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Akron Aeros manager Jeff Datz has emerged as the leading candidate to manage the Buffalo Bisons next season and his appointment could come as soon as next week.

The promotion of Datz from Cleveland's Double-A affiliate has been reported by some Ohio media outlets the last two days, but it's far from a done deal. Indians assistant general manager Dan O'Dowd is being pursued for a front-office post by the Philadelphia Phillies, who will talk to him after the World Series. O'Dowd may want to take Datz with him to the Philadelphia chain if he makes a move.

Datz is currently managing the Mesa Sagueros in the Arizona Fall League. He has a career managerial record of 250-249 in four years in the Cleveland chain. He began in 1994 by going 48-26 at Watertown of the New York-Penn League and went 80-62 at Class A Columbus in 1995.

Since being promoted to Double-A, however, his record has not been as stellar. He was 71-71 with the Canton-Akron Indians in 1996 and 51-90 with the newly-named Aeros this season.

Despite those numbers, Indians farm director Mark Shapiro is a big Datz booster.

"He's one of the hardest-working guys I've met and has the highest integrity," Shapiro said Thursday at Jacobs Field. "He's a tireless worker who helped develop a lot of those players who ended up in Buffalo this season."

Shapiro indicated Datz would be the Indians' first choice for the Herd, with Class A Kinston manager Joel Skinner -- a former Buffalo catcher -- next in line. Skinner would go to Akron if Datz comes to Buffalo.

The Indians are going to fill their minor-league staffs after the World Series. Many other teams have already named Triple-A managers for 1998, which will be Buffalo's first season in the International League.

"We haven't had much discussion about the staff with them being in the World Series," said Herd general manager Mike Buczkowski. "We had some talk after our season ended and we expect it will start up again when they're finished."

Indians officials don't hold Datz responsible for the Aeros' collapse. The club had no reliable middle infield defense, a situation Cleveland can rectify in Triple-A by signing veteran free agents. In addition, the Aeros' pitching was pillaged by the injuries at the big-league level that prompted a shuttle between Cleveland and Buffalo and thus forced reinforcements to join the Bisons from Double-A.

Datz's playing career ended in 1990 with Triple-A Columbus. He was in the Houston chain from 1982-1988, getting as high as Triple-A Tucson.

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