Thursday, October 31, 2013
Offseason questions: Who's the manager?
By Jesse Rogers
With the conclusion of the World Series begins the official offseason for Major League Baseball, though the Chicago Cubs' winter started the day after their year ended with the firing of manager Dale Sveum.
Undoubtedly, hiring his replacement is the first order of major business.
Boston Red Sox coach Torey Lovullo's credentials may never be better, as his team just completed a worst-to-first scenario. As of Thursday afternoon, Lovullo had not been contacted by the Cubs, but it’s been only hours since he helped his team win the World Series. Things on the managerial front should move fast now that the baseball season is over.
If the Cubs don’t hire a manager by the end of the next week, they’re bucking up against their timeline of doing so by the general manager meetings, which take place Nov. 11-13 in Orlando, Fla. Expect final interviews and a decision in the coming days as owner Tom Ricketts and president Theo Epstein are to meet fans in a question-and-answer session next week at the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago. Having a manager in place would eliminate plenty of queries.
The next order of business will be dealing with free agents. The Cubs have four of their own: pitchers Scott Baker, Kevin Gregg and Matt Guerrier and catcher Dioner Navarro.
After a career year, a source familiar with the situation says Navarro is already drawing strong interest from other teams to be their No. 1 catcher. That means the prospects of the popular Navarro returning to the Cubs are slim.
Between some ineffectiveness down the stretch and a major miscommunication with the manager and front office at the end of the season, expect Gregg to move on as well. Baker and Guerrier could return, as the former showed promise at the end of the year after coming back from Tommy John surgery and the latter wasn’t bad before his season ended with an elbow injury. Neither is considered a big part of the future, and if Baker somehow wins the No. 5 starter job, he would probably be flipped by midseason for prospects -- if he’s pitching well.
The more interesting question is how active will the Cubs be in chasing other teams' free agents. It’s been made clear by the front office that they aren’t going on any big spending spree. But after signing Edwin Jackson to a $52 million deal last winter, the Cubs could make one big splash this offseason with a few smaller waves to complete their roster.
It will take more than $52 million to bring in leadoff men Jacoby Ellsbury from Boston or Shin-Soo Choo from Cincinnati. Both will be courted by multiple teams. With 2012 top pick Albert Almora still a hot prospect for center field, the Cubs might be wise to wait until they know what they have before committing big money to players over 30 who might not be in their prime for the length of their deals.
On the other hand, the Cubs could use a veteran leadoff man to show the way at the plate for the plethora of young players on the way. But that can be accomplished without spending big dollars. That’s the reason both the Cubs and David DeJesus said they might explore a deal for him to rejoin the team after he was traded last summer. He’s the type of leader they could still use.
The splashes in free agency are more likely to come next offseason when the Cubs should be well past the mode of simply acquiring prospects. And they should know a lot better where their holes in the field reside.
The final issue will be dealing with players who are under their control and arbitration eligible, such as Nate Schierholtz, Jeff Samardzija and James Russell. Some will be easy decisions (Schierholtz). Others (Samardzija) are more complicated because they involve the long-term plans of the team. Will Samardzija finally sign a multiyear deal or be sent to the trading block? Stay tuned.
It’s not a make-or-break offseason for the Cubs, but a misstep in hiring their manager will have lasting effects on the team. First things first. Who will lead the Cubs in the coming years?