With the 2011 Chicago Cubs season officially over now, the time has come to move on and look forward. Unfortunately, you can not move forward until you look back to see how you got to where you are. That is what I am going to do today, and then we can put this whole mess behind us and prepare ourselves for what has to be a brighter future.
There are many villains that played a role in the demise of the 2011 season, but Cub fans like to focus all their energy and hatred on two people. Both former General Manager Jim Hendry and Manager Mike Quade have been in the crosshairs of the fans since day one, in fact Hendry has been in their sites since the 2008 collapse. That is where the blame should lie, with the former General Manager and not so much the Manager. He can only work with what he is given, and there is not one manager who could have made this incompetent team into a team who was ready to go toe to toe with the best teams in baseball.
You heard me right, I do not care who the manager was this year, no one would have been able to win with this crap fest. Not Quade, not Charlie Manual, not even the great Ryne Sandberg. This was a hot steaming pile of garbage that Hendry gave Quade to compete with. Could a more qualified manager have gotten a couple more wins? Sure, a competent manager is worth a handfull of wins every year, but for the most part the players are the ones who win the games; not the manager. Besides, do you really care if you are a slightly better version of suck? Cubs still would have finished under the .500 mark.
Do not mistake what I am saying, Quade is not a great manager, in fact he may not even be a very good manager, but that is not the point. Managers do not play the game, they only set the lineup that they feel gives them the best chance to win based on the players they are given. Fans got pissed at Quade because he did not play the kids over the players who were over paid and underperforming, that is understandable as long as the players the fans want to play actually perform when given the chance. If the kids do not show anything when they get their opportunities then what would make the manager want to play them? His job is to win games, and if you have a guy hitting near .100 for the majority of the season (Tyler Colvin) getting consistent playing time is not going to be easy, even if you are competing with a completely inept defensive player hitting around .250 (Alfonso Soriano). While both are statistically in baseball hell, you want to go with the guy who has a track record of carrying a team when they are hot.
That is where this season died, not with having an inexperienced Major League manager at the helm, but having under performing players taking the field. Yes, Quade made some very inexcusable baseball decisions, as he was learning on the job. Yes, he left pitchers in too long at times, he took them out too early at others, and he started Koyie Hill far too many times, but the reason the season failed was not the main reason why this team failed as miserably as they did. The main reason they failed, would fall squarely on the shoulders of the players.
Say what you will about the great season by soon to be free agent Aramis Ramirez, his absence in April and May had more to do with the Cubs failures than having Quade in the dugout. Fans will chime in about his stat line and say how valuable he is to this franchise, but how valuable is he really? Yes, he put up impressive stats this year. They are even more impressive when you take note of them being produced in four months, but his absence in April and May led to a lot of losses which helped to dig the Cubs into a hole they just could not climb out of.
There will always be some fans that say something like “I don’t care when he puts up the stats, he is a super star”. That is the problem with the standard back of the baseball card thinking. The end of the year stats look great, but when they are produced is much more important than how much. The games in April and May are worth just as much as the games in August and September, some would say they are more valuable early on, because as the old saying goes, “You can not win a pennant in April, but you can lose one”.
The same goes for Carlos Pena, who also had an impressive stat line at the end of the year. But where was he in April? He, along with Ramirez, fell asleep in the starting gate and did not get started until the season was put on life support. That, too, had much more to do with the failure of the 2011 season than Quade sitting in the dugout.
Add in all the injuries the Cubs faced throughout the season, and you have a formula for failure and not success. I do not care who you are, losing two starting pitchers in the first week of the season is a great way to put yourself behind the eight ball before the season begins. Even if they were the number four and five starters, the drop off in talent level will hurt you. Maybe not if you only need them for a game or two, but if you need replacements for three or four months? That is no way to field a contender. Whether or not you think that the pitchers actually have the talent to compete in the majors is up to you, but there is a big difference between your four and five starters and your sixth and seventh starters.
Sure, the St. Louis Cardinals lost their ace pitcher Adam Wainwright for the whole season and won the wild card, but they still had another pitchers on their team who could qualify as an ace of just about any pitching staff. Everyone moves up a peg, and your long reliever becomes your fifth starter. With the Cubs though, they had to bring up a few pitchers to fill those voids. How is that the managers fault? Is he able to prevent injuries? Again, that falls on Hendry for not providing enough depth.
On top of everything else, there was the whole situation surrounding Carlos Zambrano. While his blowup took place long after realistic contending had long since past, that was still a big part of the season. I will not write much about this as I covered the incident in a blog when everything took place, but when a player walks out on your team, that is a good way to take out whatever chemistry there was with the team.
Overall, the team this year was a complete three ring circus. There was the dimwitted ring bearer, the first time lion tamer who gets his head bitten off because he is learning on the job in front of a live crowd, and you had a car full of clowns who tried to keep you entertained. Is Quade the reason this team fell apart and died a slow painful death? No, he is not why the team lost, but he should not escape blame. That falls on everyone from the General Manager on down to the 25th man.
Tonight, Chicago Cub fans will finally be able to find the peace they have been lacking since the beginning of the season. The last game of the 2011 season will be played, and the Cub fans will finally be put out of their misery. There will be no popping of celebratory champagne for a division clinching performance, though some might throw back a few beers in celebration for what will likely be the departure of current Cubs Manager Mike Quade.
While I will never celebrate in the firing of anyone, I doubt I will shed a tear if he receives news that he will not be retained for the 2012 season. When that happens though, is anyone’s guess. Cubs owner Tom Ricketts may leave that decision for the new General Manager to make; which means that Quade might technically still be the manager of the Cubs for at least a little while longer. No one knows how long the processes will take for the Cubs to find the person they feel is the right choice to fill the spot vacated for Jim Hendry, though I still believe that they almost have to already have reached a handshake agreement with someone to assume the responsibilities of the job. Otherwise some of the recent moves by Ricketts do not make me feel too optimistic about who will be the new General Manager.
In a recent blog, I wrote that Ricketts may not be a brilliant baseball man, but he is a brilliant businessman. This was in reference to the re-hiring of Oneri Fleita as the Vice President of player personnel, saying he would not hire a new General Manager and tell him that he has to take this person on as a key member of his team; at least not someone who was already established in that job. When Fleita was re-signed I assumed that Ricketts and the General Manager that he must have a handshake agreement with had to of signed off on the move to retain him. Now I am not so sure if the Cubs and Ricketts have a handshake deal with someone to take over the running of the team, at least not an already established General Manager.
In yesterday’s Chicago Sun-Times there was a report that the Cubs and Ricketts were reaching out to Ryne Sandberg to mend fences. There was speculation that he may be tabbed to be the new manager of the Cubs for 2012. While I would not be against such a move, I do not want him to be hired before the new General Manager is named. That would almost certainly be the end of any speculation that the Cubs will hire someone like Theo Epstein or Andrew Freidman. There is no way that they would take on a job where they were forced to take someone that they may not want managing their team, that is unless as I have said (and I am sounding like a broken record here) they have a handshake agreement with Ricketts and the Cubs and have signed off on the move.
If the Cubs do not already have something worked out before hand, then I do not want Sandberg hired; at least not yet. They must leave something for the new General Manager to do if you want to get someone who is already known as a great General Manager. I know that the chances of getting Epstein or Freidman has been a long shot from the beginning, but the hope is still alive as long as Ricketts and the Cubs do not take all the decisions out of their hands. In all reality, the Cubs will most likely wind up with the assistant General Manager of Epstein or Freidman, or maybe even the assistant General Manager from the south side Rick Hahn. Those people may be willing to take the job and be told who their most important personnel members will be.
You can explain away keeping Fleita by saying you want the person who knows your farm system, and the young talent keeping his job so you do not lose a step. That is at least understandable to a point, whether or not you agree with that thought process. But hiring a new Manager before the General Manager makes no sense. Neither does firing the current one for that matter. Perhaps the new guy likes Quade and wants to see what he can do given a real team who has a real chance to win. I highly doubt this, as even with a talented team who had actual expectations, I am not sure that Quade could win a World Series. That is not to say that this season completely falls on Quade’s shoulders and he is the reason we looked as horrible as we did. There are other reasons why the Cubs failed besides the apparently ineptness of Quade, but that is another discussion for another day.
The Brooklyn Dodgers had a saying, which was later adopted by the Chicago Cubs which said “wait till next year”. For years Cub fans have been using this phrase as a way to ease the pain that they have suffered through the years. However, I am here to start a new saying which I feel suit’s the current situation our beloved boys in blue are in much better. Wait till the year after next. Allow me to explain.
Let’s start at the very top, with Cubs General Manager, Jim Hendry. Currently, the Cubs embattled GM is signed through the 2012 season. As far as I can tell, there is little chance that he will be fired before his contract is up, nor do I think that firing him before the end of 2012 is absolutely the right thing to do, though there are those who obviously disagree. Before you call me a Hendry apologist, allow me to explain my reasoning on this.
If Hendry is fired today, or at the end of the season, whichever General Manager takes over the ball club will be stuck in the very same situation, with slightly less of a mess, that Hendry is in. Why on earth would you replace on general manager with another when there is likely very little the new guy can do at the time? I believe that you must allow Hendry to sift through the remaining years of garbage that the Cubs are currently sifting though. The new GM will be grouped in with Hendry as a fool or a jackass who has no idea what he is doing, when there is a great chance that his hands will be tied until this ball club is able to once again clearly see the light of day and begin to make at least some progress.
That is all well and good, but how about Mike Quade? Why shouldn’t he be fired for the bungling job he has been doing this year? Well, the reasons I will give you are basically the very same ones that I just gave you for why Henry probably should not be fired until his contract his up at the end of the 2012 season. For one, if he is fired, Hendry must also be fired on the very same day. As I pointed out a few moments ago, not really the smartest thing in the world to do, because who ever the new man is, will not make much of a difference at all with this pile of garbage smell like a rose garden. Furthermore, if Quade is fired, Hendry would be the man in charge to hire a replacement for him for the remainder of the 2011 season and for 2012. No manager will sign on for a team knowing his GM only has one year remaining, and that means that Hendry will need to get an extension in order to get any manager worth a damn to sign here. And you can not fire Hendry and hire a new GM only for him to be stuck with Quade. So we may be forced to wait through another year and a half of Quade, sorry to disappoint you.
I do not find it a coincidence at all that both Hendry’s and Quade’s contracts run through 2012 either, with the lone exception of Quade who has a team option for 2013 which likely will not be picked up unless a miracle occurs. They are both on the same time frame, which lines up perfectly for when the Cubs will be in their best financial situation, which sets up perfectly for a new regime to take over and do a complete overhaul.
Financially speaking, the Cubs will have over $50 Million coming off the books at the end of the year, but they are still financially burdened with the contracts of Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd, Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and now Carlos Marmol, unless one or all of them are traded before the start of next year. However, once the 2012 season has come to an end, only Soriano and Marmol will be left on the roster with contracts which are likely going be worth more than the play they give us. That is $38.5 more Million coming off the books. Whichever General Manager takes control of this team will be in a great position to start building a championship contender, with a new manager who is perfectly suited to lead this team into the future! A manager who they may have liked to have hired before this season, but did not want to stick him with the crapfest that the Cubs have become, someone like Ryne Sandberg who most fans are wishing was managing the team this year.
Before anyone takes that last comment too far, allow me to be perfectly clear. No manager, no matter who they are, could have been able to take this garbage dump of a team and make them smell like a bed or roses. That is just simply not possible. I am also not saying that Sandberg will be a great manager, we just simply do not know what he will be at this point in his managerial career. Which brings me to a topic I brought up on my Facebook page (www.Facebook.com/worldseriesdreaming).
For everyone who wanted Sandberg, or another manager with potential, to take over this years team, tell me why? Why would you want to set up a manager, you feel has potential to be great, to fail? Two bad years in a row, and your great managerial prospect is being called out, and fans are demanding for his head. Why not wait until the mess is cleaned up before bringing in someone who has a chance to actually make something happen? Not hiring Sandberg was likely the best thing that has ever happened to the guy, and he should be kissing Hendry’s feet for passing him over for Quade. Otherwise he would be the one standing in front of the fan’s figurative firing squad.
I am sorry my friends, but wanting or demanding immediate change, is just wasting your time. Forecasting what is likely to come the way contracts are laid out, I can not see the sun rising for our beloved Cubbies until at least 2013.
Embrace the wait, and wait till the year after next!
Today, because you are finished with my look at the individual positions and who should be starting for the Chicago Cubs, I will give you my thoughts on what I feel would be the perfect line up to run out everyday. Thankfully this is made much easier because Cubs Manager Mike Quade and I are in full agreement on who should be playing everyday. The one thing we do not agree on, is how they should be lined up. So far in Spring Training, based on the line up that has been run out most often, Quade is looking at running out this line up.
Pitcher of the day,
While I agree with three of the nine spots in the line up, I feel that the others should be shuffled around for reasons that I am about to explain. In my mind, the line up should look like this.
Kosuke Fukudome: This one Quade has right. With his precise at the plate, there is no one better to hit lead off. What he lacks in batting average, which tends to be his main down fall with the fans, he makes up for in drawing walks. That is the main objective for any lead off hitter. Get on base for the big boppers behind you.
Geovany Soto: Cuttently, Quade has him batting seventh in the lineup. In my honest opinion, this is a big mistake. He is the teams best on base percentage guy and should be at the top of the line up batting second. Much like with Fukudome should be batting lead off, getting on base is the most important thing for your first and second hitters. The reason Soto should be hitting second, is because he does just that. Because he has a keen eye at the plate, and has a fair amount of power, pitchers will need to pitch to him very carefully if he is hitting second. They do not want to walk him, and give you best run producers a chance to drive him in, so they will have to throw him pitches to hit. Doing so could cost them dearly.
Aramis Ramirez: The Cubs need a power hitter in the three hole, and that just is not Marlon Byrd. These two men should be flipped in the order. History has shown that if there are men on base for Ramirez, that chances are he is going to drive them in. He is the Cubs best run producer, and has been for the past few years, and needs to bat in the first inning. With Fukudome and Soto hitting in front of him, he will typically always have someone on base for him to drive in.
Marlon Byrd: I know what you are thinking, if Byrd isn’t powerful enough to hit in the three spot, why hit him clean up? I think he should hit clean up for those exact reasons. He is a good line drive hitter and can move guys over and drive them in without the use of a home run. In some instances that is a better weapon than a home run hitter. He gives you a different aspect to think about. If Ramirez is unable to drive the previous guys in, Byrd almost certainly will. Besides, I feel that having power back to back is a waste and kind of is easier on the pitcher who does not need to chance his thought process when the batters change. You typically pitch all power hitters the same way.
Carlos Pena: He should be hitting fifth, exactly where Quade has him. Left handed power in this spot is very nice. A line drive hitter right in front of him could mean that there is typically someone on base for him to try and drive in. While his average has not been very good the past few years, he still has the power numbers to make him a big threat with men on base.
Alfonso Soriano: Once again, Quade gets the decision right to bat him here. While he is no longer the big 40 home run threat that he once was, he is still very capable of hitting at least 20 home runs. He will never have another good year of stealing bases either, which is why he is not batting higher in the line up. Because he still has some decent power, he still has to be considered a threat at the plate.
Blake Dewitt: He is not a strong hitter, and can occasionally draw a walk. I will not tiptoe around this guy at all, he is our weakest hitter. The reason I have him hitting seventh instead of eighth is because you do not want two easy outs back to back. Perhaps with another year of professional baseball under his belt he will be able to surprise us with something. Either way, I am not expecting much out of him. Only good thing I can say about him, is that he is better than Ryan Theriot because he can occasionally draw a walk.
Starlin Castro: The very reason Quade likes him hitting second is why he should be hitting eighth in the order. Someone who can hit at a high average at the bottom of the order is a good way to help turn the line up over and get back to the top of the order. If you have three low average guys at the bottom of the order (no Soto is not a low average hitter, but his power says he should be hitting higher) you will have three easy outs all in a row. That is something pitchers dream of, you are basically handing them an easy inning. Throwing a .300 hitter here helps keep the offense rolling. Add to the mix that he can draw a walk, which is a very important aspect for anyone who is going to hit in the eight hole. Pitchers will tend to pitch around this hitter in order to get to the easiest out in the line up, the pitcher. Yes, the pitcher is the easiest out even if we are talking about Carlos Zambrano. This guy needs to get on base for the pitcher to move over with a sacrifice bunt and to reset the line up.
A line up like this would give the Cubs the best chance to win on a daily basis. Granted, that is assuming everything works the way they should. While we may not have the most talented line up in baseball, I believe that you can still make noise if you put things in the proper order. Perhaps Quade’s line up is better than my purposed one.
With news coming out this morning that Eric Wedge being named the manager of the Seattle Mariners, the Chicago Cubs have one less option to fill their void.
Honestly, I never really felt that he was ever a real option to be the new manager of the Cubs. In my mind, there have always been only three true options to take over the job. On the list of people who I feel will take the helm are Mike Quade, Ryne Sandberg and Joe Girardi. At the moment, two of the three are available and looking for managerial work, while the other is currently leading the New York Yankees to what could possibly be their 28 World Series title. In some peoples minds, that could put a potential kink in any plans of hiring him. Not in mine though.
I fully believe that the plan to interview him is clear. Earlier in the off season, General Manager said that he wanted to have a new Manager named by October 15, which was yesterday and obviously didn’t happen. The owner of the Cubs though, Tom Ricketts, quickly followed up Hendry’s October 15 suggestion with a date of his own. The date he suggested was November 15, which would give Hendry and Ricketts a chance to interview a manager who was unavailable because he was still working. Someone like Girardi. Some fans would question though, as to why Girardi would even consider leaving a job as prized as the Yankees for the Cubs. In my mind, and yes I have nothing to go off of other than my own thoughts, Girardi will be the new Manager of the Chicago Cubs.
Before I start in on why I think Girardi will be the new manager, we need to make clear his contract situation. He and the Yankees have a mutual option for 2011. What this means, and sorry if it sounds as though I am talking down to you, is both sides must want to be back in order for this to kick in. One would have to assume that if the Yankees win the World Series, their ownership will want him back and exercise their option, but if Girardi does not want to come back, he will not be there. Same with if the Yankees do not win the World Series and Girardi wants to come back. If the Yankees don’t want him, he will not be.
Back to why I fully believe Girardi will be the new manager. Ricketts is not a stupid man, you don’t become a billionaire by making stupid decisions. He would not be waiting as long as he says he is willing to, if he did not have a good hunch that he will get what he wants. But why would Girardi be so willing to leave the Yankees for the Cubs job?
Go back four years ago when both the Cubs and Yankee jobs were open. Girardi openly stated that the only two jobs he would covet the most were the Cubs and the Yankees. We all know how that ended, the Cubs signed Lou Piniella and Girardi headed to the Yankees. He now had one of the two jobs he wanted about all others, and he was very successful. In his third year with the Yankees, he won the World Series and still had a year left on his deal. He proved that he could lead a team, no matter how loaded with talent, to a championship. This year, he looks to be leading another strong favorite to yet another title. After winning back to back titles, Girardi would have nothing left to prove in New York. He could very well be up for another challenge. A much harder challenge of leading the Cubs to their first World Series in 65 years, and their first championship in 102. A daunting task no matter who you are.
I know that this is just speculation, but the thinking surrounding the situation makes sense the more you think about things. This is no sure thing, even though one report has Girardi’s agent saying Girardi would take the Cubs job. One thing that may stop Girardi from taking the job, is already being saddled with a hitting coach and a pitching coach. He may not like the idea that his coaches are already chosen for him. He may demand they get fired so he can bring in his own guys. That may very well be what keeps Girardi from being the Cubs new manager.
According to one report earlier in the week, Will Carroll started a rumor where Quade would be named the Manager with Sandberg being his bench coach. While this idea would have been fine with several people, according to Mike Mulligan and Brian Hanley on 670 The Score, a friend of Sandberg basically said that if Sandberg was not named the manager, then he wouldn’t be with the Cubs. Now, this is just third or fourth hand news, much like the game of telephone, so you don’t know how reliable the friend of Sandberg is. However, Carroll retracted his thoughts of what might be the following day.
This would be a bad idea, because the moment the Cubs started a long slump the fans would start demanding Sandberg take over. You would have a split fan base and a split club house. That is no way to win. You have to have a manager who the fans and players know are the boss. If Girardi was named manager with Sandberg as the bench coach, that would be different. There would be no question that Girardi was the man in charge.
Quade though, should be considered a very serious candidate. He took over a team, granted when there was no pressure, and put together a fantastic record. He took a team that apparently had no idea how to win, and actually made them win. He has the backing of several players who have already given their support to him, and said they would fully support him as the manager going into 2011. He may very well be the right man for the job.
Taking out the record he put up as manager of the Cubs, the greatest qualification he might have is the current roster. He knows the players who will be on the team better than either Girardi or Sandberg. While Sandberg may know the kids better, Quade knows the veterans and already has their support. one thing you need if you are going to succeed as a manager, is the respect and support of your players. That is likely one thing Piniella lost as the season went on last year. Despite the complete lack of managerial experience, only a month and a half, that alone might very well make him the favorite for the job.
One reason he might also be the man to take over, is the Cubs can have more power over him than they would Girardi. They can tell him that if he wants the job, he must keep both Larry Rothschild and Rudy Jaramillo as his pitching coach and hitting coach. You can easily force that on someone who is looking for their first real job. Much more than someone who has already cut his teeth in the majors.
The final candidate for the Cub job is Sandberg. He is the obvious fan favorite for a majority of Cub fans, though not all of them. From the very beginning, he was the man most fans wanted to succeed Piniella and lead the Cubs into the future. He fits each and every qualification that Ricketts said he wanted in the next Cubs manager, and would seem to be the favorite. If the Cubs are going to go on the cheap and bring in a bunch of rookies, than I would agree that Sandberg would be the man to hire, mainly because he knows the kids that will be up here and what they can do. He knows exactly what he can expect out of them, and how hard to push them. Much like Quade has the support of the veterans on the team, the kids in the minors are all pulling for Sandberg, likely out of being familiar with him and the feeling that they have a better chance to make the club if he is the manager. Who knows for sure though.
Like Quade, the Cubs can also have control over him and tell him who his coaches are going to be if he wants the job. Both Rothschild and Jaramillo have contracts and are not likely to be fired. Sandberg would have to keep them on board if he wants the job. That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world though, as he could use all the help he can get with the current roster. They know the players better than he does, and could help him along the way. That is a much better scenario than a rookie manager starting with a team where he barely knows any of the players, with a pitching coach who needs to learn the pitchers and a hitting coach who needs to learn the hitters.
Quade and Sandberg, while being stuck with both Jaramillo and Rothschild would still be able to name their own bench coach.
Out of the three, I still have to believe that Girardi will be the man to take over. While Ricketts and Girardi can not officially talk until the end of the season, we all know that conversations take place through back channels. A “friend” of Girardi’s talks to a “business partner” of Ricketts or something like that. The rule that blocks conversations is the easiest rule to get around, because of all the back channels. I just can not believe that Ricketts would risk ruining relationships with the other two candidates just to talk to Girardi if he did not have something to give him the idea that he would in fact take the job. By giving the impression that you don’t want to hire anyone until you talk to Girardi, you are basically saying that he is your top choice for the job. How would you feel if you were Quade or Sandberg then? Yeah, we want you as our manager, but only because he turned us down. You were not our first choice.
One reason they are waiting, is because they can. Apparently, despite reports, no one is banging on Sandberg’s door to be their manager. Reports were that he was in the running for the Toronto Blue Jays, but how real are those reports? He doesn’t have the power to tell them to wait on his answer. Being a rookie manager, if he were to tell them to wait, they would laugh him off and go in another direction. Plus, he would be stupid to turn down a chance at a job because he wants another one.
No matter what happens this next month, nothing is certain. All we know, is there will be a new manager. Who that is, no one can be certain.