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updated: 9/21/2013 8:03 PM

Epstein message was to Cubs players, too

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  • Cubs manager Dale Sveum has received no vote of confidence from his bosses.

      Cubs manager Dale Sveum has received no vote of confidence from his bosses.
    Associated Press

  • Cubs manager Dale Sveum, at right talking to Anthony Rizzo, has received no vote of confidence from his bosses.

      Cubs manager Dale Sveum, at right talking to Anthony Rizzo, has received no vote of confidence from his bosses.
    Associated Press

  • Cubs manager Dale Sveum has received no vote of confidence from his bosses.

      Cubs manager Dale Sveum has received no vote of confidence from his bosses.
    Associated Press

 
 

As honeymoons go, Theo Epstein's has been as lengthy and prosperous as any in Chicago sports.

But he has found himself in a bit of a quandary the last few days as he answers questions honestly and figures out what to do with Dale Sveum.

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The Cubs manager has a season left on his original three-year contract, and Epstein has not yet said whether Sveum will be back for 2014.

On the surface it seems absurd. The Cubs' record wouldn't be any better the last two years with John McGraw at the helm, and Epstein has said from the beginning that Sveum wouldn't be judged on winning percentage.

Epstein and Jed Hoyer have also said repeatedly that Sveum is not a placeholder managing a Triple-A team until the Cubs are prepared to win and ready to hire their genuine choice as manager.

Based on that, and Epstein's contention that everyone including the manager is evaluated every year, it would seem to indicate that Sveum is safe for now.

The problem is Sveum's biggest responsibility -- actually, his only measurable responsibility -- the last two years was overseeing the development of Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Jeff Samardzija.

Castro has taken a huge step back this year, Rizzo hasn't improved, and Samardzija is no more consistent now than he was the first time he was given the ball by Sveum. Even Darwin Barney -- still a terrific defensive player -- has regressed offensively.

Two of the Big Three have already been given contract extensions worth a combined $100 million, and Epstein has said he would like to get Samardzija locked up.

So now what?

Even if Sveum were merely a placeholder, as many Cubs fans have suspected from the start, this is undoubtedly sooner than Epstein wanted to make a move at manager, but he would like to make a Javy Baez position decision in the next 12 months and Sveum has done nothing to help Epstein figure out what he has in Castro.

So Epstein may have spent the last few months wondering if he hired the wrong guy, at the same time asking himself if any manager would have had any better results with the underperforming core of the team.

After all, don't the players bear some responsibility for their own development?

Besides, Epstein is no fool. He knows he gave Sveum precious little to manage. He knows the Big Three could have been just as bad under another manager, and might be just as bad under the next one. He knows it will be looked at as unfair if he fires Sveum.

Epstein also knows the honeymoon will be over, and fans will wonder why he chose Sveum over favored candidates who might have had better success with these players. He knows firing Sveum would put his rebuilding plan in the spotlight, something that wouldn't necessarily help him sell more tickets.

But Epstein also knows there would be little resistance from fans on the issue of Sveum, who seems to have little support among the faithful.

Of the utmost importance, Epstein also knows that you don't make decisions based on anything other than what is best for the future of the franchise, especially when the team president has a guaranteed contract worth $18.5 million, total autonomy and the complete confidence of the owner.

That's all bad news for Sveum. At heart, Epstein is an idealist, and he will do what's best for the team and for that core of players the Cubs are trying to build around.

Sure, he will weigh all those other items, but ultimately if Epstein believes Sveum's approach to Castro, Rizzo and Samardzija will not help those players improve, he will make a change in October or perhaps by the midpoint next season.

Thing is, if Epstein knows who his next guy is -- and you have to believe he does -- he may not want to wait and risk losing that manager to another team.

Give Epstein credit for telling the truth when he answered a question last week and refusing to guarantee Sveum another year, but suggesting the "evaluation process" continues leads one to wonder what can possibly change in the final week or 10 days.

Keep in mind that Epstein always has a purpose in mind when he speaks, and you can be certain he wanted to throw high, hard and inside at the Big Three when he said that everyone must be evaluated.

Either Epstein already knows Sveum is gone or he has set the tone for next March and April, letting Sveum, his coaches and the Big Three know that if they don't come out next season ready to play, there will be changes made at Wrigley Field.

And that may go well beyond the manager.

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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