It is, at the same time, a totally understandable and fair question, and an unfair and difficult question. On the one hand, I’m a huge Chicago Cubs fan, and I know a bit about the team, the game, and the candidates, so surely I must have a favorite (and I suppose I did). On the other hand, my visibility to these guys is – like everyone who isn’t conducting the interviews or interacting with them in the ballpark on a daily basis – minimal. It’s much harder to know that you want hitting coach X to be the Cubs’ manager than it is to know that you want Theo Epstein to be the Cubs’ president, because, while the track record of the latter is totally evaluable, the track record of the former is much tougher to gauge.
So, when I was asked who I wanted to get the Cubs’ job, I had an instinctual response lined up: whoever Theo and Jed want.
I rarely said that, mind you, because it sounds thinly-reasoned and lemming-like. Instead, I usually finagled some combination of “really like Maddux,” “Sveum looks good, too,” and “I can see the merit in Alomar.” But, deep down, I knew how I really felt: whomever Theo and Jed select, after a grueling, personal interview process is the guy I want. I already trust their instincts.
And I knew I’d be thrilled to get whichever guy they chose.
So that’s why I’m squealing just a little bit now that the Cubs have landed former Milwaukee Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum as the team’s new manager. Sveum gets a three-year deal (most new manager deals are just two years, but Sveum was a hot commodity), with an option for a fourth year. He’ll be introduced tomorrow morning at 9am.
Even if I wasn’t happy with the move just because Theo and Jed are happy, there are objective reasons to be excited, too. As I said when Sveum came in as a candidate:
Sveum, 47, has been with the Brewers since 2006. Before that, he spent a couple years making controversial decisions as the Red Sox’s third base coach, and before that, he did some managing in the minor leagues. The time in Boston could prove valuable for Sveum, if he ends up in a city like Chicago, because in Boston he faced enormous – almost comical, he says – levels of scrutiny for every move he made. Obviously, as manager of the Chicago Cubs, the same would be true.
And Sveum has a tiny bit of Major League managerial experience, too, albeit in Milwaukee, in an interim role, over just 12 games and a first round playoff loss in 2008. He was considered for the full-time gig thereafter, but was passed over in favor of Ken Macha because management wanted someone with big-league managerial experience.
The Cubs are considering Sveum for a number of reasons, some obvious, some less so. As a former Red Sox coach, Sveum is not an unknown quantity to Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. And, as a current Brewers’ coach, the NL Central is not an unknown quantity to Sveum. Indeed, he’s likely to have a pretty good gauge on, at a minimum, a large number of the pitchers in the NL Central, and in the National League, generally.
Sveum’s Brewers have had great success offensively, and, while it’s fair to wonder whether he could have any impact on studs like Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, it’s also fair to wonder whether he can be credited with the offensive resurgence of guys like Nyjer Morgan or offensive development of guys like Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks. Given that the Brewers of late seem to consistently outproduce their talent, I’d say Sveum has at least something to do with their success.
Sveum is also considered a numbers guy, with rumors floating around that he obsessively pours over statistics in his spare time. And, the fact that he’s remained with the Brewers through three managerial changes suggests he’s a well-respected, and highly-valued member of the staff.
You can see more on Sveum here, when he spoke to the media after his interview.
Sveum also learned from some of the best. As a player, he played under some managers who know their way around a dugout: Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre, Lou Piniella, Jim Leyland and Gene Lamont.
Sveum was going to be a Major League manager sooner or later, and clearly some of the smartest executives in baseball wanted him. The only ding you can lay on him is the fact that the Brewers never promoted him to the managerial position, including after a short, successful run as interim manager. They say it was because they wanted to hire externally, and maybe that’s true. It’s fair to wonder.
Some will try and ding Sveum by saying, “he’s not Mike Maddux.” Here’s the thing: (1) our visibility to the interview process is so limited that it would be unfair for us to say that Maddux was clearly a better candidate than Sveum, even if the Cubs maybe preferred Maddux, and (2) Maddux being awesome says nothing about whether or not Sveum is awesome. The fact that the Cubs moved aggressively to nail down Sveum when it appeared that the Red Sox were going to try and do so speaks to their opinion of just how good of a candidate Sveum is.
One other not-insignificant plus? Sveum wanted to manage the Cubs. According to various reports, the Red Sox wanted Sveum, too, but Sveum preferred the Cubs’ job. As I’m sure you’ll hear tomorrow morning, Sveum likes the idea of being able to build the Cubs together with Theo, Jed, Jason, and the rest.
Now. How will this all play out?
We can’t know for certain. There was a time in the not-so-distant past that I was satisfied with the hiring of Mike Quade. The lesson there? Observing a man manage over the course of a season tells you a whole lot more about how much you like or dislike that man as a manager than a couple weeks of interviews and articles (or a short interim managerial role) could ever tell you. So, I’m happy with the hiring for reasons tied to Theo and Jed, and for reasons tied to Sveum’s resume.
So, for now: I’m happy. But it’s up to Sveum to justify that happiness next year. I think Theo recently used the phrase, “trust but verify.” That sounds about right.
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