leiter already has a pretty nice job doing occasional color work for YES along with consistent studio work for MLB Network. If Fox were able to wrestle him away from that cushy northeast schedule, he'd be an ideal hire.
9) Eric Karros. As an in-house commentator for Fox already, I think Karros will end up being the fallback for Fox if they can't get a true rising star or established face. (In fact, he's pretty much the only option.) The former Dodgers Rookie of the Year won't wow you as a color man alongside Thom Brennaman and a promotion really wouldn't move the needle at all. But if there isn't another option… Fox could do much, much worse.
10) Terry Francona. OK, hear me out here. Francona was hired this offseason to manage the Indians, and by all accounts, he's in it for the long haul with the club. The Tribe spent a decent bit of coin this winter on free agents, and the team is expected to contend in the next couple of seasons with their young core as well as their new, older acquisitions. But if the team struggles right off the bat and puts together their fifth straight losing season, there could be some pressure from ownership to once again blow everything up and move in another direction. That would set the stage for Francona to return to Fox, where he debuted as an analyst to great acclaim during the 2011 playoffs. If by some odd situation Francona found himself on the outs with Cleveland management, I'm sure Fox would love to snap him up and bring him back to their primary booth alongside Joe Buck. However, the odds of that happening are ridiculously low.