Sahadev Sharma: Dialoging About the Managerial Dialog

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Sahadev Sharma: Dialoging About the Managerial Dialog

Chicago Cubs

chicago cubs logoTwitter is one of my favorite mediums for communication and information. I often find myself just aimlessly scrolling through my timeline and enjoying random wisecracks, marveling at a stat, or saving links to interesting stories for a later date. However, it’s also one of my more frustrating outlets. I often get questions or comments that I find off-base or uninformed. Trying to counter such opinions in 140-character bursts can be hard to do in a competent manner.

About a week ago, I ran into this problem once again. In addressing possible Joe Girardi-to-the-Cubs rumors, I said that, if the front office decided to hire Girardi, some would view it as a business move, not a baseball move. Immediately, people got upset by that, but my suggestion wasn’t that the business focus would in fact be the case, but solely that some would try and spin it that way to make it seem like the business side was interfering and/or pressuring the baseball side into making a move.

So let’s start there, and proceed with some (false) items in a more nuanced dialog than Twitter would allow …

1. Tom Ricketts, Crane Kenney or someone on the business side forced Theo Epstein and the front office to fire Sveum, with the direct order to hire Joe Girardi to help with the team’s image/credibility/attendance woes.

Let’s deal with the former first. Firing Sveum was the front office’s choice and strictly a baseball decision. While it may be an admission that they made a mistake in hiring Sveum two years ago, I view it  as more of an admission that somewhere along the line, the front office and Sveum stopped being on the same page.

At some point in the past year, Sveum’s message to the team either diverged from what the front office wants the message to be, or the front office felt that message was being relayed in an improper fashion. Either way, it’s clear that Sveum and the front office weren’t on the same page this past season and that ultimately led to Sveum’s firing.

Assuming that this firing occurred solely so they could target Girardi would be folly. I’m sure the business side of the organization would love if the Cubs got Girardi to manage the team. They’re paid to think about ways to generate more revenue and if they believe adding Girardi as manager is the best route to achieve that goal*, then they should undoubtedly share that with the baseball side.

But directing Epstein to fire Sveum and go after Girardi? Let’s really examine this thought process.

To force Epstein to do something he didn’t want to do, the business side would have to have some leverage over Epstein. Meaning they’d likely have to say something to the effect of, “Fire Sveum, hire Girardi or your job is in danger.” Really? Ricketts jumped through so many hoops to get Epstein and the rest of his crew to Wrigley just two years ago. Now he’s going to allow the business side to threaten Epstein’s job just so they can maybe sell more tickets by plastering Girardi’s face on some billboards? That’s lunacy.

Even if that did happen, which it most certainly didn’t, Epstein has built up enough clout and respect in this business that he’d happily take his walking papers and immediately find another job in baseball. He already dealt with a business side that got too involved while he was in Boston, and he didn’t come to Chicago to face the same challenges.

This theory makes no sense and should be summarily dismissed by anyone who takes half a moment to really think it through.

*There’s some dispute as to if hiring Girardi would have any benefit business-wise. I certainly agree that it would help with credibility (how fans and media view the rebuild) and marketing (let’s face it, Rizzo, Castro and Samardzija aren’t great selling points right now, regardless of how we may view their futures, their Q-rating, so to say, is down among the general fan base. Girardi would be an easy sell to a public searching for something positive to cling to). I do dispute the notion that the addition of Girardi would have any notable effect on attendance. Maybe there’d be an early bump – and I’m doubtful even that would be anything of significance – but unless the team starts winning, the fans will once again fail to show up.

2. Epstein and company have focused their job search on Girardi and only Girardi. Coming up short in their attempt to nab him as the next manager of the Cubs should and will be looked at as a complete and utter failure by the front office.

Yes, I believe that Girardi is at the top of the front office’s list to replace Sveum. However, their list most certainly isn’t one man long. Going into a managerial search with just one target would be a huge misstep for any team, let alone a front office that has proven to be as thorough and willing to investigate every avenue of improvement as this one. Epstein clearly laid out what they’re looking for in a candidate, and while it definitely sounded like they were describing Girardi, they didn’t limit themselves to focusing solely on him.

Not landing Girardi may be viewed as a disappointment to some, but it wouldn’t be a failure. The Cubs have a list of candidates and while Girardi may be the sexiest name on it, there are other competent candidates who could end up doing wonders given the opportunity.

3. Landing Girardi is critical to the future success of this team.

Again, there are multiple candidates for the job and all that matters is that the Cubs manage to land a competent manager. I’d even hesitate to say they have to ‘nail’ this managerial search, but I’ll delve into that in a bit more detail when I talk about the value of a manager.

Right now, everyone needs to realize that, while the front office had their reasons for removing Sveum as manager, the biggest problem with the Cubs at the major league level is a lack of talent. They could trot out a manager who combines the best skills of every great manager who every sat in a dugout, unless they have a playoff caliber roster, they’re not sniffing postseason play.

4. Why would Girardi pick the Yankees over the Cubs?

What makes the Cubs attractive? Let’s not debate the merits of the major league club. There’s some talent there, but obviously some of the youth stalled in 2013. Nobody’s selling this job using this past season’s roster as bullet point number one.

And while Esptein’s claim that, “Around baseball, the story is the Cubs are coming fast and the Cubs are coming strong,” may be a bit of hyperbole, it’s not that far off base. When talking with those around baseball about the Cubs, the amazing farm system is always the first thing brought up. And though there are concerns that the team may not have the funds it once did to go crazy in free agency, most don’t believe that will be the case in the near future.

Make no mistake about it, while on the face it appears the Cubs are your run-of-the mill bad team that just suffered their third straight 90-loss season, the outlook around baseball is much more optimistic than the jaded and beaten down view that seems to have permeated throughout this city.

So what about New York, that job is the plummest of the plum, right? Yes, the Yankees have been one the best, if not THE best, franchise in all of sports for nearly two decades. But let’s take a look at their current situation.

Their farm system is desperately lacking in any high ceiling talent. Once promising prospects like Gary Sanchez, Tyler Austin and Mason Williams (just to name a few) took steps back in 2013 with nobody else really making major progress. The Yankees have actually struggled to develop talent for a while now (outside of Robinson Cano, I can’t name a recent player they developed and didn’t trade who’s had extended success at the big leagues), but they’ve managed to overcome those issues by spending big in free agency.

However, even if they decide not to stick to their self-mandated $189 million payroll for 2014, their outlook for the next few years isn’t too bright. Teams are no longer built via free agency, it’s just an avenue used to supplement what should already be a strong roster.

The Yankees have an aging (and downward trending) CC Sabathia, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettite have retired, Cano, Curtis Granderson and Hiroki Kuroda are heading to free agency, who knows what the future holds for Alex Rodriguez and the rest of the roster is either old, injury-prone, not very good or a combination of the three. So why would anyone suggest that the Yankees are clearly a better choice to lead over the next three to five years?

The Yankees will always be a quality gig, but by no means should anyone outright dismiss the notion of Girardi picking the Cubs over the Yankees as fantasy. This is something that’s completely based on fact and reality, not just the nostalgia of Girardi returning to his home state and first team and taking on the challenge of being the first to win on the North Side in over a century (although, all those things certainly help the Cubs sell the job).

5. Getting Girardi means the Cubs will spend more money in free agency. (I also heard the opposite from some folks – i.e., that the Cubs would divert the money meant for Girardi into landing a big-name free agent.)

I actually don’t doubt that this will be used as a selling point to lure Girardi, but I also believe it would be foolish if the team would spend only if they got Girardi. No front office should ever drastically change their approach to spending because of who is managing the team.

I can understand going after a particular player because you feel the manager or a certain coach on the staff can work with him and extract some unseen value, but to not spend because you have a lesser known manager at the helm? That doesn’t make much sense to me. As I’ve already said, the most important aspect of the Cubs future success is putting together a talented roster. If the identity of the manager changes your desire to field a stronger roster, that’s just a poor strategy.

However, if the business side is directly telling Epstein that they’ll open the coffers if Girardi is hired (I have no reason to believe this is the case), then, as long as Epstein believes Girardi is the right man for the job – and it’s pretty clear he’s at the top of their list* – then surely it gives them a little more incentive to land Girardi. Of course, I don’t think Epstein would be thrilled with that directive, but, since Girardi is already a desirable candidate, the added bonus of more money to spend on free agents doesn’t hurt.

But this almost seems counterintuitive for the business side. They surely understand that the best way to market the team is by winning, and the best way to win is to add talent to the roster. Making that possible only if Girardi is managing would be cutting of their nose to spite their face. The two options – hiring Girardi and spending on free agency – should be completely independent of each other.

But again, from everything I’ve heard, regardless of who is hired or not hired, the Cubs will have the same amount to spend in free agency.  Whether that amount is enough to help improve the play on the field remains to be seen.

*I want to make it clear that I also think Girardi is the best available candidate. He does many of the things a manager needs to do to succeed outside of the in game stuff (more on what that entails below) and he’s strong during the game as well. While I don’t love his tendency to at times micro-manage (hello small sample size splits!), I also believe that he’s one of the five to ten best managers currently holding that position.

6. Hiring someone like A.J. Hinch would be an underwhelming choice as far as the media or fan base is considered.

The moment this front office starts making decisions based on how it will be received by the fans and media is the moment I stop believing they’re making sound decisions.

Some fans may be disappointed in any choice other than Girardi. Some media members may say the front office failed if they don’t lure the Peoria native back to his home state. But as long as the front office is working with the best interests of the organization at hand, then their process is sound.

If that choice is Girardi, great. If it’s Hinch or Manny Acta or Sandy Alomar, Jr. then that’s wonderful as well.

Which leads me to my next point…

7. Hinch failed in Arizona, thus he is a poor manager.

There is no doubt that as far as his won-loss record goes (89-123 in parts of two seasons), Hinch didn’t get the job done with the Diamondbacks. But as I was told by one source, Hinch “was set up to fail in Arizona, anyone will tell you that. He didn’t get picked apart for (his on the field) moves or lack thereof.”

Going back and looking at how Hinch was brought in as manager, being thrust into a role that it wasn’t really clear if he wanted or not, one can see how he was put in a poor situation. When he was let go, it wasn’t an indictment of Hinch, but rather the whole organization – general manager Josh Byrnes was fired as well – as the Diamondbacks clearly decided to go in a new direction with a complete overhaul.

Regardless, let’s just admit that Hinch’s stint in Arizona was a failure. The team didn’t succeed and that’s the bottom line. But saying he’s a bad manager when most who make the proclamation couldn’t point to one thing outside of the team’s poor record to back that claim up? Utterly ridiculous.

By all accounts, Hinch, a Stanford grad, is very intelligent, highly respected by his those around him (both colleagues and players), thinks about the game at a very high level, and has a solid track history of being involved in the development of some young players who have panned out. Hinch was also the captain of the 1996 Olympic team and played seven seasons in the big leagues. Anyone with his resume is surely a competitor and indications are he’s itching to get rid of the bad taste that his poor record in Arizona left in his mouth.

The bottom line is, if we’re talking about Hinch, Terry Francona in his Philadelphia days, the current incarnation of Francona or any manager, many fans often do a very poor job of judging a manager’s worth. I’m not saying the media is much better; we work with a little more information, as we get a tiny view of what happens in the clubhouse (of course, often times what we see isn’t the full story, I recognize that), and can often get a read on how players or front office personnel feel a manager is doing in different areas that don’t include on-field decision making. And that’s really all most fans judge a manager on: what he does during a game.

I’ve often said that a manager’s role is overrated. I’ve realized that I’m not being clear when I say that. It’s not that a manager is overrated, but rather judging him on what he does in the three hours during a game is overrated. Don’t get me wrong, those things are important, but, since it’s the only thing many people see, too much value is placed on it. The fact is, there are plenty of managers who have very flawed in-game strategies but whose teams go on to consistently win because they’re talented and that manager does the other things (those things you can’t pick up by judging if he pinch-hit at the right time or pulled his starter too early) well.

Handling a clubhouse, managing different personalities, putting your players in the best position to succeed, strong communication skills, gaining the trust of both the players and the staff, making sure a player knows what their role is and so much more. These are the things that a manager must be able to do and these are the things that we so often just can’t see. That’s why it’s completely unfair to solely judge a manager by jumping on Baseball-Reference and seeing he had a poor record over a 200-plus game stretch.


It’s a fan’s right to be disappointed if Girardi isn’t sitting in front of the media at Wrigley putting on a Cubs hat and jersey in the coming weeks, but by no means should it be viewed as a failure. Ultimately, it’ll all come down to wins and losses. And, while you may feel more comfortable with Girardi leading the team, it’s the talent on the field that will dictate whether this rebuild is a success.

The bottom line is, whoever ends up as the next manager of the Cubs, Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and the people they trust in baseball operations will make the decision. While the business side may have its preference, they’re not guiding this process. And regardless of whether they introduce Girardi or someone with a much lighter resume, we can rest assured that the process to bring in that manager was thorough and sound.

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Author: Sahadev Sharma

Sahadev Sharma is, among other things, a contributor at Bleacher Nation. Follow him on Twitter @sahadevsharma.