CHICAGO -- So the evaluation of Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum is coming. At least that’s what the Cubs front office said last week in a mini state of the union address. There’s sure to be another one next week after the season is over.
Team president Theo Epstein left the door open a bit regarding Sveum considering he’s under contract for next season and Epstein could have simply reminded everyone of that. Then again, his reasoning made sense. No matter the expectations, when a team has a dreadful season, it's incumbent on the people in charge to make sure that the losing wasn’t out of the ordinary; that there isn’t damage to the process of becoming a winner.
So the evaluation makes sense. The question is if it’s been done already and the Cubs are just waiting for the season to end or are they really going to dissect Sveum afterwards? Let’s also take Epstein at his word regarding the process and believe him that it won’t come down to wins and losses. Instead, it will be about all the ancillary things a manager can be judged on.
"There's development of young players," Epstein explained last week. "That's an important factor. There's in-game decision making. ... The way the manager uses the roster. ... There's the ability to create a culture of accountability, hard work, preparation. That's a factor."
All of that makes sense but there seems to be a sentiment among fans that Sveum’s job might come down to the years Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo have had. That simply shouldn’t be the deciding factor. First of all, it’s too narrow-minded just to focus on those two players and secondly they haven’t been so bad that the manager deserves to be fired.
“Are they having really bad, bad years,” Sveum asked half-rhetorically Tuesday afternoon. “No, Rizzo has 40 doubles, 75 ribbies and home runs in the 20’s. And Castro has been swinging the bat a lot better.”
He’s not wrong. Yeah, they aren’t great years but Castro has turned it around enough to believe the manager isn’t the one holding him back. Or at least not entirely, because who can say for sure about these kinds of things?
“Sometimes they’re put in situations they shouldn’t be in,” Sveum said.
Sveum is talking about the pressure of carrying the team at such young ages. Of course, Castro had better years when he was younger but his issues are an organizational problem as much as the manager’s. It wasn’t just Sveum trying to change his style; that came from above. As for Rizzo, one more hit every few days and we’re not having a conversation about him. Everything else about his game has been very good to excellent.
And if Sveum gets blame for regression in those players then he should get credit for the progression of others. Welington Castillo, Junior Lake and Travis Wood are just three who have had good seasons under Sveum. Even if he’s just empowering his coaches who deal with those players, that’s a credit to Sveum.
This isn’t an endorsement for Sveum, far from it. It’s an understanding that the process is a much bigger picture than two players who have had varying degrees of success and failure this year. Maybe Sveum “explained” it best about his stars.
“It’s hard to explain but easy to explain if you’ve been around the game long enough and seen plenty of stars have a tough year,” he said.
A “tough” year for two players doesn’t get a manager fired. Plenty of others things might, but it would be a mistake if it came down to Castro and Rizzo.