Cubs president Theo Epstein gave an interesting timeline and used certain words over and over again Monday in explaining why he fired field manager Dale Sveum.
All point to a perceived failure of Sveum and his coaching staff to get through with a unified voice to young players Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo.
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Sveum, the hand-picked and highly vetted candidate of Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer, was fired after two years and with one season left on his contract.
On top of that, Epstein said there are no guarantees for any member of Sveum's coaching staff and that he hopes for a quick process in hiring a new manager.
The Cubs were a staggering 70 games under .500 (127-197) over the past two seasons under Sveum, but Epstein reiterated that Sveum was not being held accountable for the win-loss record.
Epstein said he and Hoyer take the blame for that as the Cubs are two seasons into a massive rebuilding project.
But cracks in the confidence Epstein/Hoyer had in Sveum began surfacing early this year, and all signs point to a perceived disconnect between the manager and the Cubs' self-proclaimed "core" players.
"There are some specifics that I'm just not going to get into," Epstein said as he met the media in the Cubs' interview-room dungeon. "They wouldn't be appropriate.
"But it's tricky to develop young players at the major-league level. I think they have to be supported, fully, along the way, and there has to be tough love, but there has to be love before there's tough love. You have to be patient with them.
"There has to be a clear, unified message. They can't be getting different signals from different directions. Collectively, myself included, we failed to provide that."
The media began seeing warning signs as early as April about Sveum, who is a hitting coach by trade.
On April 21 in Milwaukee, Sveum said Castro has been "very average" and that the Cubs could "get people playing time at Triple-A to figure this stuff out."
The media perceived Sveum to be talking about Castro and Rizzo with the Triple-A comment. As the year drew to a close, both of their numbers had gone down significantly.
Apparently, the front office was alarmed enough about those comments to send Hoyer to the next stop on the trip in Cincinnati.
The front-office concerns only seemed to increase as the season wore on.
"The chronology that occurred, the first half of this season, 2013, was the first time we had any concerns about Dale being the long-term fit for this job," Epstein said.
"We discussed it at length as a group in the front office. As we moved to the all-star break, we decided we had to meet with Dale and express that.
"We met shortly after the all-star break, a long meeting, a long, difficult, brutally honest meeting where we explained the areas where we felt like we needed to see improvement.
"We told him: 'We had a meeting with you because for the first time there are some concerns about whether you're the long-term guy, and you deserve to hear that feedback from us, and you deserve the second half of the season to work on those areas.'"
In an Aug. 17 game at Wrigley Field, Sveum took Castro out after Castro lost track of the outs and allowed the Cardinals to score a run from third base on a popout to short left field.
But the front office bears some responsibility for Castro's difficult year. Beginning in the second half of last year, the organization wanted him to become a more patient hitter.
That seemed to take Castro out of his game, and late this season he began to hit the ball with more authority going back to his more aggressive style of hitting.
By that time, though, it appeared too late for Sveum, and alarm bells went off Sept. 17 in Milwaukee when Epstein refused to give his manager a vote of confidence, saying only that all things were being "evaluated."
"I was asked by you guys in Milwaukee whether Dale was definitively coming back," Epstein said. "I met with him for two hours to follow up and tell him, 'Hey, I've been hiding from the media lately. I'm going to be asked sooner or later about whether you're coming back, and you need to know that we are having some discussions about whether we should make a change, not just about some of the coaches but with you.'"
Epstein said he made the decision to fire Sveum this past weekend while the team was in St. Louis. He said, "Dale was treated fairly."
Sveum, who turns 50 in November, met the media Monday in the Wrigley Field parking lot and said he was shocked by the decision and that "two weeks ago, I would have never have imagined that this was going to happen."
"I'd be lying if I didn't say I was very disappointed," he said. "You come in and you get a job like this, and you want to see it through. You're very disappointed you didn't get to really get anything started."
Sveum did give a little pushback on his perceived ability to develop young players.
"Whatever perception people are going to read into or whatever, I've done this, I've produced a lot of good young players and developed them," he said.
"Obviously, it just didn't work out here. But people are always going to take and run with any perception."
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