MILWAUKEE – Cubs fans have been focused on a big-picture question: Will Dale Sveum be the manager when the team is finally ready to contend?
But how about a point-blank, yes-or-no question: Will Sveum be back next year?
Team president Theo Epstein declined to answer that directly after a series of meetings with Sveum and his coaching staff on Tuesday at Miller Park, saying the entire organization is in the middle of an evaluation process.
“There’s no alarm bells to ring,” Epstein said. “But that’s a subject that gets addressed as a matter of process (after) the season.”
This was the day after Sveum got into a heated argument with Edwin Jackson in the visiting dugout during a sloppy 6-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, a rare fireworks display for the monotone manager and the mellow $52 million pitcher.
[RELATED: After dugout blow-up, Jackson says there’s no problem with Sveum]
Sveum is under contract through the 2014 season while the club holds an option for 2015. The Cubs could follow a 101-loss season with a last-place finish in a division that will likely produce three playoff teams.
“We’ve been very upfront about the fact that we’re not evaluating Dale on wins and losses,” Epstein said. “Our record is more of a reflection of the roster that we’ve put on the field as a baseball operations department and where we are in this building process. So I don’t hold Dale accountable for the record.”
The Cubs have used 88 different players across the past two seasons, sometimes leaving Sveum with a Triple-A Iowa rotation or a lineup that could do some damage in the Pacific Coast League. A Hall of Fame manager couldn’t have won big after two massive fire sales around the trade deadline.
So Epstein will be weighing a number of factors, like clubhouse culture and how Sveum handles the roster and follows the organizational blueprint. But down seasons for Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Darwin Barney and 32 one-run losses would appear to put the focus on two areas: The development of young players and in-game decisions.
[MORE: Sveum sees Castro taking big steps forward at shortstop]
“I’m not going to go category by category,” Epstein said. “I’ll say that Dale’s been given a difficult hand to play, at times, by us. So I think there are certain categories in which it’s hard to evaluate him.”
Epstein, the Yale University graduate with the law degree from the University of San Diego, can sound like an attorney and usually doesn’t speak off-the-cuff during formal sessions with the Chicago media. The Sveum questions don’t come as a surprise in the middle of an autopsy for the 2013 season.
“I think any time an organization suffers back-to-back potential last-place seasons, you have to examine every single aspect of the organization,” Epstein said. “We’re looking at our own decision-making processes in the front office. We’re looking at the players and evaluating the players. That’s something you do the last couple weeks of the season. We’re evaluating the coaching staff and we’re evaluating Dale and we’ll make a lot of decisions after the season and go forward.”
Sveum stays on message and sticks to the organization’s talking points. His teams play hard. It took until mid-September, Season 2 before the fans and reporters saw something like the Jackson incident.
“As a whole, Dale’s had a nice calming effect on the club,” Epstein said. “I think he’s established a level of professionalism here that’s admirable and he’s held his head up high in difficult circumstances over the course of two years.”