Showing posts with label Theo Epstein. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Theo Epstein. Show all posts

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Should the Cubs part with Samardzija?

Maybe the most interesting choice the Cubs face this offseason is what to do with right-hander Jeff Samardzija.

It will be interesting not just because of what Samardzija is -- not really a No. 1 starter, though maybe the best pitcher the Cubs have -- but the choice will signify the team's intent over the course of the next couple years.

Last year the Cubs reached for Edwin Jackson to plug a hole in the rotation, figuring someone had to pitch, so why not Jackson? The free agent had some upside, and teamed with Matt Garza, Samardzija, Travis Wood and a hopefully healthy Scott Feldman, if enough things broke right among the position players on the roster, you could squint at this team and see a contender. Or at least a team that could look competitive in a possibly weak NL Central.

Obviously, not much of that happened as the division was strong, high hopes for guys like shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo sank, and Jackson revealed himself to be the innings eater he is. Nothing more and nothing less.

Samardzija himself took a step back, at least as far as results go with his ERA climbing from 3.81 to 4.34, though advanced stats like fielding-independent pitching indicate his results weren't that much of a drop-off from 2012.

The Cubs should probably expect Samardzija to be what he's been over the last two seasons, which is a right-hander with a big fastball and a lot of strikeouts who is still pretty hittable, maybe walks a few too many guys, but isn't exceptionally homer-happy.

Maybe most people look at that and think Samardzija is a decent No. 3 starter, a pretty good No. 4 or a great No. 5. Maybe some teams look at the increasing ground ball-to-fly ball ratio (0.71 in 2011, 0.81 in 2012 and 0.97 last year) and think he just needs a better defense behind him to close the gap between his actually ERA and his FIP (3.45 last year). Some of those teams probably also look at the big strikeout rate (9.0 per 9 IP), consider the slow start to his baseball career while he played football at Notre Dame, and think he's still got the tools to blossom into a real No. 1 starter as he approaches his 30th birthday.

I don't buy that most optimistic version of Samardzija's future, because you really have to be sold on arguments that can't be made with numbers alone. However, I can see how those arguments might become more convincing to a team that finds itself unable to trade for David Price this winter.

Obviously, the offers the Cubs gets should determine their willingness to pull the trigger on any Samardzija trade. Though the haul for Garza and Feldman was underwhelming when those pitchers were dealt last summer, Samardzija is still under team control for two more years.

If I were the Cubs GM, though, it would have to be a pretty nice package, because just like a piece of the rationale for the Jackson signing, somebody's got to pitch.

The Cubs are not so deep in pitching that they can easily fill Samardzija's spot. They can't count on mining free agent gold like Feldman again. Jackson will be another year older, and any diminishing results from him might lead frustration from those expecting more to boil over into his ouster from the team. For as tough a time as Samardzija has had with his ERA not matching his FIP, Wood has exceeded expectations there by more than half a run each of the last two seasons, and that might not happen again. Other options like Chris Rusin and Jake Arrieta look underwhellming.

In other words, trading Samardzija would mean the Cubs aren't pretending they might start getting things together next year. Not without risking big bucks on a replacement pitcher, or getting an MLB-ready pitching prospect back.

Current Cubs president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer have been pretty candid from the beginning that this was going to be a long rebuilding process. While a lot of Cubs fans have accepted that, it's a different matter being asked to suffer though a third straight season of embarrassing baseball. Not when the second straight year led to the manager being fired

So unless the Cubs are offered a package that looks to surely exceed the value of two more seasons from Samardzija, plus a draft pick when he's offered a qualifying offer before free agency, Hoyer and Epstein should elect to keep their hurler for at least one more season.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Cubs name Rick Renteria manager

The painstaking five-week search is over. The Cubs have named former San Diego Padres bench coach Rick Renteria manager.

Renteria, 51, reportedly agreed to a three-year contract with club options for 2017 and 2018. Terms have not been disclosed.

Did the Cubs get their man?

Well, to hear Sun-Times reporter Gordon Wittenmyer tell it, Renteria was "by all accounts" the Cubs' first choice all along. Hmm.

Who is making these accounts? Wittenmyer? Cubs front office people who are trying to frame this hire in the best possible way? Steve Rosenbloom from the Tribune had a little different take on the whole thing, and I'd probably fall more in line with his opinion than Wittenmyer's.

About a month ago, Wittenmyer and everybody else who covers the Cubs reported that the team was talking with New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi "through back channels," and that Cubs brass was "poised to make an offer." That leads me to believe Girardi was the first choice, as well he should have been. The Cubs went for the home run hire and missed. It happens. But it doesn't make any sense to backtrack now and say Renteria is the guy they wanted all along. If that were the case, the Cubs could have made this hire a couple days after they fired Dale Sveum or at any other time over the last month.

Instead, they pursued Girardi. That didn't work out. The Cubs also interviewed Brad Ausmus, who ended up taking the Detroit job amid local speculation that the Tigers wanted to move quickly to prevent Ausmus from going to the Cubs. There's also strong evidence the Cubs waited until the World Series was over in hopes of interviewing Boston Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo. That request was denied by the Red Sox front office, which is still unhappy about the way Cubs president Theo Epstein left the Boston organization.

So, at best, Renteria was the Cubs' second choice. He might have been no higher than their fourth choice. All that said, this doesn't mean he is incapable of doing the job. I think experience is overrated when it comes to managers. Sure, you'd like to have a manager with experience, but it's not necessarily mandatory for success. Other guys who have never managed before have had success in their first job. Just look at St. Louis manager Mike Matheny, who has guided the Cardinals to two playoff appearances and one National League pennant in his first two years on the job.

Of course, Matheny has a number of good players on his roster. Renteria, in contrast, takes over a team with a losing clubhouse culture, with few established major league players, and with no real hope of contending in 2014. And that's really the issue at hand. It doesn't matter whether Renteria was the Cubs' first choice or their 10th choice. It doesn't matter how much experience he has, or what his reputation in the game is. Players win and lose games, and the Cubs simply have too few good players for anyone to reasonably expect Renteria to thrive in his new position.

Like Sveum before him, Renteria appears set up to fail.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Dale Sveum fired as Cubs manager

In two seasons as manager of the Cubs, Dale Sveum was handed a Triple-A roster. To the surprise of no one -- not even his own bosses -- he produced Triple-A results.

Sveum was fired Monday after posting a miserable 127-197 record. But to hear Cubs' brass tell it, that lousy .392 winning percentage had nothing to do with Sveum's dismissal, nor did the fact that the Cubs (66-96) finished the 2013 campaign by losing 41 of their final 59 games.

Rather, Sveum was canned for not creating a friendly enough environment for the young players on his roster.

''It's absolutely imperative that we create the best environment possible for young players to come up here, continue to learn, continue to develop and thrive at the big league level and win, ultimately,'' Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said during a Monday afternoon news conference. ''And that's not an easy thing to do. A big part of the reason why we're here today is because we took a good hard look at that and we decided that we needed to try to get it right before they come up.''

The "core pieces" of the Cubs -- Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Jeff Samardzija and, to a lesser extent, Darwin Barney -- all took steps backward in 2012. Sveum is taking the fall for them.

With this decision, Epstein is making it clear he doesn't want Sveum to manage the "crown jewels" of the Cubs' farm system  -- Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant -- if they make it to the big leagues in the near future.

''There were some good results this year, some young players emerged, but there were other young players who didn't continue to develop this year,'' Epstein said. ''That's a collective issue, but it's my responsibility to get it right.''

What goes unsaid there is Epstein is admitting he made a mistake in hiring Sveum. This was his guy, and now he's shoving him out the door a mere two years into the rebuilding process. If indeed Sveum is to blame for the regression of guys like Castro and Rizzo, then the Cubs are better off cutting ties and putting a fresh face in charge of the team. Better to admit a mistake than to compound it.

But what if Sveum isn't to blame? What if the Epstein and the other members of the Cubs' front office blew it with their player evaluations and the aforementioned group of young guys simply isn't as good as they were made out to be? That's one possible scenario here.

No one can say definitively at this point, and we won't have an answer for that until the next manager comes to the North Side and tries to solve the enigma that is Starlin Castro. If the next guy fails as well, then Epstein's seat will be the one getting hot.

Tampa Bay advances to AL Wild Card game

Tampa Bay Rays left-hander David Price hadn't had much luck against the Texas Rangers coming into Monday night's Game 163. He had a 6.62 ERA in 11 career starts against the Rangers, and his numbers at Rangers Ballpark were even worse: a 10.26 ERA in four starts.

Some people might have wondered if Tampa Bay should start someone other than its ace it this winner-take-all contest to decide which club would make the AL Wild Card game. Rays manager Joe Maddon stuck with Price and was rewarded, as the left-hander fired a complete game in Tampa Bay's 5-2 victory.  Price struck out four, walked just one and threw 81 strikes out of his 118 pitches. He looked like he did last year when he went 20-5 and won the AL Cy Young.

The Rays next travel to Cleveland for a winner-take-all wild card game against the Indians on Wednesday.

The Rangers, meanwhile, will be left to wonder what could have been. Texas finishes 12-16 in September, and that's with a seven-game winning streak to close the regular season. No doubt the Rangers will lament the stretch from Sept. 1 to Sept 18 where they lost 14 out of 18 games. That, more than a single loss to Price on Monday night, is what cost Texas its season.

Given the high expectations in Arlington, you can't help but wonder if Rangers manager Ron Washington will soon join Sveum on the unemployment line.