Chicago Cubs: Dale Sveum

Starlin Castro an All-Star for third time

July, 6, 2014
Jul 6
6:46
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Starlin CastroAP Photo/Andrew A. NellesShortstop Starlin Castro already has more home runs and RBIs than he did all of last season.

There might not be a more meaningful All-Star selection than Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, who made it for the third time in five big league seasons.

It was a year ago on this date Castro was hitting just .234 with an on-base percentage of .269 en route to the worst season of his career. He was maligned by fans and media alike as his defense suffered about as much as his offense. No matter how you analyze it, Castro was also responsible -- at least in some fashion -- for the dismissal of former manager Dale Sveum.

Castro was seemingly at a crossroads after 2013 despite the past All-Star selections.

Then 2014 began, with new skipper Rick Renteria, and all was forgotten. Castro came into spring training in the best shape of his career, and though a hamstring injury slowed him, he quickly picked up the pace within the second week of the regular season.

And he hasn’t looked back en route to the July 15 All-Star Game at Target Field in Minneapolis.

After Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to the Washington Nationals, Castro is hitting .287 with 11 home runs and 51 RBIs. With runners on base, his batting average is up to .353. The home runs and RBIs are already more than he had all of last season (10/44). He has 11 errors, but his mental mistakes are far and few between compared to his past. He’s simply the player that everyone thought he could grow into after his All-Star seasons of 2011 and 2012. He’s said many times this year he’s just “being myself.”

Castro hasn’t missed a game this season despite his manager scheduling him for one several times. Each time he’s talked Renteria out of it.

“I’ll tell him when I need one,” Castro said.

Even with the addition via trade of shortstop Addison Russell, and top prospect Javier Baez waiting in the wings at Triple-A Iowa, it's hard to see one of them as Castro’s replacement. Even with warts, he’s now a three-time All-Star while Baez, for example, didn’t even make the Triple-A All-Star team this season. Baez and Russell might be able to perform at the big league level someday, but Castro has done it. And his comeback season has been nothing short of fantastic, even as we watch him hit in the cleanup spot, not exactly a natural position for him.

Castro has every right to be proud of his return to baseball prominence as there were more than a few doubters along the way. But now he’s an All-Star again.

That’s three times in five seasons, and he’s only 24 years old.

The Cubs could have another All-Star as first baseman Anthony Rizzo is one of five finalists for the last roster spot on the National League team. Rizzo is up against Justin Morneau of the Colorado Rockies, Anthony Rendon of the Washington Nationals, Casey McGehee of the Miami Marlins and Justin Upton of the Atlanta Braves. Fans can vote on MLB.com until 3 p.m. CT on Thursday.

Tweeted Rizzo:



Rizzo also has had a comeback season, hitting .276 with 17 home runs and 45 RBIs. He leads NL first baseman in homers after hitting 23 all of last season, when he batted .233.

Sveum: Wouldn't have changed a thing

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
9:47
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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Dale SveumJohn Sleezer/Kansas City Star/Getty Images"Players know when you change and you're not yourself," Dale Sveum said. "I am what I am."

CHICAGO – Former Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum had nothing bad to say Friday about his time on the North Side, but did suggest that his candor wasn’t always appreciated.

Back in Chicago this weekend as the hitting coach for the Kansas City Royals, Sveum said his time as Cubs manager was a good experience and he still sends text messages on occasion to both team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.

But Epstein and Hoyer might not have always appreciated Sveum’s tendency to speak his mind about his players during his two-year stint as manager, which ended after last season.

“I’ll take the fifth on that one,” Sveum said with a chuckle before Friday's game against the Chicago White Sox when asked about his tell-it-like-it-is style.

Nevertheless, Sveum said he wouldn’t have changed anything.

“That’s the way I am,” Sveum said. “Players know when you change and you’re not yourself. I am what I am. Maybe I would have left a pitcher in an inning more or took him out an inning earlier and all that, but I don’t think how I managed, and managed people and the communication, I’m not going to change that way.”

Sveum started this season as the Royals’ third-base coach, but when the offense struggled he replaced hitting coach Pedro Grifol, who was moved to catching instructor.

Under Sveum’s tutelage, the Royals’ power-strapped offense has delivered at least six runs seven times in the past 14 games.

With Sveum as Cubs manager, key players such as Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo failed to produce as expected, which likely was one of the reasons Sveum was let go. He doesn’t see it as an indictment of his leadership abilities that both players have been better this season.

“People grow into being better hitters,” Sveum said. “You guys heard me say that many a time. It’s age and learning and getting all these major league at-bats, it’s all different things. Don’t forget, I was the one to ask Rizzo to finish low and lower his hands. So you can mix apples and oranges, but I wish them all the best. I got fired, but they’re still people I care about.”

The entire experience with the Cubs hardly soured Sveum on managing. Asked if he would like to manage again, the 50-year-old emphatically said he would. He said that’s why he immediately jumped at the Royals’ offer to be a coach instead of sitting out a year knowing he was still getting paid by the Cubs.

So how long did it take before the Royals reached out to him?

“The phone did ring pretty quick; I was on the way back to my apartment [after getting fired],” Sveum said. “It didn’t take too long to get a new job, which was great. People thought just because I was getting paid that I was going to sit around for a year, but that’s not the way I am and I know how hard it is to get back in this game as well. I enjoy it, and I enjoy being on the field in any capacity.”

Sveum might not show a lot of emotion, but that is much different than being an unhappy person. He might have been taken aback over his firing at the time, but he has no hard feelings at the decision made by the Cubs’ front office.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “You wish them all the best. We all have these jobs to get fired someday, and there’s not a lot of [longevity] for most people. It was a great experience in a great city. This is the best city in the country as far as I’m concerned.

“Managing every day in the National League, obviously the game gets going a little bit in the seventh inning on. So you have all that under your belt that you’ve done it and you’ve done it to the best to your ability. It’s a great, great experience and I’ll always thank Theo and the Ricketts family for giving me the opportunity.”

Renteria judged on 'tone,' not wins, for now

May, 8, 2014
May 8
7:40
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Not that we didn’t know it already, but as with his predecessor, Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria isn’t being judged on wins and losses. Not with the team whose best talent base resides in the minor leagues.

“It’s no different than it was with Dale [Sveum],” general manager Jed Hoyer said Thursday afternoon. “We’re not at a place right now where we’re going to evaluate him based on the standings in the paper in the morning.”

So just like Sveum, Renteria is being judged on individual progress and the tone he sets.

“He creates a great environment for these guys,” Hoyer said. “A lot of guys are playing really well. A lot of guys are playing much better than last year. We’ve given him a young team, we’ve given him a young bullpen. He’s managed that really well. I like the tone.”

It’s true that players including Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo are having nice starts to the season, whereas Mike Olt and Junior Lake, for example, have had their struggles. Some of Renteria’s lineup choices have been curious, but at least he’s explained his strategy saying he prefers matchups rather than sticking with everyday players at certain positions. It’s too early to evaluate him as a motivator, teacher or even an in-game manager, but like most first-year skippers, he’s had his ups and downs.

One thing Renteria has shown is some emotion. In a day and age when manager ejections are no longer commonplace, Renteria has already been tossed three times. The players naturally like their manager sticking up for them, but there’s a fine line. What does it accomplish?

“I don’t know that you can get the next call,” Renteria explained. “You may even put yourself in a detrimental position quite frankly. So you have to be careful. It kind of cuts both ways.”

Hoyer agreed with that assessment. Getting a reputation as a complainer when it comes to balls and strikes won’t help the Cubs.

“There are times you have to vocalize that,” Hoyer said. “I’ve got no issue. I understand his frustration.”

Sveum wants to manage again

March, 2, 2014
Mar 2
4:17
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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MESA, Ariz. -- Former Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum wants to manage again after reiterating his “shock” at being fired last October.

“I walked away with my head up with the understanding I knew what I wanted to do and did it (that) way, to get guys to play hard and prepare every day,” he said before coaching third base against the Cubs for the Kansas City Royals on Sunday. “People ask me, ‘would you do things differently?’ I say ‘no,’ if I could come up with something -- I don’t have that big of an ego -- but there’s nothing I would do differently.”

Sveum said it felt a little weird being in new Cubs Park -- he had input in the design of the practice facilities next door -- and he’s sorry he won’t be able to see the Cubs' rebuilding plan all the way to its conclusion.

“That was your vision at one time,” Sveum stated. “To see all those guys develop and be here through all that.”

Sveum says he got over the firing pretty quickly as the Royals called while “I was headed back to my apartment” after leaving Wrigley Field the day after the season. He went 127-197 as Cubs manager.

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Sveum thinks Castro can rebound

March, 2, 2014
Mar 2
3:15
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Starlin CastroNuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/MCT/Getty ImagesFormer Cubs manager Dale Sveum thinks shortstop Starlin Castro can return to All-Star form.

MESA, Ariz. -- Former Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum thinks shortstop Starlin Castro can return to All-Star form and admits the Cubs may have tried to change Castro’s hitting style too much.

“He was asked to take a lot of pitches and do all those kinds of things,” Sveum said before the Kansas City Royals played the Cubs on Sunday in a Cactus League game. “What if you had asked (free swinger) Vladimir Guerrero to walk and take pitches. If he’s just Starlin Castro and that’s all, is he going to get 200 hits all the time? Who knows that but I think he’s a .280 to .310 hitter on a consistent basis.”

Sveum is the third base coach of the Royals now and many link his firing last October to the regression in Castro’s game. Castro had 207 hits while batting .307 the year before Sveum became his manager, then dipped to .283 and .245 in two years under Sveum. But Sveum’s arrival coincided with the new front office, which takes as much blame as anyone for Castro’s problems.

“I think we made efforts to introduce him to the concept of getting pitches he can really drive because in the long run that will benefit him,” Team President Theo Epstein said last September. “But if that can't be accomplished without him being himself as a hitter, than you just have to let time play its course and he'll naturally evolve that way.

"With Starlin, if you try to throw too much at him -- which maybe at times we've been guilty of -- who knows, I think we've always been conscious of letting him be himself. In his case he's at his best if he's single-mindedly himself.”

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In fan Q & A, Epstein defends ownership

January, 18, 2014
Jan 18
8:07
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein came to the strong defense of team ownership near the end of an hour-long question-and-answer session with fans on Day 2 of the Cubs Convention on Saturday.

“Here’s the best thing about the Ricketts and their commitment to the Cubs,” Epstein said. “They know they’re going to own this club for generations and generations so they are willing to take the hit now and take some of the heat now ... because they know they are doing the right things to lay the foundation to get this right, to turn this into a franchise that they can be proud of for generations and generations.”

The Ricketts family has come under criticism for being unable to finalize Wrigley Field renovations while employing a last-place baseball team that’s lost 197 games over the past two seasons.

“I’m more proud of them for their willingness to take that heat and stick to their plan than I would be if they panicked the first time their name was dragged through the mud publicly and said, ‘We can’t do this, we need to put lipstick on this and find some quick fixes just to keep the fans and media at bay.’ They are in this for the long haul.”

Other highlights from the front office session with fans:

Mistakes with Jackson, Vitters

[+] EnlargeEpstein
Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY SportsCubs president Theo Epstein covered a wide range of topics in a Q & A with fans Saturday.
No sooner had Epstein finished explaining the process of bringing up prospects -- they have to dominate at every level of the minors first -- he admitted not having followed that plan with first-rounders Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters.

“Our manager [Dale Sveum] was the one that wanted [Jackson] up here to work with him on his swing because we weren’t getting it done at Triple-A,” Epstein explained. “So we sort of prioritized that swing adjustment over the rest of his development. In hindsight that was a mistake. With Vitters we were trying to learn more about him. He had gotten to a point where exposure to big-league pitching was important to him.”

Both struggled and have fallen behind others in the organization. Jackson was even demoted to Double-A last season.

“I don’t think we satisfied the criteria in respect to those two players,” Epstein said. “That’s something we could have done better.”

Analysis: Those mistakes undoubtedly had some effect on the front office -- hence the cautious approach since. It’s hard to know if bringing the two up caused them to struggle or if they were going to struggle anyway, but with a long-range plan in place, the Cubs probably aren’t going to make the same mistake twice.

Ticket-buying

Over the course of the past year, the front office has been careful not to criticize fans for not coming to Wrigley Field as much. Executives understand that prices aren’t in line with the product on the field. Epstein was asked as much again on Saturday.

“I would never tell you how to spend your money,” Epstein said to a fan. “I think there is something special about being part of it the entire way. We’re being transparent. We aren’t proud of our results. We wish we were further down the road with the talent with the [major league] level. We are sticking true to our vision.”

Analysis: It’s the right and only answer Epstein can give. Short of lowering ticket prices, the Cubs would be foolish to try any other gimmick to attract fans. Lying to them isn’t going to cut it. Epstein has been on the mark in this regard from the beginning.

Renteria wanted to be here

For the first time, Epstein revealed that new manager Rick Renteria had multiple teams interested in him, but he wanted to skipper the Cubs first and foremost.

“He came to us and said, 'Guys, just so you know ... I want to be a Cub,'” Epstein recalled. "'I believe in young players. That’s how I want to do it.’”

Epstein was asked about the firing of Sveum in regard to the regression of young players. His answer was all about Renteria.

“If we’re going to be so youth-centric and be putting so many of our eggs in that basket, we have to make sure they’re in a position to thrive up here,” he said.

Analysis: It’s yet another indication the Cubs simply weren’t happy with the message Sveum had for the team at the major league level. No matter the reasons for his dismissal, the Cubs seemingly got as good a coach for young players as was available; by all indications, this is Renteria’s strength. It also means there can’t be any coaching “excuses” for lack of development of Cubs youth.

Yost: Sveum 'was in a tough spot'

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
3:54
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost said he waited “about an hour” to offer former Cubs manager Dale Sveum a job on his coaching staff after hearing that Sveum had been fired at the end of last season.

“I know the quality of teacher he is, the quality of coach that he is,” Yost said on Day 1 of the winter meetings. “One of the best coaches that I’ve ever had.”

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Tendering Barney was the right move

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
2:35
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs made the right choice in tendering second baseman Darwin Barney a contract for 2014. If there was any angst over the decision, there shouldn't have been, because Barney deserves another chance.

[+] EnlargeDarwin Barney
AP Photo/Al BehrmanThe Cubs have to hope Darwin Barney can regain his 2011 form when he batted .276.
Make no mistake, if No. 1 prospect Javier Baez was ready for the big leagues and the Cubs believed second base was where he needed to play, that would mean a different story for Barney. Same goes for rising prospect Arismendy Alcantara. Some may even think Logan Watkins deserves a real chance at second base. Watkins was an on-base machine in the minors before being recalled last season, but he barely got off the bench. And for all we know, he'll push Barney this spring or summer.

But until further notice, Barney gets another chance to rebound from a rough season at the plate in which he hit just .208 and got on base only 27 percent of the time. The simple reason is Dale Sveum and the old coaching staff. If Sveum and Co. are going to be blamed for the "regression" of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, then Barney fits into that category as well.

In fact, going back to last offseason, Sveum may have worked more closely with Barney than Rizzo or Castro. The bottom line is Barney hit .276 the season before Sveum arrived. He hit .254 and .208 in the two years under him. It would be way too simplistic to put that all on Sveum, but Barney deserves a fresh start with a new coaching staff just like Rizzo and Castro.

And even with some poor numbers, he has shown some signs. He'll battle an opposing pitcher with the best of them -- he was third in the league in foul ball percentage at 43.6 percent, according to ESPN Stats and Information. With two strikes he fouled a pitch off 47.6 percent of the time, tops in the league. It's a good reason why he's only struck out an average of 63 times in three full seasons in the big leagues.

But those foul balls don't mean much -- other than driving up a pitch count -- if the at-bat ends in an unproductive out. And Barney actually fouls off more pitches (46 percent) outside the zone than inside (42 percent). Maybe that's where his upside lies or perhaps his deficiency. All players get hits off pitches outside the zone, or at least take more walks than Barney's 36 last season. So a few more balls that go forward instead of backward could make the difference for him as will laying off a few of those outside the zone. And Barney's seven home runs and 41 RBIs in 2013 aren't bad for a hitter who mostly bats in the eighth spot in the lineup. In fact, only Matt Dominguez of the Houston Astros had more runs driven in from that position in the order than Barney.

Of course, Barney doesn't get another chance at the plate without his work in the field. As bad as he was on offense, he was a Gold Glove winner as well as a finalist at second base in two years under Sveum. That counts for more than just a passing mention. If Sveum gets some blame for Barney's offense then his coaching staff gets some credit for mentally keeping him in the game on defense. FanGraphs basically has Barney as the best defensive second baseman in the game over the past two years. So for Barney to be an effective overall player he only has to return to respectability at the plate.

Unless something unexpected happens, expect the Cubs to sign him for 2014. After that, there are no guarantees. But he deserves another chance to improve at the plate.

At least for a while.

Roster shaping


There were no major surprises during Monday's tender deadline.

The Cubs signed their new backup catcher in George Kottaras after Dioner Navarro joined the Toronto Blue Jays. Navarro wanted a multiyear deal and the Cubs wouldn't give more than one. That has basically been their philosophy lately. If you're not part of the core for the future the Cubs aren't going to be locking you up.

Infielder Donnie Murphy fits into that category and between his signing and the Cubs tendering Luis Valbuena a contract, it made Mat Gamel expendable. According to sources, Murphy had a lucrative offer from Japan after hitting 11 home runs in less than two months last season. An arbitration hearing would have been unique considering his short but successful stay in the majors in 2013, so instead, both sides decided to lock him up. But again, it's for one year.

With prospects Baez, Alcantara, Kris Bryant, Mike Olt and others getting ready to break into the majors, one-year deals is the norm right now. And that's the right thing to do.

Cubs' rebuilding plan showing progress

October, 25, 2013
10/25/13
12:33
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Jed Hoyer, Theo EpsteinAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJed Hoyer and Theo Epstein have led a complete overhaul of the Cubs that is starting to show progress.
This World Series is a tough watch for a Chicago Cubs fan. The rival St. Louis Cardinals continue to show off why they're the most respected organization in the game, while Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer's former team, the Boston Red Sox, is still reaping some rewards from the duo's time in Boston.

Cubs fans must be wondering when that magic is going to start to take place at Wrigley Field.

It's a valid question, and it's become obvious the fan base is split on this issue. Some believe better days are around the corner, while others simply answer that question with "never." If you don't believe better days are ahead for the Cubs then you aren't paying attention or you're just paying attention to their win/loss record. Or maybe you're worried about the managerial search, which hasn't produced any big-name candidates.

I just returned from watching Cubs prospects in the Arizona Fall League, and what I saw in Arizona is more important than whoever they hire to manage.

I saw two prospects, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora, who most baseball observers believe are special. And yes, it's only fall baseball, but would you rather have Cubs prospects prospering wherever they're playing or struggling? Anyway, analyzing two players is too small-picture right now.

You may disagree with their entire rebuilding strategy -- that's another argument -- but if you're on board then you should be very pleased with 2013. Forget the record 50 home losses. Forget the putrid play for long stretches. Forget the record number of players they used on their roster for the second consecutive season. It's all by design.

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Sources: Cubs eye Latin American presence

October, 12, 2013
10/12/13
4:54
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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The Chicago Cubs lacked a prominent Latin American coaching presence in their dugout the past two seasons, and they will look to address the issue as they hire a new manager and coaches, according to sources familiar with the situation.

Several Latin American candidates have emerged in the Cubs' search to replace Dale Sveum. Former Washington Nationals and Cleveland Indians manager and current ESPN analyst Manny Acta interviewed with the Cubs this week. San Diego Padres bench coach Rick Renteria is also expected to interview, according to a source. Cleveland Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr., who interviewed for the Cubs job before Sveum was hired in 2011, and former Cub Dave Martinez could be options, as well.

The Cubs' Franklin Font, a staff assistant, was the lone Latin American coach on the previous staff. In fact, the Cubs have only two Latin American rostered coaches in their minor league system.

The Cubs have several core Latin American players, including Starlin Castro, Junior Lake and Welington Castillo. Prominent minor leaguers Albert Almora, Jorge Soler and Javier Baez are on the way. There also is a belief in the Cubs' front office, sources said, that Castro, who had the worst season of his career, could have benefited from having a Latin American coach on staff this season.

The move to add more Latin American coaches to the system would be consistent with the team's commitment to developing talent in the region. The Cubs are constructing a training facility in the Dominican Republic.

"It's about doing everything we can to be the best organization in baseball, and you can't be the best organization in baseball unless you have a strong presence in the Dominican and a strong presence in Latin America," Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts told MLB.com when the Cubs unveiled the plans for the facility in January 2012.

Forgetting the other aspects of the job, Alomar might be the best candidate to fill this role, although he has not been contacted about the job, according to a source. He's not so far removed from playing that he can't relate to current players and he has the respect of many around the league.

Cubs coach McKay "crushed" for Sveum

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
6:51
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Being fired from his job is a new experience for former Chicago Cubs first base coach Dave McKay. He, along with manager Dale Sveum and the rest of the Cubs coaches, were let go on Monday, though McKay does have a chance at returning when the Cubs hire a new manager.

“It was a surprise,” McKay said by phone on Thursday afternoon. “I won’t say it wasn’t a surprise. For Dale, I was pretty much crushed. Rather me then him. I liked the effort Dale put in.”

McKay is highly regarded as an outfield coach and helped turn former Cub Alfonso Soriano into a better defender since McKay’s arrival from the St. Louis Cardinals before the 2012 season.

His firing isn’t something he’s used to, having been a part of the Oakland Athletics from 1984 to 1995 and the Cardinals from 1996 to 2011.

“Different than anything I’ve been a part of because I had been with Tony LaRussa for 27 years,” McKay said. “I was really fortunate and blessed to be working for a guy that every year you weren’t wondering if you’re coming back or not. You knew you were coming back.

“I never had to worry about or experience the general manager or owner’s idea of how they do something like this. It’s unusual for me, but I understood where [president of baseball operations] Theo [Epstein] is coming. He called and we had a nice conversation and hoped we would be back at it again.”

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Through firing, Cubs explain what they want

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
11:25
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs had too much respect for former manager Dale Sveum to get into specifics about the reasons he was fired on Monday, but in detailing what they want in a new manager -- with a plethora of young talent on the way to the big leagues -- they told us all we need to know.

“In order for us to win with this group -- and win consistently -- we must have the best possible environment for young players to learn, develop and thrive at the major league level,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. “We must have clear and cohesive communication with our players about the most important parts of the game. And, even while the organization takes a patient, long view, we must somehow establish and maintain a galvanized, winning culture around the major league club.”

The implication is Sveum failed to provide at least some of these things. Epstein said the troubles began in the first half, and a heart-to-heart meeting with Sveum after the All-Star break put him on notice. As the season wore on, Cubs brass obviously believed the changes they were seeking weren’t going to materialize with Sveum at the helm, so they fired him one year earlier than most people thought they would.

So what wasn’t working in the first half of 2013 that set off the alarms? It might have just been something in the air about the culture in Year 2 of the Epstein/Sveum regime, or maybe it was something more specific. After all, you don’t fire someone for something in the air unless a mutiny is about to take place. There was nothing so outwardly dramatic to be concerned with, so maybe it did come down to the on-field progress -- or lack thereof -- by core players.

There’s only one really important aspect that transcended the entire season, from star player to benchwarmer: The Cubs couldn’t get on base. Getting on base is the centerpiece of an Epstein offensive attack. The Cubs ranked 14th in the National League in that category. Their core players, such as Starlin Castro (.284), Anthony Rizzo (.323), Darwin Barney (.266) and even newcomer Nate Schierholtz (.301), were abysmal at reaching first. In the end, only the catchers -- Welington Castillo (.349) and Dioner Navarro (.365) -- stood out in this category.

It’s not necessarily that Sveum is directly responsible for the lack of on-base percentage -- he wasn’t going up there with a bat -- but maybe the issues were in the message. For such an important aspect of Epstein’s building process, the Cubs were making no headway. This is just one tangible example, but it provides some perspective on Sveum as a leader: The messages weren’t getting through to the liking of Epstein and the front office.

Or maybe the losing had just beaten Sveum down and the Cubs were afraid the culture change they were seeking wasn’t coming as their crop of young talent made its way to the big leagues.

Either way, there were tangible and seemingly intangible reasons for Sveum’s firing. Unless he turned out to be one of those special people who grew into an elite manager, the odds were against him staying here long term. There was just too much to do, too much to overcome, and it cost Sveum his job.

Girardi right choice for Cubs' credibility

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
6:49
PM CT
Levine By Bruce Levine
ESPNChicago.com
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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.”

Cubs job would be a big risk for Girardi

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
12:01
PM CT
Greenberg By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com
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Joe GirardiJim McIsaac/Getty ImagesWill Joe Girardi make the leap from the Bronx to the Friendly Confines in 2014?
CHICAGO -- With manager Dale Sveum's firing official after two years and 197 losses, the Chicago Cubs are on the lookout for a new skipper to command a sinking ship.

Who doesn't want to lose 90-plus games in Cubby blue while answering questions about minor leaguers?

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Joe Girardi, who is under contract with the New York Yankees until Nov. 1, is the top name on this new prospect list, for good reason. The former Cub and Northwestern graduate is not only a fan favorite but also a savvy manager known for his organizational skills and devotion to his famous binder, his baseball bible of trends and statistics.

The question is: What kind of team would Girardi get? It would be foolish of him to take this job if it's the same one Sveum left.

In Sveum's short tenure, the Cubs were not built to win. It would be wrong to say they were tanking for draft picks and international spending dollars, but there was little focus on the major league product. The attendance, which dipped to a 15-year low, showed that.

(Read full post)

Epstein's statement on Sveum firing

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
11:35
AM CT
By ESPNChicago.com
ESPNChicago.com
Here is the complete statement issued by Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein on the firing of manager Dale Sveum:

"Today, we made the very difficult decision to relieve Dale Sveum of his duties as Cubs manager. Dale has been a committed leader for this team the last two seasons, and I want to thank him for all of his dedication and hard work. I have a lot of admiration for Dale personally, and we all learned a lot from the way he has handled the trying circumstances of the last two years, especially the last two weeks, with strength and dignity. In his own authentic and understated way, Dale always put the team first and never complained about the hand he was dealt. He and his staff helped us excel in game planning and defensive positioning, contributed to the emergence of several players, and helped put us in position to make some important trades.

"I have no doubt that -- much like Terry Francona, whom we hired in Boston after his stint with a losing Phillies club -- Dale will go on to great success with his next team. We had hoped Dale would grow with our organization to see it through the building phase to a period of sustained excellence; instead, I believe Dale, who felt the weight of losing perhaps more than any of us, will grow because of this experience and find excellence elsewhere.

"Today’s decision to pursue a new manager was not made because of wins and losses. Our record is a function of our long-term building plan and the moves we have made -- some good, a few we would like back – to further this strategy. Jed and I take full responsibility for that. Today’s decision was absolutely not made to provide a scapegoat for our shortcomings or to distract from our biggest issue -- a shortage of talent at the major league level. We have been transparent about what we are, and what we are not yet. Today’s decision, which was painful for all of us, was made to move us closer to fulfilling our ultimate long-term vision for the Cubs.

"Soon, our organization will transition from a phase in which we have been primarily acquiring young talent to a phase in which we will promote many of our best prospects and actually field a very young, very talented club at the major league level. The losing has been hard on all of us, but we now have one of the top farm systems in baseball, some of the very best prospects in the game, and a clear path forward. In order for us to win with this group -- and win consistently -- we must have the best possible environment for young players to learn, develop and thrive at the major league level. We must have clear and cohesive communication with our players about the most important parts of the game. And -- even while the organization takes a patient, long view – we must somehow establish and maintain a galvanized, winning culture around the major league club.

"I believe a dynamic new voice -- and the energy, creativity and freshness that comes with this type of change -- provides us with the best opportunity to achieve the major league environment we seek. We will begin our search immediately -- a process which will be completed before the GM meetings in early November and perhaps much sooner. There are no absolute criteria, but we will prioritize managerial or other on-field leadership experience and we will prioritize expertise developing young talent. We have not yet contacted any candidates or asked permission to speak with any candidates, but that process will begin tomorrow morning."

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jason Hammel
WINS ERA SO IP
8 2.98 104 108
OTHER LEADERS
BAS. Castro .290
HRA. Rizzo 30
RBIA. Rizzo 71
RA. Rizzo 81
OPSA. Rizzo .889
ERAT. Wood 4.81
SOJ. Arrieta 135