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Monday, September 30, 2013
Girardi right choice for Cubs' credibility

By Bruce Levine


CHICAGO -- The firing of Dale Sveum had very little to do with what the former Chicago Cubs manager did wrong.

Sveum and his bosses knew when he was hired that the team would be varying degrees of bad for three or four seasons. The player development plan in the mid-to-lower minor leagues seems to be moving along nicely. A group of projected impact players might be making its way to Wrigley Field by the end of the 2014 season.

What president of baseball operations Theo Epstein desires in a manager is a stronger presence, a persona that will push his office and owner Tom Ricketts toward a championship mentality in a shorter period time than was initially planned. Epstein and Co. are held captive by a depleted baseball revenue stream. Money for the baseball operation will be limited for another three years due to a covenant agreement in the sale language of the team to the Ricketts family.

Simply put, Cubs ownership will need to be more creative in finding revenue within the business. That will be the only way they will convince a manager like Joe Girardi to come on board.

Epstein has watched with interest as his former manager with the Boston Red Sox, Terry Francona, pushes a morbidly drab Cleveland Indians organization to new heights in 2013. By insisting on some offensive help if he decided to take the job, Francona used the clout of his well-heeled résumé to leverage a commitment to win now.

Epstein knows that the plan to renovate Wrigley Field and add important revenue streams for his baseball program have fallen hopelessly behind for now. That knowledge pushes his creative and competitive nature to find a quicker route to success. What would be a smarter avenue to that goal than hiring Girardi?

This Girardi plan will also get the full endorsement of the business office, led by president Crane Kenney. Kenney is the mastermind of the renovation of Wrigley. He needs a bit more time to set his revenue plan into high gear. With the WGN TV and radio rights coming up for renewal after 2014, the team does not yet see the windfall billions coming its way until after 2018. The Cubs have lost close to 700,000 tickets sold per season since 2008. At this point, they need to stop the decline of season-ticket sales. The "Girardi factor" directs a way for season-ticket holders to see a direct path to championship baseball coming back to the north side of Chicago.

Girardi fits into all the criteria that Epstein is looking for in a manager. "The job will require someone who is dynamic," Epstein said on Monday. "It will require tremendous creativity to tackle the issues. I think we will find that in the next manager. It requires tremendous energy, and part of the reason we are here today is that we decided the job requires some change."

Girardi fits the bill in all of those areas. He would bring a world championship aura back to Chicago after winning as a player and as a manager in New York. Epstein went as far as to say that the future manager of the Cubs must at least understand the culture of "Cub Nation" before being considered for the gig. “Candidates who have the Cub experience in their background will have the built-in advantage of knowing the marketplace and the franchise," Epstein said. "[That candidate] might be better equipped in that one area to deal with that gauntlet that, at times, can be managing the Cubs. Yes, I think it helps [to have a Cubs background], [but] is it a prerequisite or does it mean it can‘t be repaired if you haven’t been through here? No.

"There is a bit more of an adjustment period when you have not been through here, as I have discovered when you come from the outside.”