The Chicago Cubs announced on Monday that they have fired manager Dale Sveum after two seasons. The team went 66-96 this year and finished last in the NL Central. Sveum had a record of 127-197 over his two years at the helm. The dismissal of Sveum right after the season ended seems to feed into rumors that the Cubs will make a run after Yankees skipper Joe Girardi. Girardi’s contract is now up and he has been quiet about his plans for next year. Girardi had two stints with the Cubs as a player (1989-92; 2000-02.)
The Cubs are in the middle of a long-term rebuilding phase, so the poor record was expected these past two seasons. It appears that Sveum’s dismissal it isn’t necessarily about the large number of losses. To be fair, the Cubs did improve their record by five games over last year, despite a terrible finish to the season (they lost 41 of their last 59 games.) The major issue at hand seems to be the development of two players who are deemed essential to the Cubs’ long-term plans: Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo.
Since Sveum’s arrival after the 2011 season, he and Castro have had a rather tumultuous relationship. Over the past two years, Sveum had benched Castro numerous times in the middle of games for defensive lapses or not hustling in the field. While Sveum said he was just trying to get Castro to play the game the right way and grow up a little, it seemed to have an adverse effect on the shortstop. Castro saw his offensive numbers drop significantly, as his OPS went from .773 in 2011 to .753 in 2012 to .631 this season. He also saw his strikeouts climb from 96 to 100 to 129.
Considering that Theo Epstein, who came on as GM in late 2011 and hired Sveum to replace previous manager Mike Quade, signed Castro to an 8-year/$60 million extension in 2012, it is obvious that he wasn’t happy with the regression. Castro is a player to build a team around. But you don’t want to build a team around a disengaged .245 hitter who hates his manager. The other player they looked to build their team around over the next few years, Rizzo, also regressed this year.
Rizzo, 24, was obtained by Epstein in a trade with San Diego in January 2012. At the time, he was regarded as the #37 prospect in baseball by MLB.com. After destroying the ball in AAA Iowa, he hit decently well in the 2nd half of 2012. In 87 games with the Cubs, he hit .285/.342/.463 with 15 HRs. This year, however, his production dropped. In 160 games, he hit .233/.323/.419 with 40 2Bs and 23 HRs. Not an awful season for a player in his first full major league year, but less than what was expected. More so when you realize that Epstein signed him to a seven year extension early in the year.
Epstein seemed genuinely upset about dismissing Sveum, who he’s known since back in his days with the Boston Red Sox. Sveum was the third base coach for the Red Sox in 2004-05. Here is one of Epstein’s quotes from today’s press release: “In his own authentic and understated way, Dale always put the team first and never complained about the hand he was dealt. He and his staff helped us excel in game planning and defensive positioning, contributed to the emergence of several players, and helped put us in position to make some important trades…I have no doubt that — much like Terry Francona, whom we hired in Boston after his stint with a losing Phillies club — Dale will go on to great success with his next team.”