Looking to the future, Cubs bet big on Sveum

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Looking to the future, Cubs bet big on Sveum

MILWAUKEE The Cubs werent looking for a celebrity manager. Their brand name is now Theo Epstein.

The search was quick, clean and efficient everything the new president of baseball operations wants this organization to be.

It ended Thursday with Dale Sveum agreeing to a three-year deal with an option for 2015. The 52nd manager in franchise history will be introduced Friday morning at a Wrigley Field news conference.

The sum of Sveums experience as a major-league manager is 12 games with the Brewers in 2008 plus a first-round playoff exit after Ned Yost was fired. The interim manager was passed over for Ken Macha and it happened again last year with Ron Roenicke.

Back then, did Sveum ever think hed be the center of attention for two iconic teams?

So much is about timing, and here it all played to Sveums advantage. The bench is short for experienced major-league managers now available. Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux didnt want to uproot his family from Texas.

Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer had confidence in the process that revealed Terry Francona and Joe Maddon as the two finalists some eight years ago in Boston. The Red Sox, of course, cast their shadow over everything.

When Epstein flew to Tampa, Fla., on Nov. 2 to fire Mike Quade in person, he had already spent weeks doing background checks on potential replacements for Francona. Two days later, Philadelphia Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin was brought in for the first interview.

The Brewers media guide lists Sveums nickname as Nuts. That bullet point didnt match up with his low-key attitude when Cubs executives put him in front of the media on Nov. 7.

The only time I really get too excited or emotional is when Im arguing with umpires, Sveum said. Other than that, I dont show a lot of emotion. So probably stoic would be (a) better way (to describe) my personality.

One trait that you have to have as a manager is never to let your players see one way or the other how youre feeling. Whether youre nervous or whether youre mad, whatever, I think its a bad trait to show body language to the players nowadays.

That familiar clubhouse presence Sveum was the third-base coach on the 2004 championship team in Boston appealed to the Cubs and Red Sox. He played parts of 12 seasons in the big leagues, which gives him instant credibility.

Sveum emerged as an All-American quarterback at Pinole Valley High School in San Franciscos East Bay region. He turned down a scholarship offer to play football and baseball at Arizona State University.

The Brewers made Sveum a first-round pick in 1982. Five years later, he generated 25 homers and 95 RBI. He was never the same player again after colliding with teammate Darryl Hamilton and breaking his leg in 1988. He has unique insight into the game.

Sveum widened his perspective during six seasons as a coach third base, bench, hitting on the Milwaukee staff.

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin got used to showing up at his Miller Park office and finding Sveum already there beginning his work shift. Melvin called Sveum passionate and well-prepared, someone who knows players and has a competitive edge.

People whove known Epstein for a long time describe him as extremely competitive, someone whos always looking to get ahead and stay there. He beat his old team to Sveum.

Everything sharply came into focus this week in Milwaukee, where the owners and general managers assembled for their meetings. The Cubs jumped in front of the Red Sox and met with Sveum on Tuesday night.

Sveum then had lunch with Boston ownership on Wednesday, hours before Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts would check into the Pfister Hotel. Maddux couldnt convince himself he really wanted the job and would withdraw his name from consideration.

That night the Red Sox signaled they would expand their search and word began to spread that Sveum had an offer from the Cubs.

Epstein and Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington left the meetings on Thursday with an agreement to revisit the compensation negotiations after next months Rule 5 draft. Getting Sveum to Chicago wasnt going to be the drawn-out process it was for Epstein.

The long-range plan is building from within, and the managers office will be on the ground floor. Sveum will turn 48 next week and can grow into the job. The Cubs wont need him for the headlines or to sell tickets. Everyone in the room will know: This is Epsteins guy.

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Clubhouse frustration bubbling up for Cubs and Jake Arrieta

Clubhouse frustration bubbling up for Cubs and Jake Arrieta

PITTSBURGH — We interrupt your regularly scheduled coverage of The Plan and that wacky, fun-loving Cubs team to bring you a snapshot of clubhouse frustration.

Jake Arrieta sounded defensive while talking to reporters after Wednesday night’s 8-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park, standing in front of his locker and second-guessing manager Joe Maddon. On the other side of the room, veteran catcher Miguel Montero questioned the way the Cubs are preparing for the playoffs with Cactus League scripts.

The postgame questions started with Arrieta’s first-inning issues with umpire Chris Guccione’s strike zone. When reporters mentioned Maddon’s positive spin on a seven-run outing, Arrieta dismissed those happy-talk answers about his stuff — “it just wasn’t crisp” — and then wondered why he went from throwing to Montero to rookie Willson Contreras.

“The feeling of the game, from the first pitch, just wasn’t there,” Arrieta said. “Switching catchers just felt like we were trying to do a little too much instead of win a ballgame. But I didn’t throw well, no way around it.”

Montero went with a similar passive-aggressive tone, riffing on how the Cubs will maintain their edge almost two weeks after clinching the National League Central title and nine days before their first playoff game at Wrigley Field.

“Did it feel like spring training?” Montero said. “I do believe that. And that’s not a good feeling for a pitcher, for a player, to go into a game knowing that you’re going to play just four innings or five innings or whatever it is.

“This game is still important for all the players. It’s still important for every single guy. I don’t want to go out there not caring about winning or losing. That’s not my mentality. My mentality is going out there because I want to win, regardless.

“We have to trick our mind. Because if that’s how we’re going to go the rest of the way, I guess we need to trick ourselves.”

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Unprompted, Montero brought up the Pirates scoring three runs in the ninth inning on Tuesday night before the Cubs hung on for a 6-4 victory — without using Aroldis Chapman — as Maddon tries to keep the bullpen fresh for the playoffs.

“We didn’t have our closer warming up,” Montero said. “That’s something I take personally because I’m catching and I want to win.

“It’s hard. I understand (Joe’s) point. And I understand the organization’s point. I respect it. I can only control what I can control. It is what it is.”

OK then, the Cubs are still a 101-win team and the NL’s No. 1 seed. But this became a sharp contrast to all the backslapping after the pregame announcement of Theo Epstein’s monster contract extension. And Arrieta didn’t look like a reigning Cy Young Award winner, giving up 10 hits while John Jaso — who does look like a Pirate — lined a curveball into the right-field seats for a three-run homer in the fourth inning and hit for the cycle.

“We’re moving on,” Arrieta said. “We’ll prepare for the next one. I don’t like giving up seven runs. I’m pissed about that. But moving forward, everything’s fine.”

With Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks lined up at the front of the playoff rotation, Arrieta’s next start is almost two weeks away.

“It doesn’t matter,” Arrieta said. “I’ll throw sides. I’ll prepare. And whoever I face first round — they’re going to be in trouble.”

After burning through 103 pitches in five innings, Arrieta’s regular-season odometer is now at 197 1/3 innings, but he has zero interest in a gimmick that would get him to 200 this weekend against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.

“Listen, I want to pitch on a schedule,” Arrieta said. “I don’t want to throw an inning in a game. I’m not trying to do anything different. Let’s just prepare like we normally do and go out and try to win games. I’m not trying to throw a bullpen in a game.”

Look, if this isn’t trouble in paradise, then it’s obvious that the Cubs are a hyper-competitive group that knows what’s at stake in October and has some independent thinkers and strong personalities. And that Arrieta’s unreal 2015 season created impossible standards for this year that couldn’t be met with an 18-8 record and a 3.10 ERA, the type of numbers that still get pitchers $200 million contracts.

“I don’t think you know how hard this game is unless you play it,” Arrieta said. “I feel I can have another season like that. People have done it before. Why can’t I do it? I can do it again. So, yeah, I appreciate it. But at the same time, that’s what you strive for. That’s why you work hard. You go out and you try to perform that way.”