Will next Cubs manager fix Castro, Rizzo?
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After their regression this season, the next Cubs manager must find a way to get more production from shortstop Starlin Castro, right, and first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
Only 23 months ago, Theo Epstein stole Dale Sveum right out from under the Boston Red Sox, who were preparing to offer Sveum the chance to manage.
And when the Cubs made it official, an exuberant Epstein said of Sveum, "Players know best. This is about the players in the end. The thing that really stood out with Dale (as a coach) is he was able to hold the players very accountable, hold them to high standards, get in their faces at times if necessary, disagree with them, drive them to be their very best, but at the same time also win their respect and admiration.
"He was universally loved by the players he's had, without enabling them in the slightest degree. That's a hard thing to pull off in this game. It makes him a very impactful person in the clubhouse."
Today, the Boston Red Sox are in the postseason and the Cubs -- who have lost 197 games in two years -- are looking for another manager.
Epstein vowed that Sveum would not be judged on wins and losses, and he wasn't. He was judged on the underdevelopment of the few decent young -- or inexperienced -- players the Cubs have in Chicago, not to mention flailing attendance and failing enthusiasm.
Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Jeff Samardzija and Darwin Barney have not improved the last two seasons, and for the most part regressed.
So will the next manager -- be it Mike Maddux, Joe Girardi, Brad Ausmus or Take Your Pick -- get anything more out of these guys than did Sveum?
He must because the judgment of Epstein was that the Cubs could not waste another year of growth, and that seems patently unfair to Sveum.
Don't misunderstand. Sveum did nothing during his two years managing here to inspire faith, hope or ticket sales, but what exactly did Epstein misunderstand during the hour-after-hour, day-after-day interview process before he hired Sveum?
After all, he and Jed Hoyer put the candidates through marathon sessions of questioning, brainstorming and game-playing, and Sveum emerged as the guy they had to have once Maddux backed out.
"Dale provided extremely well-thought-out answers to nuanced baseball questions instantaneously, answer after answer after answer," Epstein said the day he introduced Sveum. "We came up for air and took a break and Jed and I looked at each other and said, 'Wow.' This was not the type of thing you could fake.
"It wasn't that he prepared for the interview, but (Sveum) spent a lifetime as a very intelligent person, observing the game with an open mind to come up with his own baseball philosophy on how to win, and it was very impressive."
That's the same Dale Sveum the Cubs had managing a Triple-A team in Chicago the last two years, and then canned Monday?
If so, either the hiring or the firing was a big mistake, but one way or the other, Epstein made a big mistake.
In a way, you have to admire the Cubs president for admitting what he now sees as that mistake and making a change, rather than making the easy move -- which was no move at all.
But with his next hire he's telling Cubs fans that suddenly Castro will figure out how to play Major League Baseball, that Rizzo will hit with runners in scoring position, that Samardzija will grow up, and Barney will bring a bat to the park.
That's a guarantee, right?
Otherwise, he's fired Sveum for no reason and he's given bad contracts to Castro and Rizzo.
The fact is these guys have been bad because they've been bad, not because of anything Sveum did or didn't do. He tried all manner of motivation and teaching, sometimes with direct instruction from the front office.
It's not to say the next manager won't have a positive effect. Someone needs to breathe energy and life into a dead clubhouse, and perhaps just the shock of getting a manager fired will straighten out a sleepy Castro, but this raises more questions about the Cubs' future than it answers.
It points a finger squarely at Epstein, who to this moment has gained the support and patience of Cubs fans during a brutal rebuilding process.
It was clear from the start that Sveum was a placeholder for the manager the Cubs really wanted when they were in a position to compete, but that time is not close and the Epstein group is already on its second manager.
Two years ago, Epstein and Hoyer had a "wow" moment when interviewing Sveum.
That's a word Sveum had to be thinking himself on Monday when he got the word that he was gone, and realizing that so much of what Epstein had told him in November 2011 about his life as Cubs manager turned out to be untrue.
•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.
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