On Monday, the Cubs fired manager Dale Sveum, one day after they wrapped up their second straight fifth-place finish. Overall, Chicago lost 197 games in Sveum's two years as manager, but the team's won-loss record was somewhat beside the point the last two years because the franchise is still in the early stages of a rebuild and a finish above fifth place was unlikely in either season. In fact, the Cubs did improve by five games this season despite the fact that Alfonso Soriano and Matt Garza were traded in July.
More than wins and losses, Sveum's dismissal appears to come as a result of the struggles of the young players the team is attempting to build around, specifically shortstop Starlin Castro, who took a big step backward in nearly every aspect of his game, as I detailed in my look back at the Cubs' season in our "Wait 'Til Next Year" feature. More than any other single player, Castro, who was signed to a seven-year, $60 million contract last August, is the key to the Cubs' near-term fortunes, and improving his approach to the game was one of the principal tasks Sveum and his coaching staff were charged with when he was hired in November 2011. It seems clear now that, although team president Theo Epstein praised Sveum on Monday for establishing "a level of professionalism here that's admirable," the manager was never able to break through to the team's petulant young shortstop.
It's also worth noting that Sveum was seen arguing with pitcher Edwin Jackson, the team's highest paid player who was signed to a four-year, $52 million deal last December, after removing him for a pinch-hitter on Sept. 16, though both parties played down the tiff after the game, and Epstein described it on Monday as a "brush fire."
Sveum won't turn 50 until next month, but it may be a while before he gets another chance to manage a major league team given his early dismissal from a job in which he wasn't even expected to win. Meanwhile, the Cubs join the Nationals, in the wake of Davey Johnson's retirement, as one of two teams that already have managerial openings. One man who may have been a contender to manage in Chicago, former Cubs star and Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg, just signed a three-year deal to manage the Phillies last week. Former Cub and Peoria, Ill., native Joe Girardi will have his name floated given that his contract with the Yankees just expired, but Girardi is a near-lock to stay in the Bronx. Before Sveum was hired in late 2011, the Cubs had shown a strong interest in Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux, who withdrew from consideration from both the Cubs and Red Sox jobs due to family reasons. With Maddux's current boss, Ron Washington, on the hot seat in Texas, Maddux may have renewed interest in the position. It's also possible the Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer had a replacement in mind before announcing Sveum's dismissal. Whoever the next Cubs manager is, the team's lack of progress under Sveum this year suggests his task will be no easier than Sveum's was.