- Bruce Levine, Chicago baseball beat reporter
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CHICAGO -- What the Chicago Cubs front office, led By Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, is doing with Dale Sveum and the coaching staff is not out of the ordinary. Epstein and Co. are interested in hiring the best baseball players and instructors to attain their future goals. Just as they look to sign or acquire the top young players, so will they pursue the best free agent managers and coaches.
Epstein and Hoyer like most of what Sveum and his staff have done in his two years on the job. Despite their warm and fuzzy feelings for Sveum and his coaches, it’s wise to investigate accomplished free-agent managers like Joe Girardi.
Girardi, a Peoria, Ill. native and Northwestern graduate, may have done his best managing job in New York this season. Losing most of his offense to injury, Girardi, a former Cubs catcher, pieced things together with minor-league caliber players, staying in a wild-card race that the Yankees had no business being in.
Girardi has always had an affinity for the Cubs and Chicago. Epstein was asked Friday, in a much too direct way for his liking, if the Cubs were interested in talking to Girardi when his deal with the Yankees expires at the end of the season.
“He is with another team,” was Epstein’s response to a reporter’s question about the Cubs’ interest in the Yankees manager. “I would never comment or could never (due to baseball’s tampering rules) about someone who is with another club. That question is borderline disrespectful.”
Epstein was boxed in a corner by the question, however the fact remains that improvement at all levels is what the baseball and business executives are demanding.
“We are going through a necessary evaluation period at the end of this season, like we do every year before we make our staffing decisions for next year,” Epstein said. “Period.”
Epstein is aware of the open-ended comments that he has made and has been honest about his intentions with the media, his manager and coaches. In the past, other managers with contracts have had to wait out other options by front office bosses. In 1996 White Sox manager Terry Bevington was told he would be the manager the next year only if the Sox could not sign Jim Leyland. Leyland was leaving the Pittsburgh Pirates after 10 seasons. As it turned out, Bevington stayed in 1997 and Leyland went on to manage the World Champion Florida Marlins.
From a business standpoint, the hiring of Girardi could buy some more patience from the fan base during the rebuild of the franchise and ballpark. The total rehab of Wrigley Field may be backed up until 2019 due to red tape and possible litigation by the rooftop owners. Bringing back a favorite son like Girardi may be the futuristic move that they feel must be done now.
Girardi has accomplished much in six seasons as a manager, winning a World Championship win the Yankees and a Manager of the Year award with the Marlins. He may be the panacea that Cubs nation will be offered in lieu of winning for now. That is not to undersell what Girardi might bring in the future when the team is ready to spend money on difference-making free agents. (For a quick reference, look at Cleveland in 2013.)
Sveum is an excellent baseball man, who understood that situations like this would occur when he signed on for this monumental undertaking in November of 2011.
“I have been around the game and been on all different sides of it,” Sveum said. “You know how it all works. Going in you know it. That is part of it. When you understand it, I think it makes it a lot easier to be living it.”