The Cubs have fired Mike Quade
No surprise. The Cubs were in a situation where, if they were going to keep Quade, they had to give him an extension, since he only has one year left on his contract and thus would have been the lamest of ducks without one. Had quade had two years left, they could have afforded to punt on the choice and revisit it later, but as things are, with a new front office regime coming in, keeping him with only a year left would have obviously undermined him. So, they pretty much had to make a choice as to whether Quade was their guy or if they wanted someone different.
Along those lines, there’s been a lot of talk that Theo needs “his own guy” in the manager’s office, and while I don’t doubt that’s true, a big part of this decision clearly came down to there being no real reason to keep Mike Quade. His time on the job was short, lasting only one season officially and another 37 games in 2010 as the interim manager, and in that time he did nothing to distinguish himself as a positive asset. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think he was a disaster, but I also don’t think the Cubs were any better with him at the helm than they would have been with any other random bench coach or minor-league manager that they might have hired. Call him a replacement-level manager.
It’s hard to know the effect that a manager has, but what can we put on the positive side of the ledger for Quade? Did this team perform better than expected? I’m not prepared to say they did and I haven’t seen anyone else make that claim, either. Some players performed better than I expected (e.g., Ramirez), and some didn’t (e.g., Soto) but on the whole the team was unimpressive. Did they at least have good fundamentals (i.e., baserunning, defense, etc.)? Not really, as this was a constant source of fan frustration all year. Did he command the respect of the clubhouse? Hard to say for an outside observer, but he had public spats with Dempster, Castro, and obviously Zambrano. Did the team show effort and play hard? Well, they didn’t obviously mail it in, but this didn’t strike me as a particularly intense team, either. Must be all the day games….
The best thing that might be said about Quade is that Starlin Castro was better in 2011 than he was in 2010, keeping his development on track. On the other hand, he had other young players – none of whom are on Castro’s level as prospects of course – and aside from Andrew Cashner, who missed almost the entire season to injury, and James Russell, who was a decent reliever, they all struggled and/or were marginalized in the big leagues. The list of 25-and-unders is actually fairly long: Tyler Colvin, D.J. LeMahieu, Darwin Barney, Blake DeWitt, Tony Campana, Welington Castillo, Steve Clevenger, Casey Coleman, James Russell, Chris Carpenter, Rafael Dolis.
Now, a little nuance is required here. Darwin Barney was the team’s full-time second baseman, so he was certainly given a chance to show what he could do. But his minor league record was extremely unimpressive, and the team had a better option at second base on the roster all year in Blake DeWitt, who incidentally is only a couple of months older than Barney. Of course, DeWitt isn’t very good either, but even aside from playing him behind Barney, Quade misused him; not recognizing that DeWitt has had a reverse platoon split all his career (i.e., he’s lefthanded but hits better against lefthanded pitchers, which is unusual), Quade used him mostly against righthanded pitchers. Colvin was so terrible that Quade can almost be excused for playing Reed Johnson over him, but Castillo and Clevenger both sufferend the indignity of sitting while Koyie Hill played – why? Dolis sat in the bullpen, pitching only once after being called up in mid-September, while Ramon Ortiz went into three games during that period – why?
The point I’m making is that even if we give Quade credit for Castro, his handling of the team’s other young talent raised a lot of questions. Primarily, why is a team twenty games under .500 so devoted to playing veterans instead of giving the young players a look? I have no inside information, of course, but I would guess that the team’s new front office had similar questions, since they’ve made rebuilding the player development system their primary goal. Is Quade’s track record over the last season one that you would want from a key piece of management in that rebuilding project? I don’t think so.
Now the question turns to who the Cubs will hire to take his place, and to that end, the official statement from Epstein is that:
“The next manager must have leadership and communication skills; he must place an emphasis on preparation and accountability; he must establish high standards and a winning culture; he must have integrity and an open mind; and he must have managerial or coaching experience at the Major League level.”
That last part would seem to eliminate Ryne Sandberg, who otherwise would have been the most talked-about candidate. Early rumors are now focusing on Dale Sveum, the Brewers’ hitting coach, and Phillies’ bench coach Pete Mackanin. I don’t have an opinion on either of those guys, and at any rate I expect that we’ll hear more names before the final decision is made.
I guess that on a basic level, I’m happy to see that the organization will have all-new leadership heading into 2012. If nothing else, this move ensures a change of direction not only in the front office but on the field as well. A pessimist might say that things can always get worse, but it’s hard not to be excited to see what the future holds for this team. And that, my friends, is a feeling that I don’t remember having about the Cubs since I was too young to know better.