Wednesday, October 12, 2011
If Theo goes to Cubs, can Tito be far behind (and what about Ryno)?
By Gordon Edes
BOSTON -- The Chicago Cubs have a manager, Mike Quade. He was hired to replace Lou Piniella when Piniella quit in August 2010, and after the Cubs went 24-13 over the rest of the season, GM Jim Hendry decided to make the move permanent, giving Quade a two-year deal with a club option for 2013.
But the good times didn't last. The Cubs had losing records in each of the first four months of the 2011 season, Hendry was fired in July, and there is a widely held assumption that the new Cubs GM will put his own man in the dugout.
Which, of course, leads to this question: If Theo Epstein does take the Cubs job, will he hire Terry Francona to be his manager?
According to one baseball source with close ties to Francona, Francona told staff members the day before the club announced that it was not exercising his club option that Epstein wanted him to return as manager. At the press conference announcing Francona's departure, Epstein said Francona told him he thought it was time to move on, the GM saying that he was surprised that Francona's feeling was so "extreme."
But while both Epstein and Francona spoke of the mutual regard and respect they hold for each other -- a genuine appreciation on the part of both men -- it would seem a long shot that the two will reunite in Chicago. One of the factors motivating Epstein to take the Cubs job is a desire for change, and after eight years with the same manager, there is a sense that extends to his relationship with Francona.
"Unlikely,'' said one Sox official Tuesday night with ties to both men.
A name that would have great popular appeal in Chicago is that of Ryne Sandberg, the Hall of Fame Cubs second baseman who had been managing in the minor leagues for the Cubs but left when he was passed over for Quade. Epstein thought enough of Sandberg to offer him the job at Triple-A Pawtucket, which would have made him a logical candidate to eventually succeed Francona. Sandberg instead elected to manage in the Phillies' system, guiding the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs to a championship.
ESPNChicago's Bruce Levine said Tuesday night that according to his source, Sandberg's name did not come up in conversations Cubs officials had with Epstein regarding a new manager. But an executive with another club said Tuesday that based on his conversations with Cubs officials, Sandberg's name is back in play.
Francona received wide praise for his work as a fill-in analyst for Fox during the first two games of the ALCS, but told reporters afterward he had little interest in going into the broadcast booth on a regular basis. But other than the possibility of the Cubs' job, there aren't any managing opportunities currently available with the White Sox hiring Robin Ventura last week.
So while the Cubs' scenario for Francona can't be ruled out entirely, it appears both he and Epstein are prepared to turn the page.