By Matt Spiegel-
(CBS) When thinking about the Cubs quest for a new GM, I start from a place of frustration.
The Red Sox model, as cited by Tom Ricketts himself on the very day he stood beside the podium addressing the fans for the first time, is not being followed. That model for a power structure, to change a culture and build a yearly contender, is that of a team president/baseball boss grooming a young analytical mind. Larry Lucchino and Theo Epstein. An old, connected scouting based salt to create the blended approach with a statistically inclined, open-minded, business school risk-taker. The Cubs version should be Pat Gillick and Ben Cherington. Or John Schuerholz and Texas AGM Thad Levine. But no, it seems that Tom Ricketts is going to be the top baseball man. So, the fact that we’re here talking about simply 1 hire, a GM, with hands tied already by certain people still in place, is maddening.
That one hire better be a serious home run.
It makes sense at this point to go with this long, exhausting, slow search. Wait until after the playoffs. It’s conceivable that one of the big four candidates (Brian Cashman, Theo Epstein, Andrew Friedman, Billy Beane) will decide to bolt. I don’t see Friedman going anywhere, and I’m dubious of Beane, but I still see the wisdom in waiting. If the Red Sox collapse, and October/November in Boston is filled with fans calling for Theo’s head (as some preemptively are already in September), then maybe you have a perfect storm there. Maybe he’s frustrated with a fickle fandom, and wonders why he should stick around, having won two already. He wonders what there is left to prove. Then maybe the Cubs job becomes more appetizing. Fans ought to be rooting for that.
Of course the danger in waiting that long is that Ricketts has more time to make this job LESS appealing, by extending contracts of people in jobs the new guy would like to fill himself.
If an assistant GM comes into play, I’ve been intrigued by Red Sox AGM Ben Cherington for a while, for obvious reasons. Boston has built through the draft and farm system more than they get credit for (Ellsbury, Pedroia, Papelbon, Bard, Lester). Cherington’s old colleague under Theo, Jed Hoyer, has done some nice things in San Diego on no budget. Jon Daniels has done wonders in Texas (with old salt Nolan Ryan above him), so I’d want to sit down with his AGM Thad Levine. Jerry DiPoto in Arizona doesn’t get enough attention. I’m not a fan of Josh Byrnes. His hiring of AJ Hinch in Arizona was bizarre, everyone knew it at the time, and it failed miserably.
Look, Rick Hahn makes a lot of sense, but I have my doubts about his drafting and development. How do you not? The White Sox system has not been designed as a builder of major league-ready players. it’s been a breeding ground for trade bait. If it is going to be Hahn, he’ll need a strong arm or two helping with development. Maybe that’s Fleita and Wilken, but to me, that’s missing this huge opportunity to bring in someone excellent, allowing them a clean slate to build it the way they envision. I suppose if it’s an assistant, I vote Cherington.
In any event, that new GM needs to be someone strong enough, entrusted enough, to tell ownership how things are going to be. If his ability to rebuild as he sees fit is hamstrung by the need to spend foolishly on the big league level and not have kids play and develop, then nothing is going to progress. Smart Cubs fans would embrace a clear, direct message of patience far more than ownership has long given them credit for. And, a lot of Cub fans will go to games no matter what, right? That’s the strength of the brand, as described by Tom to his father himself. Use that strength to do what’s right, with confidence that you won’t be punished in the wallet for it. It’s essential to pair that plan with a smart and likeable manager. The manager is the front man, and has to be seen as an extension of the vision.
The Cubs said they want this private, and so far it has been. We’ll watch this lengthy search take shape, glean what we can, and hope Tom Ricketts is smarter than we fear him to be.