CHICAGO — The dismissal Monday of Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum will likely ramp up speculation surrounding the status of Yankees manager Joe Girardi, a Peoria, Ill., native who played college ball at nearby Northwestern. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Monday that he expects to complete the search process for a new manager by early November.
Sveum was fired Monday after the Cubs finished last in the National League Central for the first time in seven years, ending a two-year run that produced more losses than any other in the team’s cursed history.
Epstein said Sveum was not the “scapegoat” for the team’s struggles, but Sveum had little experience as a manager, other than an interim stint for the Brewers late in 2008 after Ned Yost was fired, when he took the job. Girardi, meanwhile, led the Yankees to a 2009 World Series victory and also salvaged an 85-77 season in New York this year despite injuries to key players, keeping the Yankees in the wild card race until the final week. He has said he would talk about his future after the season ended.
“Today’s decision to pursue a new manager was not made because of wins and losses,” Epstein said. “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. … 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.”
With talented prospects such as Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant now in the system, things are looking promising at the minor league level. At the majors, it’s a different story.
With the Cubs shedding long-term prospects and dealing anyone with trade value in an effort to build the farm system, losses have been piling up at a staggering rate even for a franchise that last won a championship in 1908. The Cubs have dropped at least 91 games in three straight seasons for the first time, and they appear to be at least a year or two from making any jump in the win column.
They’ve taken a mostly frugal approach in free agency, going for players with low financial risks rather than making big splashes.
They did make a big-ticket player purchase last offseason, signing starter Edwin Jackson to a four-year, $52 million contract, but he’s been a flop. They also traded away veteran pitchers Matt Garza and Scott Feldman and longtime left fielder Alfonso Soriano.
Through it all, the front office insisted Sveum would be judged on development rather than record, and that probably was his downfall. Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, who have long-term contracts, took steps back this season. Castro continues to be a head-scratcher, prone to lapses in the field, and he couldn’t make up for it at the plate. The two-time All-Star’s average has been in a steady decline.
Starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija didn’t quite deliver the way the Cubs hoped, either. At times, he can look like an All-Star, but he gave up five or more runs eight times.
Sveum did not appear to be in any real jeopardy until late in the season, when things got tense. Jackson had words with Sveum in the dugout over being pulled after four innings in a game at Milwaukee. The next day, Samardzija got into it with third base coach David Bell over defensive positioning. That, too, happened in the dugout, and later that week, Kevin Gregg nearly was released following a rant to reporters after he thought he lost the closer’s job.
After all that, Epstein let Sveum dangle when he was asked about his status, saying the manager would be evaluated at the end of the season.