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In May 2012, just Dale Sveum's second month as Cubs manager, I started preparing a post called "Dale Sveum Is Making Me Dizzy." I never got it finished and posted, but the gist was that Sveum had already developed a curious habit of saying one thing one day and then reversing himself the next. My examples up to then included whether Steve Clevenger would platoon with Geovany Soto; where Starlin Castro would bat in the lineup; where Alfonso Soriano would bat in the lineup; who would bat leadoff; whether Chris Volstad had earned a place in the starting rotation; if Casey Coleman would be in the bullpen; if Kerry Wood had an issue with his back (he did); and more.
One of my citations was going to be this one, from the Sun-Times's Gordon Wittenmyer:
Cubs manager Dale Sveum apparently set his starting rotation for the season Saturday during a series of media interviews, though he said he won't actually do that until Wednesday.
In a sequence of confusing, at times conflicting, media interviews Saturday morning, Sveum reiterated that two rotation spots remained open. Then he told SiriusXM radio's Jim Bowden that Chris Volstad has pitched well enough to fill one spot. Then he told beat writers he didn't say that, after which Bowden provided the audio that refuted the denial.
Players - and management - notice that sort of thing, even if reporters never developed the theme further. And it was a theme that should have been developed because it kept happening. It was a pattern that continued through the 2013 season.
For example, Mark Gonzales reported this for the Tribune on September 2:
The Cubs' September evaluations likely won't include Scott Baker as a starting pitcher.
Manager Dale Sveum said Monday that Baker, who has been relegated to a lengthy minor league rehabilitation assignment, would be employed as a reliever if he's among the four or five players added to the 25-man roster.
"If we do activate him up here, it would be to be the long guy," Sveum said of Baker, who pitched 52/3 innings of two-run ball Monday for Class A Kane County in a 5-4 win over Peoria. "There are no plans of doing any starting . . . "
Five days later, Sveum announced Baker would get a start, saying "He has done everything we have asked and he has worked his butt off. He has not had any setbacks and he deserves a chance to start."
Granted, organizations change their mind. But Sveum never really seemed in charge of this team - or on the same page as his bosses.
It seemed inevitable that Scott Baker would get at least one start with the Cubs before September ended, even when manager Dale Sveum was saying there were no plans for it.
For the veteran to spend all season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery without a chance to show what he might have - and what the Cubs got for their one-year investment - wouldn't have benefited the organization or Baker.
There were also times this season when I thought, Hey, Dale is trying to win this game! He must not have gotten the memo!
Because the plan wasn't to win games at the expense of developing players. For example, in one game late in the season Dale pinch-hit for Junior Lake late in a game. Why? Your job was to get Lake as many at-bats as possible this season, in every kind of situation against every kind of pitcher. It wasn't to play the percentages.
But then, even going into his inaugural season he didn't seem to get it:
Sveum said his message to the team was that the 'rebuilding' notion being spread by the media all winter is nonsense. He said he mentioned every starting position player, most of the starting pitchers and a few of the veteran relievers, and listed some of their accomplishments.
"I just let 'em know that's a team that can compete and do really well," he said. "We're not here to rebuild. We're here to try and win the World Series this year."
Maybe just start with hitting the cutoff man. (Or demanding that pitchers follow the game plan: "When we've stuck to game plans, we've done well," Sveum said. "When we've shied away from them, we've given up big innings and big hits in games. But it's gotten better. Some guys have bought in . . . We've got to get other guys to buy into the same system too." I didn't know pitchers following game plans was optional.)
Upon his firing, I assumed that Dale's failures included not being the disciplinarian with the young players that he was expected to be. According to David Kaplan, for example, Dale was told that he had permission to bench Starlin Castro - or even pull him from a game - if he felt Castro deserved it. And many of us wondered why Dale wasn't being tougher on some of his players, including Castro.
But in explaining Dale's dismissal, Theo Epstein said "There has to be tough love, but there has to be love before there's tough love."
So it turns out Dale wasn't nurturing enough.
Epstein also talked about the kind of spark the team needed, and that reminded me that the Cubs locker room was not a happy place under Dale.
In a post I did make last May, I noted that the much-traveled Edwin Jackson said the Cubs locker room was the tightest he had ever experienced. It should have been among the loosest.
Dale was supposed to be a fresh young grinder of a manager with a personality that the team would assume. It didn't turn out that way; maybe the job got to him. Being in charge your first time is rarely like anyone expects it to be. Maybe it wore on him.
On SportsTalk Live, Kaplan said last week that people he knows close to Dale said he just wasn't the same person they had knew; he changed. The job can do that to you.
Obviously, Theo didn't make it any easier on him. Potential leaders and mentors on the roster were shipped off each season - and those were usually the guys with personality, too. You need to have guys like Ryan Dempster and his dopey impressions and Reed Johnson and his high-socked hustle to help the kids along. Neither Castro nor Rizzo is ready to be a leader yet - and given their personalities, they may never be. Jeff Samardzija has tried to fill the vacuum but he's the wrong guy to do so, both because he's so intense and because he's still not a great player himself yet. Alfonso Soriano took Castro under his wing, which many commended but never struck me as a good thing. David DeJesus mentored Rizzo, and DeJesus is a classy guy, but he never seemed big enough to lead the whole team. Sveum may have been young enough to fill the role himself, but obviously didn't.
So who's next? Joe Girardi was the right guy back when Jim Hendry pulled a Jim Hendry and hired Lou Piniella instead, but right now I doubt very much that he's going to leave New York. When the Cubs last wanted a manager to develop a young roster, they turned to Jim Riggleman, who had done just that in San Diego. That's why I wonder if the Cubs will seek Padres' manager Bud Black - even though Black says he's not going anywhere. (GM Jed Hoyer also used to work for the Padres so he has ties to the organization.) Brad Ausmus was the name tossed around most frequently until A.J. Hinch came along. What about Brad Mills? He's the third-base coach for the Indians, but before that he was the Dale Sveum of the Houston Astros, charged with suffering through a tear-down and training up a young roster. Theo said that Sveum would be better his second time around, just like when he hired Terry Francona in Boston after Tito failed in Philadelphia. Maybe Mills is his next Francona.
The Cubs, by the way, missed out on Francona the first time around because, apparently, Theo felt he had already imported too many former Red Sox management types and was sensitive to being perceived as turning this into Boston West. And Ryne Sandberg was passed by apparently because Theo didn't want such a strong connection to the Cubs' past. Pity that he didn't have the balls to just hire the right guy, which could have been either of those two.
Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux, of course, was Theo's first choice among those interviewed, but Maddux didn't want to leave his family behind in Texas. Sveum, meanwhile, was the first choice of Theo's replacement in Boston, Ben Cherington, who was instead forced by management to go with Bobby Valentine, who was a bust. So Valentine is now available for the Cubs! Just kidding.
While it truly wasn't about wins and losses for Dale, no one thought the Cubs under him would be as bad as they were. We saw absolutely no improvement in fundamentals, hustle, attitude or plate discipline from these Cubs. In other words, thus far the Theo Effect has been nil. True, it's next to impossible to enforce consistency when your boss holds a garage sale of your roster every summer. It's hard enough to manage, much less do it amidst chaos. But that was Dale's job. I'd like to say Theo is on the hot seat too - he deserves to be - but knowing Tom Ricketts, that's just not so. And that also is not a culture of accountability; it's just the same old Cubs.
The Week in Review: The Cubs two of three to the Pirates and then got swept by the Cardinals to finish the season 66-96, good for last place in the NL Central and the fourth pick in the 2014 draft. The White Sox will draft third, which is so Cub.
Week in Preview: The Cubs get to enjoy seeing former colleagues in the playoffs, including David DeJesus, Sam Fuld, Ryan Dempster, Chris Archer, Josh Donaldson, Carlos Marmol, Jerry Hairston Jr., Sean Marshall, Geovany Soto, Marlon Byrd, Paul Maholm, Reed Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and near-misses Anibal Sanchez and Yoenis Cespedes.
The Second Basemen Report: "I think a lot of us stand behind Dale and think he's the right fit for this team," Barney said.
"Offensively, I can't blame anyone but myself," Barney said. "People provide insight from when they played or the type of player they were. Unfortunately for me, I listen to a lot of people."
This was a problem for Starlin Castro too - and probably what Theo meant when he intimated that one of Dale Sveum's problems was failing to provide a streamlined message for the youngsters. Hitting coach James Rowson also isn't likely to be back.
The Third Basemen Report: Christian Villanueva's OBP sure has taken a tumble. Mike Olt is 25. There is no third baseman in Des Moines. Nate Samson is 26. Next man up: Kris Bryant.
Wishing Upon A Starlin: We'll stick with what we wrote last week: "Now it's about showcasing Starlin "as himself" for other teams because he certainly doesn't fit in here. Pencil Javy Baez in for 2015."
The Legend of Dioner Navarro: Because it's the Cubs, the backup catcher has somehow put himself in a position of possibly being "too expensive" to return.
Endorsement No-Brainer: Theo Epstein for Mulligan's stew.
Laughable Headline of the Week: Cubs Plan In Place But Patience Necessary.
Deserted Cubs: Tony Campana finished his season with the Arizona Diamondbacks with a .370 OBP. Randall Delgado, whom the Cubs would have acquired from the Braves had Ryan Dempster not screwed us, finished is season with the Diamondbacks, who got him instead, with 20 starts and a 4.26 ERA. He's 23. Bob Brenly is getting his own street. Mark Grace got out of jail and is now a hitting instructor in the D-Backs organization. Eric Hinske is expected to retire. Alan Trammell is a bench coach for Arizona.
Ameritrade Stock Pick of the Week: We've slapped a Don't Buy in Joe Girardi - unless you're a Yankees fan. We are accumulating small shares, though, in A.J. Hinch, Bud Black, Brad Mills and just a taste of Brad Ausmus. Also, a penny stock on Jim Riggleman.
Sveum's Shadow: Dale Sveum's Five O'Clock Shadow is at noon because after he got fired he got really drunk and then went home and shaved. Now he's going to really let it grow out.
Shark Tank: Jeff Samardzija's three-year trend in ERA: 2.97; 3.81; 4.34.
Jumbotron Preview: Five-thousand-seven-hundred square-feet of declining attendance.
Kubs Kalender: Wait 'til
next year 2015 2016 2017.
Over/Under: Years that the next manager will last: +/- 3.5.
Beachwood Sabermetrics: A complex algorithm performed by The Cub Factor staff using all historical data made available by Major League Baseball has determined that the Cubs are just like 911: A joke.
The Cub Factor: Unlike
Alfonso Soriano Starlin Castro, you can catch 'em all!
The White Sox Report: Know the enemy.
The Cub Factor welcomes your comments.
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Posted on Feb 20, 2018