Dale Sveum stuck in sad situation
BY RICK TELANDER firstname.lastname@example.org July 16, 2013 10:26PM
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Updated: July 17, 2013 1:07PM
He’s a good man.
He’s a strong man.
He’s a patient man.
But he’s more than likely the wrong man.
That would be Dale Sveum, the second-year Cubs manager who is now just past the halfway mark of his three-year contract. If he makes it through this season and the next, what are his chances of continuing with the Cubs?
Sveum’s record is a dismal 103-152 (.404). He’s on pace to go down in Cubs lore with such unfortunate skippers as Charlie Metro, Jim Marshall, Preston Gomez, Lee Elia, Tom Trebelhorn and Bruce Kimm.
Yet even as you see that subpar troupe marching forward to embrace Sveum, you want to tell them to stop and go back to their stools of sub-mediocrity. Because Sveum never has had a chance. That’s what makes this assessment hard.
He was brought in by president Theo Epstein along with his brain trust from the Brewers, with whom Sveum played a good chunk of his 12-year major-league career, and with whom he was 7-5 as an interim manager in 2008. Sveum won out over a number of candidates, and his job, seemingly, was to win on the field.
But it really wasn’t.
Last season, when the Cubs started to improve after a terrible start, management sold off solid players such as Paul Maholm, Ryan Dempster, Jeff Baker, Reed Johnson and Geovany Soto. By the end, with rising star Jeff Samardzija injured, Sveum was putting guys in hot dog-vendor uniforms on the mound.
OK, not exactly. But anybody remember, say, Jason Berken, the righty ‘‘starting’’ pitcher the Cubs picked up off waivers late in 2012 because, well, somebody had to throw to the other batters? Berken pitched 182/3 innings for the Cubs and lost three games before the season — and apparently his major-league career — ended.
This year? The Cubs are sellers again, with ace Matt Garza soon to be the next prime article.
Yes, we have heard Epstein’s plan a thousand times: Blow up the team, don’t be average, get rid of high-paid vets, amass young talent and minor-league prospects, develop everything, build chemistry, do the ‘‘moneyball’’ mariachi and — ta da! — we’re talking a real-life contender by 2015!
You have that long?
You trust this snake-oil recipe?
Let me ask you two questions: Do you know that these young guys — from Albert Almora to Jorge Soler, from Starlin Castro to Anthony Rizzo — are going to be great?
You think in short order the Cardinals and Pirates and Reds are going to lie down like slaughtered lambs in front of the smartest guy in the room and his computer printouts?
Then I hope you understand that Sveum was brought to Chicago to develop with the team, but that he will be the scapegoat that Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer will sacrifice when things start moving because he will represent the ‘‘bad old days.’’ No matter that the front office made them.
No, Sveum has not done a great job with the flighty and distracted Castro. That young man, who has had his own troubles, has not improved under Sveum. Indeed, this year he has back-tracked.
Nor has Rizzo sprouted the way most had hoped after signing his seven-year, $41 million contract. Can a manager control these things? We don’t know, but it is on such details that he is judged. Unless he has a great winning record. Which Sveum does not.
A hard-playing infielder who only once in his career had 500 at-bats, Sveum never made $1 million in a season in his career. He’s a tough, not-overly-verbal man who fought for everything he has had.
To my knowledge, he’s the only active manager with multiple, visible tattoos on his arms. What does that mean? Who knows? But at the bare minimum, it says to a player under him: I’ve done some stuff in my life; maybe you should listen to me.
The Carlos Marmol disaster will cling to him. Bringing in that now-traded arm wreck back in mid-June to save a game against the Mets, one the Cubs were winning by three in the ninth inning, turned into a farce. The much-ridiculed Marmol promptly gave up a home run, a walk, a single and then a mammoth, game-winning home run to Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who had nine career home runs and entered the game batting .103. Yep, that hurt.
But in Cubs-like tradition, there really was nobody else to put in. Closer Kevin Gregg’s arm was about to fall off. Maybe Sveum himself should have rolled up his sleeves and thrown a few. Couldn’t have been any worse.
So the point is, Sveum’s timing is unfortunate.
He likely is a good manager.
He just picked a bad team.