Commentary

The stove is red hot at Wrigley

With Mike Quade's departure, the search for the next skipper is wide open

Updated: November 2, 2011, 8:47 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- To no one's surprise, Mike Quade was released from his duties as designated Cubbie causality, I mean manager, of the Chicago Cubs.

I'm not defending Quade's decision-making in his one, odd season, but he had virtually no chance to win with the roster he inherited. And the veterans that supported him when he replaced Lou Piniella had no use for him by the time the team was out of contention, which was around late April thanks to the Tony Campana-thin pitching staff.

Quade, a congenital nice guy whose greatest asset was his commitment to nicknames, had another year left on a contract that can best be described as "succinct." But bringing him back would've been a disservice to everyone involved. Reporters had been openly discussing his fate as final as soon as former GM Jim Hendry was sandbagged.

As new general manager Jed Hoyer noted in his introductory news conference Tuesday, he knows he can't demand patience from Cubs fans. Inaction would've been inexcusable.

[+] EnlargeMike Maddux
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezMike Maddux helped turn the Texas Rangers' rotation into a World Series-caliber group. Could he do the same in Chicago?

I'm just surprised the Cubs didn't wait until next week to stretch their streak of big Tuesday news conferences to three. Maybe new president Theo Epstein fired him in person Wednesday because he was already tired of making bland generalizations to the media like "he's a good baseball guy" and "his lineup-card penmanship is above average" and "he has opposable thumbs."

During a brief two-on-one breakout chat with Hoyer on Tuesday, I suggested Carlos Zambrano as player-manager. That's when media relations guru Peter Chase ended the interview.

Hey, Kenny Williams started it!

The new baseball operations regime was brought in to change the culture of an organization that had flatlined after the 2008 playoff debacle. Even Hendry admitted the change -- his firing -- was a good thing in an exclusive interview with Bruce Levine.

"Looking at it now, I think [Ricketts' decision to fire him] was the right thing to do," Hendry told Levine. "We got close a few times to winning, but now a change of scenery looks good for everyone involved."

We know the days of the celebrity manager are probably over. Unless Epstein can convince Terry Francona to come to Chicago, I think we'll see a coach -- a bench coach, a hitting coach, etc. -- get the job. Epstein publicly eliminated civic hero Ryne Sandberg from consideration in the team's official release on Quade, noting the next manager "must have managerial or coaching experience at the major league level." Epstein called Sandberg to say he wasn't in the running. I guess Epstein isn't as wowed by Sandberg's stint with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.

With plenty of payroll baggage still on their budget, and an organizational philosophy steeped in balancing traditional scouting with newfangled statistical analysis, it's not wrong to think Epstein and Hoyer will try to improve the Cubs' immediate fortunes with improvements to the team's pitching and defense. Hoyer mentioned "run prevention" at his news conference, eliciting tears of joy from forward-thinking TV broadcaster Len Kasper.

So it would also make sense that the two would look for a manager with pitching credentials, or I suppose, defensive bona fides. That means the days of ex-hitting instructors turned managers are probably on hiatus. Someone finally realized the wind blows in too.

Texas Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux should be a candidate, and maybe the top one. He knows the NL Central from his days coaching in Milwaukee and, of course, Greg Maddux was a special assistant to Hendry after he retired. (Greg is in limbo, professionally, as he deals with a family matter.)

Larry Rothschild's exit last season caused a void in the organization, and former minor league instructor Mark Riggins was a mediocre emergency choice to fill his role. It's never fair to give a first-time manager a green pitching coach, but that's what happened to Quade.

Maddux has the personality to lead a team and he turned the Rangers, previously a place where pitchers go to perish, into a strong pitching team. Hey, C.J. Wilson is going to make serious bank this offseason. We'll see how he does away from Maddux.

I'd like to see the Cubs emulate what Hoyer's former team, the San Diego Padres, did with former Los Angeles Angels pitching coach (and major leaguer) Bud Black as the manager and Darren Balsley as the pitching coach. You can never have enough pitching, even at the coaching staff.

My second choice is Sandy Alomar Jr., the current bench coach with the Cleveland Indians. Alomar is an up-and-coming managerial prospect, and he already lives in town, Bucktown, to be precise. He was thought to be a candidate for the White Sox job, but Williams never interviewed him.

Alomar Jr. was one of those "coach on the field" types. He's bilingual, has experience handling pitching staffs, he can relate to the veterans (he retired in 2007) and he'll have instant credibility in the clubhouse because he was a star. Also, he lives by me, so we could carpool.

Davey Martinez, the former Cub and current disciple of Joe Maddon, is another hot managerial candidate. He certainly left an impression in the minds of Cubs fans and teammates during his time here, and his work in Tampa Bay has Maddon praising his virtues.

While Sandberg is out, here's an ex-Cub that would excite the fanbase and rile up the clubhouse: Shawon Dunston. The scrappy shortstop is a special assistant with the San Francisco Giants and one of those unofficial coaches that helps out with the infielders. He has a great personality and would be the North Side version of Ozzie Guillen. I hear he's not so up on the sabermetric stuff, though, so he's probably a non-entity in Epstein's mind. There goes my second wild card, Art Howe.

Does anyone know if Glenallen Hill reads Fangraphs?

It's fun to throw out familiar names, but there's a good chance it's someone you or I have no familiarity with.

Pete Mackanin or Dale Sveum anyone?

Sveum actually has a degree of familiarity from a journeyman major league career that mostly consisted of fans trying to figure out how to pronounce his name. (Full disclosure: I loved him during his Pittsburgh Pirate days.) While he is a hitting coach, which takes away from my pitching-first declaration, a WEEI.com profile on him -- he's interviewing for the Red Sox gig -- mentions his proclivity toward progressive data-driven analysis. So that's in his favor.

Mackanin is another guy who just interviewed with the Red Sox. He's the bench coach for the Philadelphia Phillies and is a local who graduated high school from Brother Rice. He is also a numbers-oriented guy. He was twice an interim manager, which doesn't say much for the teams he was coaching on.

I know absolutely nothing else about him except, judging by his picture from his Red Sox interview, he's got a silver fox look going.

Red Sox bench coach DeMarlo Hale, another Chicago native, is a popular candidate that hyper-intense Cubs fans can pretend to know something about.

After a miserable season, one thing's for sure, the Chicago Cubs are interesting again. The hot stove is officially lit.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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