MIAMI – The Cubs let Dale Sveum run the show. The manager doesn’t get phone calls from chairman Tom Ricketts making lineup suggestions. The front office doesn’t tell him how to use Carlos Marmol or Kyuji Fujikawa out of the bullpen.
“Never,” Sveum said.
That’s not how it works in Little Havana, where the Miami Marlins still have a reality show, just without the Showtime cameras following them around or Ozzie Guillen in a starring role.
For all the business vs. baseball dynamics at Wrigley Field, the questions about how willing and able ownership is to spend on the on-field product, it’s clear that Sveum runs those nine innings without interference and shares a similar philosophy with his bosses. That should be reassuring to Cubs fans wondering about the direction of this rebuilding project.
Sveum hadn’t heard about the latest drama surrounding Miami owner Jeffrey Loria before Friday’s 4-2 victory at Marlins Park. Inside the distraction-free zone he helped create, Sveum got to watch Anthony Rizzo hit two home runs a combined 833 feet, Scott Feldman earn his first win in a Cubs uniform and Kevin Gregg get the save (though there’s still no closer).
There were conflicting reports about the Marlins circus, with Yahoo! Sports saying Loria had ordered first-year manager Mike Redmond to flip starting pitchers Ricky Nolasco and Jose Fernandez for Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins. Loria told FOX Sports he had “nothing” to do with the decision.
“We were all on the call,” Redmond said. “It was an organizational decision. I’m going to leave it at that.”
That morning, Nolasco reportedly walked into Target Field and found out that he was now pitching that night, a switch that forced Fernandez to rush to the ballpark, disrupted the clubhouse and undercut the manager.
The Cubs have given Sveum the latitude to shape his own coaching staff, oversee the clubhouse and run the games. Team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer rarely travel on the road with the major-league club.
“In my year and a month now, I haven’t gotten any phone calls about ever putting this guy in a lineup or changing anything,” Sveum said. “I’m pretty much left alone with all those baseball decisions.”
Loria doesn’t have credibility after scheming to get public financing for his Art Deco spaceship stadium and spending big on names like Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle to generate buzz and sell tickets when it opened. That faded fast, Guillen got fired and Loria slashed major-league payroll to under $37 million.
Nearly entire sections of Marlins Park remained empty on Friday night after the fire sale got rid of almost every recognizable player except Giancarlo Stanton. The announced crowd of 16,017 included around 75 to 100 of Rizzo’s friends and family in South Florida.
It’s not like the Cubs (8-14) are a model franchise. This marked the first time they won back-to-back games all season. And for all the bad optics, the Marlins (5-18) have won two World Series titles since beginning as an expansion team in 1993. But Epstein and Hoyer believe they have a manager who can take the organization to the next level.
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Of course, Sveum talks strategy with the front office. Epstein and Hoyer had already found common ground after watching Sveum break down video and analyze spray charts as a coach with the Boston Red Sox. Game simulations to understand how Sveum processes information became a central part of his interview at Wrigley Field in the fall of 2011.
“Casual conversation, but nothing concrete,” Sveum said of the communication now. “I think all of us are smart enough to know how we’re going to use each guy. (It’s not like) there’s no rhyme or reason (when we’re doing) this in that situation. Numbers, matchups, what this guy does off this guy and all that stuff – I know all that.
“You’re going to put guys in situations where hopefully they are in a position (to) succeed a lot easier.”
After Sveum put the Cubs on notice – implicitly threatening Rizzo and All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro – and answered the question about his own job security, Hoyer flew to Cincinnati this week to give the vote of confidence.
As Hoyer said, Sveum’s “got to be able to pull the strings he needs to pull to manage the team successfully.” In an up-and-down month, Rizzo has generated eight homers and 18 RBI despite hitting only .200 with 26 strikeouts in 22 games.
“It’s all about production,” Rizzo said. “That’s what I’m supposed to do. I want to hit for average and the hits are going to come. Everyone in here has been behind me the entire way.”
With a blast to deep center and another shot that landed in the second deck in right, Rizzo passed Hall of Famer Billy Williams for the most home runs in April by a left-handed hitter in franchise history.
Sveum will be judged on how young players like Rizzo develop this season. He has personally helped recruit free agents like $52 million pitcher Edwin Jackson and outfielder Nate Schierholtz. He’s already watched video of the potential top-10 picks in the June draft. This is a partnership with Epstein’s front office.
“It’s just like myself trusting them in their jobs,” Sveum said. “I’m pretty comfortable that they trust me and my knowledge of the game. (If) it’s talking to free agents, (it’s) the confidence that I won’t goof it up if I go talk to them.”
Sveum said that with a laugh and added: “It’s a great relationship.”