Monday, Oct. 25, 2010
By Patrick Mooney
It sounded like a marketing slogan that could be plastered across the side of a bus, or sold on T-shirts outside Wrigley Field. Mike Quade looked out at the row of cameras in a room full of reporters and said those three words.
Eventually the goodwill Quade has built up with the media will begin to evaporate. All it could take is one long losing streak for someone to say that hes in over his bald head, that theres a reason why he had to wait until the age of 53 to get his first major-league managing job.
And as soon as you hear complaints whispered in the clubhouse, someone will wonder: Why did management ever listen to those player endorsements on such an underachieving team? Until then, a 24-13 finish will be the jumping-off point for 2011.
Im smart enough to know that six weeks doesnt make six months, Quade said. But when I saw the improvement in the kids and the way we pitched it (and) played the last six weeks, (Ill) believe that from Day 1: Why not us?
Well, there is more than a century of losing that has defined the Cubs, and the Prospect High School graduate gets the culture and expectations he will face as the franchises 51st manager.
But when the 106th World Series begins Wednesday night at AT&T Park, the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers will be asking the same thing: Why not us?
Months ago, that question would have seemed like a reach, when the Rangers were in full crisis-management mode, awaiting their fate in bankruptcy court and responding to the news that their manager had tested positive for cocaine.
The Giants spent only 37 days in first place, and lost 515 games of manpower to the disabled list this season, and theyve took on players that seemingly no one else wanted.
Both teams are from baseballs middle class, with their combined Opening Day payroll (153.9 million) nearly matching what the Cubs had committed (146.6 million) for 2010. Heres what the Cubs can learn from each team as they rebuild for Year 103:
Show some faith in the manager. The Giants didnt show real progress until the end of Bruce Bochys three-year deal. Beginning in 2007, their win totals went like this: 71, 72 and 88. They finished last, fourth and third in the National League West before finally winning the division with a pitching staff Bochy handles expertly.
It would have been easy for the Rangers to fire Ron Washington after they learned of his failed drug test last year. What could have torn the clubhouse apart instead brought it together. Everyone has access to the same statistics and will agree on most in-game decisions. But managing is about so much more than numbers. Its building relationships, handling egos and deflecting distractions.
Huge long-term contracts dont have to be crippling. Barry Zito is in the middle of a seven-year, 126 million deal, but hasnt been given a spot on the playoff roster because the Giants have four strong starters drafted and developed by the organization Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner.
The Cubs can afford the decline of Alfonso Soriano who will be owed 18 million annually across the next four seasons if first-round picks Tyler Colvin and Brett Jackson become All-Star-level players in the same outfield.
The market has changed. Zitos deal makes Carlos Zambranos five-year, 91.5 million contract seem reasonable by comparison but both came out of a different economic climate. Aubrey Huff hit free agency and then had to wait until the middle of January to sign a one-year deal that amounted to a 5 million pay cut. For their 3 million, the Giants received 26 home runs and 86 RBI.
San Francisco has been resourceful throughout the season, signing Pat Burrell (18 homers and 51 RBI in 96 games) to a minor-league contract in May and claiming future NLCS MVP Cody Ross off waivers three months later. The Rangers made a similar low-risk, high-reward investment in designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, getting a return of 29 homers and 115 RBI for roughly 6.5 million.
Talent is everywhere. Kosuke Fukudome will never live up to the 48 million it cost to import him from Japan, but that doesnt mean the outfielder cant be effective with a more limited role in the right situation, or that the Cubs should give up their international scouting efforts.
Colby Lewis pitched in five different organizations before moving abroad and spending two seasons with Hiroshima Carp. This year, Lewis returned to the Rangers the team that originally chose him in the first round of the 1999 draft and gave them 32 starts, 201 innings and two victories that helped eliminate the New York Yankees and win the pennant.
Dont fall in love with your prospects. The Rangers have been sensitive to Josh Hamiltons addictions during celebrations that are typically soaked in beer and champagne. It took almost eight years for the first overall pick in the 1999 amateur draft to control his demons and make his major-league debut.
Hamilton was selected by the Cubs in the 2006 Rule 5 draft, flipped to the Cincinnati Reds the same day and later traded to Texas, where hes made the All-Star team three consecutive years. Projecting what sort of man a high school kid will be is never easy. When a game-changer like Cliff Lee whos now 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA in eight career postseason starts becomes available you cash in your trading chips.
Be creative when assembling the bullpen. Opponents hit .236 against Giants relievers, who posted a 2.99 ERA and inherited the most runners in the league (278) but allowed the lowest percentage to score (23.7). Brian Wilson, their eccentric, bearded closer, fell to the 24th round before the Giants drafted him in 2003. Guillermo Mota was a non-roster invitee to spring training and Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez were acquired at the July 31st deadline. Imagine the impact they could have had on a Cubs team that lost 32 one-run games in 2010 and had more than half of their games decided by two runs or less.
Develop a short memory. Until this month, the Rangers had never won a postseason series. The Giants havent won a World Series since relocating to the Bay Area in 1958. Dusty Baker managed the Giants the last time they made it and within days, he would be introduced as the next Cubs manager, a job he wasnt completely prepared for.
Nobody lets anything go of the past, Baker said last summer at Wrigley Field. Everybodys still counting. I was here four out of the 100 years. Most people act like I was here the whole 100.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.