Talking baseball while pitying the fools who passed on Peyton Manning in their fantasy leagues:
1. Dale Sveum has been whacked as the Cubs’ manager in a move that Theo Epstein had said could happen. It was messy business but Epstein and Jed Hoyer felt it had to be done and to Sveum’s lasting credit he never came close to pulling an Eric Wedge. He understood that he served at the discretion of the people who hired him, and he’s not bigger than the job he holds.
What did Wedge think when he went to the Mariners? That they were going to be doing the things that the Athletics are now?
Maybe he did, but he was sadly mistaken because he wasn’t hired by Billy Beane. The Mariners’ ownership and front office hasn’t distinguished itself in the decade since it lost Pat Gillick, and Wedge should have understood that when he went there.
Sveum, to his credit, seemed to understand the risks of taking a job with the Cubs when it was offered to him. He knew there was a good chance he was being hired to be fired after taking his lumps with an overmatched roster, and he also knew he was paid well to do it.
Sveum was a finalist for the Red Sox’s post-Terry Francona manager’s spot at the same time he was interviewing with the Cubs. He didn’t emerge in Chicago until Mike Maddux had pulled out of the process, which happened about the same time that the Red Sox ownership was getting heavily involved in that hiring process, essentially overruling GM Ben Cherington to audible away from Sveum, leaving the job open to fill it a couple weeks later with Bobby Valentine.
Epstein and Hoyer, who had just gotten their five-year contracts from Tom Ricketts, gave Sveum a three-year deal at a good salary (never quite pinned down, it’s believed to be about $1.5 million a year). The third year in the deal -- one more than Valentine would get from the Red Sox -- was to make an unattractive job a little more attractive, and now it will make his firing a little less painful.
Sveum will work again, as a bench coach if not a manager, and be a lot better off for the experience he’s gotten managing guys like Bryan LaHair and Donnie Murphy, not to mention handling a pitching staff built around Travis Wood, Jeff Samardzija and Jamie “Every Day’’ Russell.
A managerial switch is a good sign for Cub fans. It shows that Epstein and Hoyer are serious about turning the corner in the foreseeable future rather than piling up top-five draft picks throughout their full five-year deals.
They want their new manager -- more likely Brad Ausmus than Joe Girardi (although Girardi remains a consideration) or Ron Gardenhire -- to get to know guys like Javy Baez, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora before he is managing them in the big leagues. These are relationships that can start this winter and next spring and pay dividends when they arrive at Wrigley Field, late in 2014 or in ’15.
Tom Ricketts isn’t going to spend for top players this winter but is expected to make a splash a year from now, with an eye on winning baseball in ’15 and championship baseball in ’16 and beyond. If he does spend for a big free agent this winter, it will be Girardi, but it’s still hard to imagine him jumping from the Yankees to the Cubs.
2. After the Yankees wrapped up their season with a 14-inning win in Houston, Girardi uttered a sentence that he can prove true by taking over the Cubs. “I’ve never been afraid of any challenge,” Girardi said. He was talking about the chance of succeeding in New York without the old core group of players but he did go on to say that he isn’t sure if he is going to stay with the Yankees. He told the New York Times’ David Waldstein and other reporters that he doesn’t have quite the ties to Chicago he once did, and pointed out that he and his family, including three school-age children, have enjoyed living in Westchester County the last seven years. Girardi said he’ll meet with his wife, Kim, and their kids before talking to Yankees GM Brian Cashman, who will offer him an extension to replace the deal that is expiring. “It’s not so much the circumstances, but what’s best for my crew,” Girardi said. If he decides to take on the Cubs’ challenge, it will benefit him to have a low-expectation year in 2014 before the stakes start rising. “I’ve always said, that’s the most difficult thing when you take a job -- coming in and trying to figure out what you have,” Girardi said. “You think you know a player from afar, but you don’t really know him until you get in there with him.”
3. Today is my last day at the Tribune after 17 terrific seasons covering Chicago baseball. I will shift to MLB.com as a columnist, based in Chicago. I can never repay the readers who have been so kind to me for such a long time. I’ve always understood how lucky I was to work for such a great paper in such a great city. Thanks for letting me ride along. I’d also like to thank my fellow baseball reporters, especially Paul Sullivan, Mark Gonzales and the recently retired Dave Van Dyck. It was a pleasure to work alongside such pros, as well as a tremendous crew of editors back at the Tower (none bore more of the brunt through the years than Ken Paxson). Thanks also to the bosses who let me do my thing. I’m not going to be writing for the Tribune but I can assure you I’ll still be reading it. Write well, fellows (and you, too, Colleen Kane).