Monday, October 7, 2013

#023 Cubs Talk: Is the Rebuilding Over?

With the removal of Dale Sveum as the Cubs Manager last Monday after a 66-96 season and a 127-197 overall record after two seasons, the Cubs announced quite unofficially that the rebuilding process was over.  With talks now for three seasons about the 2015 season being the suggested time allotment for Chicago fans to endure hard times, the Ricketts family seemingly said enough is enough this past week with their decision to move-on to a new manager.

If the Cubs were truly going to slop out another line-up of one-year rentals and auditioning farm-hands for one more season as they wait for the saviors Baez, Almora, Soler and Bryant to mature, it would seem obvious to keep Sveum for one more year.  Why not continue to make him the sacrificial lamb until the intended roster of future superstars made their way to the corner of Waveland and Addison for good?  There is no doubt that he was up for it.

The answer is simple.  Even with a strong plan in place, the Ricketts family's ego is just too big.  With hundreds of millions being invested in the stadium, the mounting disappointment of their ownership thus far may be too heavy to carry.  I don't think patience is about to be thrown out with the bath water by any means, but I expect the process will be moving a lot faster beginning this off-season.  This is why Theo Epstein announced at his press conference last week that the new Cubs manager will have managerial experience at the major league level.  For any former or present manager, you are going to want to know your roster has a chance immediately.  Right now, this roster is not close to competing for 3rd in the NL Central.  This is why you may not see $250 million doled out to Robinson Cano in the off-season, but don't be surprised if the Cubs have a $100 million veteran pitcher (Garza or Price?) and a $100 million dollar center-fielder/lead-off hitter (Choo?) added to the roster by spring training.  The talk of a new manager will just be the start.

So who will this new leader be?  You cannot read or listen to anything related to Chicago sports without Joe Girardi's name being discussed ad nauseam.  The problem is that the Northwestern grad and former Cubs draft pick is under contract with the Yankees until October 31 and has already been offered a new multi-year deal from them.  The Yankees have also supposedly refused the Cubs request to speak to Girardi while under his present contract. 

Girardi could use his leverage as the top free agent-to-be manager on the market and demand that the Yankees allow him to listen to what the Cubs have to say.  The fact that he hasn't signed his new deal with the Yankees yet speaks volumes.  But is he the right fit for the Cubs now?

You see it at the college ranks all of the time.  Schools go out of there way to fix a major identity problem by hiring someone who is a part of the family...someone who completely understands and embraces the culture.  You saw this most recently at Rutgers with the Men's Basketball program when they had an image problem that they needed to go away quickly.  What did they do? They hired the most qualified alumnus with NBA experience they could find.

As far as the Cubs are concerned, it is time to go the same route.  The problem is that the cupboard is pretty bare.  Banks, Williams, and Jenkins are too old.  Santo has passed.  Sandberg is locked-in in Philly.  Dawson likes his consulting gig with the Marlins.  Sosa, Grace and Sutcliffe have image problems.  So, who's left?  Girardi and Greg Maddux (Mark DeRosa would be another option in a couple of years - he has impressed on the TBS Playoff broadcasts).  Maddux has clearly stated that he doesn't want to manage, but could he be enticed to become the pitching coach if his brother Mike was given the manager's job?  It appears that Mike has much more interest in the Cubs than he did two years ago when he removed his name from consideration.  He has continued to do wonders with less than ace material in Texas, so his abilities are legitimate.

The Cubs have gone the big name route before with Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella and saw success early on.  However, both were not "Cubs people;" even though, both brought the blue collar attitude to the Windy City that fans demand.  They simply couldn't relate to the Cubs fan who had been witness to more bottom of the division seasons than anyone deserves.  It may be time for the Cubs to hire a Cub:  a former player who never got that pennant while in town but who understands how to get it now that they have been elsewhere.

In the end, if the Cubs choose to pick someone without ties to Latin America (Manny Acta and Rick Renteria are said to be on the short list), it would be in their best interest to hire a former Cub.  Joe Girardi makes the most sense from a media standpoint (especially if he brings Tony Pena with him to mentor Welington Castillo and Starlin Castro), but I'm not sure the smartest move isn't the Maddux brothers.  With either Girardi or Maddux, you will see Cubs fans relieved that their young core will be mentored by former Cubs that are bringing a wealth of wisdom back home to Wrigley.

Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiary