By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) With 190 losses (and counting) in two seasons, the Cubs are a hot mess. And now, their manager is apparently on the hot seat.
Although, my burning question about Chicago’s Less-and-Less Lovable Losers has little to do with their manager and more about when they plan to start fielding a roster that’s actually respectable instead of simply wretched.
Earlier this week, Cubs team president Theo Epstein started tongues wagging – and tweets tweeting – when he refused to confirm whether he planned to bring back Dale Sveum as the team’s skipper for 2014, speaking instead about an “evaluation process” that apparently isn’t done.
Even though the Cubs clearly are.
The speculation prompted Sun-Times beat writer Gordon Wittenmyer to write today, “Could the Cubs be making a play for the Yankees’ Joe Girardi to be their new manager – or Minnesota’s Ron Gardenhire? And what about Texas pitching coach Mike Maddux, who declined because of family issues when Theo Epstein tried to hire him two years ago?”
As the losses have piled up (again) this season, some critics have jumped on Sveum about his game decisions, whether they involve his bullpen, his bench, or both. Others have blamed him for the lack of progress – I’d call it regress – from so-called cornerstones Starlin Castro (.242 average) and Anthony Rizzo (.226 average).
All those gripes very well might be valid, and it’s entirely possible that that Dale Sveum isn’t the right manager for the Cubs. Maybe he doesn’t deserve to be back in 2014. It’s really hard to fully judge the guy because, unless the Cubs change up their game plan and start giving their manager more to work with – whoever he is – it simply won’t matter who’s in charge.
Heck, Casey Stengel couldn’t go .500 with these guys.
On Wednesday, one of my friends on Twitter wrote that he thought Sveum was hired specifically to lose and that the Cubs would then hire the real manager in a year or so.
With only marginal improvement this year over last season’s 101-loss campaign, it’s looking it’s going to be “or so” before the Cubs are good enough to win. Epstein himself said on Wednesday that Cubs fans shouldn’t expect the team to go fater big players in free agency this year, as the team continues to (slowly) build from within.
“It’s not – right now, given our situation on a lot of different fronts – the cure to our ills,” he explained.
As I’ve written before, I like the young position players the Cubs have assembled (although I have growing concerns about Castro and Rizzo). I also still have big questions about the ball club’s lack of championship-caliber pitching and exactly where they expect to get it going forward. On top of all that, I feel like the Cubs could have been more competitive this season, if they had really wanted to do so. But for a variety of reasons, I don’t think they’ve truly wanted to win.
Marty Gangler of the Cubs Factor was more bold in his assessment of the team’s current status when he argued this week that he thinks the Cubs themselves are the deliberate cause of their last-place ills, writing that, “Theo is full of crap. Every small-market team in the history of baseball has thrown out the ‘rebuilding the core’ motto to get better through young players. You can find guys that will help you win right now. I still believe the tanking of the last two years was all for the stadium deal. So maybe that was his plan all along – and it worked, so he’s doing what he has to do.”
The Cubs, in case you haven’t forgotten, aren’t “small market,” even though they’ve tried hard to portray themselves that way by quite remarkably managing to spin their cash-cow of a ballpark into a financial liability and impediment to success.
While still charging the third-highest average ticket prices despite piling up more two-year losses than any team this side of Houston, the big-market Cubs at some point have to start putting a product on the field that’s worth their fans dollars.
Rebuilding and being competitive don’t have to be mutually exclusive. With a president as supposedly clever as Epstein, it shouldn’t be. And until a true winning mentality emerges in the front office at Clark & Addison, changing managers on the field doesn’t much matter.
Either way, it’s sink or Sveum.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.