ST. LOUIS – Joe Girardi isn’t the reason why Dale Sveum is on the hot seat, but the New York Yankees manager is one of several X-factors as Cubs executives weigh their final decision.
Sveum doesn’t know if he’ll be back managing the Cubs in 2014, but he’s trying to keep it business as usual. He joined president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer in leading exit interviews with players on Friday at Busch Stadium.
“There’s no clarity on my situation,” Sveum said. “I’m still being evaluated and I’ll find out on Monday.”
The Cubs don’t know if they can land Girardi, who is about to become a free agent in what looks like a potentially interesting field of candidates. But team insiders quickly downplayed Brad Ausmus, a name floated by Hall of Fame journalist Peter Gammons on WSCR-AM 670.
Ausmus was an All-Star/Gold Glove catcher who lasted 18 years in the big leagues and graduated from Dartmouth College. Hoyer hired Ausmus as a special assistant with the San Diego Padres in November 2010. Ausmus is said to want to manage someday - he interviewed with the Boston Red Sox last year – but right now his most extensive experience came with Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic.
Girardi wanted the Cubs job “bad” when former general manager Jim Hendry needed to replace Dusty Baker after the 2006 season. Hendry hired Lou Piniella and celebrated back-to-back division titles in 2007 and 2008. The franchise is in a much different place now, but at the very least Girardi has a network of backchannels in Chicago.
[MORE: Samardzija believes Sveum can get Cubs to the next level]
The Yankees don’t want to lose Girardi, who won three World Series rings in The Bronx as a player and managed the team to another title in 2009.
A source familiar with Epstein and Girardi predicted power struggles if they worked together, saying it would be an awkward fit at Clark and Addison. Other officials dismissed those concerns, and there is a feeling inside the organization that Girardi could be the right manager at the right time, someone with strong communication skills and a good feel for young players and handling a bullpen.
The Cubs wouldn’t necessarily win a bidding war with the Yankees. It could be the Peoria native and Northwestern University graduate coming home to accept the biggest challenge in professional sports.
But there’s no job opening yet, and Epstein and Hoyer saw a lot of potential in Sveum when they made him the 52nd manager in franchise history in November 2011. The front office sounds conflicted about firing Sveum two years into a three-year contract.
The final two weeks of this season have seen Sveum screaming at $52 million pitcher Edwin Jackson, Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija yelling at third-base coach David Bell and closer Kevin Gregg blasting Epstein and later apologizing for a misinformed rant.
“None of those incidents will factor into the decision,” Epstein said. “Honestly, I look at those three minor brushfires as things that naturally occur at the end of a difficult season. Frankly, I think it’s been impressive that under Dale’s leadership we got through 11 months of regular season without something like that happening.
“If you don’t want those things to happen, then don’t trade 40 percent of your rotation. Those things are going to crop up. Frankly, things behind the scenes are more important than some of the brushfires that sometimes become public. I don’t think those things are a big deal or a pattern at all.”
Epstein sounded annoyed by all the Sveum Watch speculation, feeling like he simply gave an honest answer to a question about the manager’s job status on Sept. 17.
“It’s pretty standard this time of year to take your time,” Epstein said, “and kind of look back at the season and make decisions about what can put the organization in the best position moving forward. This is part of the process.
“At the same time, we owe it to everyone involved to get it done quickly, as soon as the season’s over and move forward. We’ll finish up this process on Monday.”