CHICAGO, October 1, 2013 — Not surprisingly, the Chicago Cubs fried Dale Sveum on Monday. “Today, we made the very difficult decision to relieve Dale Sveum of his duties as Chicago Cubs manager,” Theo Epstein said in an official press release. It was almost an inevitable death sentence from day one when Sveum was introduced as the Chicago Cubs 52nd manager on November 18, 2011.
Sveum compiled a win/loss record of 127-197, a .392 winning percentage, over his two-year tenure managing the Cubs. Fan and media pundits could label Sveum as a transitional manager. The organization was hoping Sveum would develop current players and prospects that are important to their rebuilding process. While on paper it did not seem Sveum was dealt a fair hand, but it in the eyes of management and the fans, he failed to develop the key players.
On September 17, Theo Epstein highlighted the writing on the wall by putting Sveum on public notice that his job was under review as the Cubs were on their way to dropping the series to their division rivals, Milwaukee Brewers. After Theo’s statement on Sveum’s job status, Sveum sealed his already obvious fate going 3-8 to end the season, watched three teams either clinch a playoff berth or division crown against the Cubs and had three very public spats with players in a week that showed a season’s worth of internal discord with players.
During that September 17 statement, Epstein did reassure Sveum that his job evaluation would exclude win/loss record. That did not relieve much of Sveum’s angst since the Cubs were playing in a surprisingly dominant National League Central division and the Cubs’ on-field product screamed below .500 baseball.
Much of the 2013 was about progress of the rebuilding process, which involved the salary purges of Alfonso Soriano, Matt Garza and David Dejesus, player flips and drafting. More emphasis was placed on player development and holding players accountable.
In 2013, Chicago saw the regression of two of its most promising prospects, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, on Sveum’s watch. Castro and Rizzo are the key components to the rebuilding efforts. Both were signed to eight-year extensions, but their output this season, especially regarding Castro, makes fans, the media and other teams’ general managers question whether that was the right choice at the time.
Much of Starlin Castro’s struggles can be attributed to the offseason rape accusation in January of 2012 that spilled into spring training of that year, but did not gain much traction during the season. Castro did put up solid third year numbers, but most of the signs were becoming apparent. The in-game distractions and gaffes became more and more obvious. Castro’s batting average and on base percentage both dropped 25 points in 2012, which could be attributed to him being in the three hole of the batting order for the majority of the season.
Starlin Castro did have career highs in triples (12), steals (25) and homeruns (14). In 2013, it seemed Castro’s progress and development fell off the table. Castro struggled much of season and could not sustain any kind of hot streak. His struggles continued with his defense, base running and an expanded his strike zone. Castro’s regression the last two years under Sveum did not help any case Sveum presented to Epstein to get the 2014 option picked up.
Anthony Rizzo is a different case than Starlin Castro. While Castro is the default star of the Cubs, Rizzo is highly regarded by Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein. Rizzo’s second season, 2012, yielded positive results. In 87 games, Rizzo tuned out a stat line that conveyed him as a future star hitting .285 with 15 homeruns and 48 runs batted in with only 337 at bats . In 2013, Rizzo’s bat took a step back with a .233 batting average, 23 homeruns and 80 runs batted in in 606 at-bats. His defense, however, dramatically improved.
While the main players, Rizzo and Castro, did not progress as hoped, several players have benefited under Sveum’s tutelage. Darwin Barney has become a perennial Gold Glover, Travis Wood has established himself as a viable number three starter and Wellington Castillo has entrenched himself as a suitable starting catcher for the Cubs. Not to mention Luis Valbuena becoming a valuable member of the club house.
In Theo Epstein’s statement, he said, “There’s no pressure whatsoever to hire a big-name manager. We want to hire the right manager. We’re at a critical point in our building process, where our very best prospects are soon going to be young big league players, and it’s absolutely imperative that we create the best environment possible for young players to come up here and continue to learn and develop and thrive at the big league level, and win ultimately. That’s not an easy thing to do.” Epstein was showing how important the developments of the prospects were to the future success of the Cubs. Also, Epstein alluded to the fact the next manager will be the spark to jumpstart the winning culture in Chicago.
While Epstein shouldered much of the blame for the lack of success the last two years, he also lauded the fact that Sveum had acquired the tools to be a successful manager elsewhere.
Now the search is on. Epstein said “the search for a manager will start immediately and will be completed before the GM meetings in November.” Will the 53rd manager of the Chicago Cubs be the man to lead them in the right direction? Fans, local media and management are all crossing their fingers.
In the words of Lao Tzu, “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” Good Luck Cubs.
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