Friday, April 11, 2014
Foes appreciate Cubs are work in progress
By Jesse Rogers
ST. LOUIS -- It’s hard to find an opposing baseball executive that doesn’t like how the Chicago Cubs are going about their rebuilding plan.
Maybe they like the fact that it’s going to take some more time, which means their team can rack up some wins against the Cubs. Or maybe they’re just jealous of the long leash the front office has from ownership.
Not many general managers get five or more years before winning becomes essential.
But one thing baseball people like about president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer’s plan is their patience. It’s hard not to waver in the face of so much criticism.
So far this season, Cubs manager Rick Renteria has connected with his team and is doing his best to keep 25 players involved.
"It’s not a quick fix," St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said before his team played the Cubs on Friday night. "They’ve maintained that discipline not to try and do it just because of the pressures of winning now.
"Clearly, they have resources, but they are not going to make irrational decisions for short-term gains."
Whether "they have the resources" or not is an ongoing debate in Chicago. The question is will they have the resources when they need them. The Cardinals are well aware the Cubs could have a contending run in them.
"They have some good young talent and I don’t think you want to rush them," said Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday, a six-time All-Star. "Let them grow up together in the minor leagues, because once you get to the big leagues you sort of have that bond."
Unsolicited, Holliday brought up the names of Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, among others. He is well aware of their reputations to the point of reciting how they did in spring training this year. The Cubs train in Arizona, the Cardinals in Florida. Holliday might be the exception to the rule in terms of knowing other team’s players, but he realizes the Cubs could be a young contender with a modest payroll.
"Then you have an advantage because then you can have a bigger payroll if they need to bring in free agents here and there," he said. "They can go in and supplement their young players with a free agent on the market.
"They’re on the right track. A lot of good, young prospects will be here soon."
But will they be managed by the right guy? The Cardinals hired Mike Matheny when Hall of Famer Tony LaRussa stepped down. He’s getting universal praise as potentially the next special guy in the dugout, as he’s gone to the playoffs his first two seasons as manager.
"The guy just exudes leadership," Holliday said. "He doesn’t try. I think that’s the thing. He’s just a natural leader of men."
It’s hard to know if Cubs manager Rick Renteria will be described that way after his first two seasons, but Mozeliak reminds everyone he was hired in a different situation.
"[Renteria's] coming into an organization that has different expectations," Mozeliak stated. "I’m not sure which job is tougher."
Matheny was unproven but had a support system around him starting with better players. Renteria was hired to make the ones he has become better.
"[Matheny] walked into a good situation," Holliday said.
Matheny is described as having the "it" factor: the attributes to be a great manager that can’t be defined. You just know it when you see it.
"When you’re looking for that one secret sauce, it’s always harder to define or even articulate," Mozeliak said.
"There's just something about him that guys respect," he said. "Guys want to play hard for him."
Holliday said being a prominent former player helps but, as everyone knows, it isn’t a prerequisite to becoming a great manager.
"It’s a guy that treats people the right way," Holliday stated. "Lives what he says."
In the early going of Renteria’s career, those words could apply to him. We already know he connects with his team and is doing his best to keep 25 players involved, though that can’t, and won’t, always be the case. He’s stuck to the things he’s said publicly and has certainly taken the optimistic view. We won’t know if he has the "it" factor for a while, but we might know if he’s headed in the right direction.
Same goes for the Cubs. The arrow looks to be pointing up as their prospects continue to progress, but we won’t know for sure about them for quite some time -- just like Renteria. All that can be done is what’s being done.
"From a strategic standpoint, they are doing it right," Mozeliak said.