MILWAUKEE – Dale Sveum says he doesn’t read the clips or pay attention to Twitter. But the Cubs manager knows it’s out there.
Sveum Watch began the moment team president Theo Epstein declined to guarantee the manager is returning in 2014. Cubs executives respect the sense of calm Sveum brings to the clubhouse, the steady way he handles players and prepares each night.
But with all the noise about his future, does Sveum feel safe for next year?
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“I would hope to think so,” Sveum said Wednesday at Miller Park. “But I’ve been around the game long enough to understand how the whole process works. I’ve been happy with the way we’ve done things. Obviously, some things haven’t gone too well and some things have gone really well. I’m happy with my coaching staff and all that.
“But that’s up to them. They’re the bosses and they make those decisions and they have all kinds of things to evaluate.”
Epstein pushed the Sveum question until the end of the season while speaking with six Chicago reporters after Tuesday’s player-evaluation meetings. No doubt, the former sports editor of the Yale Daily News knew the angle the media would take, especially after a decade dealing with the Boston press corps and the 24/7 coverage of Red Sox Nation.
Epstein could have done what Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels did on Tuesday, saying his “full expectation” is that manager Ron Washington will be back in 2014, even with a free-falling team in danger of missing the playoffs.
Whatever message Epstein was trying to send, Sveum is going to feel the heat and deal with speculation about his “lame-duck” status.
“We have these jobs to someday hopefully get some length out of it,” Sveum said. “But we all know how baseball jobs in general come and go very quickly. It’s just the nature of the beast.
“Obviously, those things are going to be said when your team’s not doing well. So it is what it is. But there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Projecting this would be a long and difficult rebuilding process, the Cubs structured Sveum’s contract at three years – not two – and a club option for 2015. The sequel to their first 100-plus-loss season since 1966 will probably be a last-place finish in what has become the toughest division in baseball. No one sees the next generation of Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and Billy Williams on this roster.
Just before Thanksgiving 2011, Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer hired Sveum with the expectation that he would grow into the job and along with the organization. Sveum emerged from a similar interview process that produced two finalists for the Red Sox job after the 2003 season: Terry Francona and future Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon.
In November 2011, during the GM/owner meetings at the Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee, it looked like Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux had emerged as the frontrunner for the Cubs job before withdrawing from consideration so he could stay close to his family.
If Sveum’s not running the show in Mesa, Ariz., when pitchers and catchers report to the new facility in February 2014, it would be an indictment of the front office and its process.
“We’ve been in good communication through all this,” Sveum said. “I understand that they go through what they have to go through on their end of the evaluation of myself and coaching staff. That’s kind of basically where we are – just the same as last year. It will always go on – that’s just the way it is.”
If Epstein’s not judging Sveum by wins and losses – he can’t with all the fire sales, waiver claims, change-of-scenery deals and Tommy John cases – then it will come down to player development, roster management and in-game decision-making.
Just like Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano had to deal with the daily drama and the same questions over and over again before finally getting traded, Sveum Watch will continue until the manager hears the vote of confidence (or not).
“Hopefully that comes 12 days from now,” Sveum said.