Jaramillo was a bizarre hire for Jim Hendry back during the 2009-2010 offseason, when he received a three-year, multi-million dollar contract. Whoever heard of a huge deal like that for a hitting coach? But that’s how decisions often seemed to be made during the Hendry era – identify the biggest name, and throw money at him.
A few years later, what we’ve found is that the Rangers (with whom Jaramillo made his reputation) have continued to hit as well as if not better than they did when Jaramillo was their coach, and the Cubs have not really seen the kind of results that the Hendry regime hoped for when they spent big on their hitting coach.
Now, I don’t mean to criticize Jaramillo by pointing that out. It’s an open question as to how much influence a hitting coach has on team performance, and I don’t think there’s any evidence for a “magic bullet” type of effect. Epstein seemed to acknowledge as much in his comments yesterday:
“Rudy’s not to blame for the results. That’s something we’re all accountable for. We put the roster together. It’s probably more on us than it is on him. I’m sure a lot of players feel accountable, too. It’s not based on results, it’s more trying to get a new voice with a new message. We have a certain hitting philosophy we believe in and we have a lot of growth that awaits us as an organization.”
I think that, as much as anything, this highlights the difference in approach between the Hendry and Epstein front offices. Hendry seemed to be content to hire people with good reputations and then take a hands-off approach, resulting in a disorganized collection of philosophies and approaches. Epstein, on the other hand, seems far more focused on instituting a single organizational approach. As such, this decision seems to be more about putting the “Cubs way” of doing things into action than it is about punishing Jaramillo for the team’s struggles at the plate.
Rowson, meanwhile, was hired during the offseason as the organization’s minor league hitting coordinator, a job he held the previous four seasons with the Yankees. It’s not clear whether he’s a candidate for the job on a permanent basis, but his task appears to be to focus on plate discipline and pitch selection. As I said, I’m skeptical that a hitting coach can have a major effect, and most likely the Cubs will need to get better hitters if they’re going to have a better offense. The other thing to remember, though, is that instituting a new organizational approach is a long-term project for the front office, and this change needs to be viewed through that lens instead of simply a matter of the team’s current struggles.
A new manager means a new staff, and here’s the Cubs’ announced 2012 coaching staff:
Pitching coach Chris Bosio
Hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo
Third-base coach Pat Listach
First-base coach Dave McKay
Bench coach Jamie Quirk
Bullpen coach Lester Strode
I don’t have much to say about these guys, but a little biographical information might be in order.
I remember Bosio as a pitcher for the Brewers, before he went to Seattle and pitched for a number of years there before retiring after the 1996 season. He actually had a fairly solid major league career, with 3 seasons over 200 innings pitched, 94 wins, and a 107 ERA+. For context, some comparable players by Baseball-Reference.com’s similarity scores are Aaron Harang and Ismael Valdes, and guys like that, who aren’t really aces but are valuable pitchers in their best years. He comes from the Cubs after having worked in the Brewers’ system for a few years, most recently as pitching coach for AAA Nashville.
Jaramillo is a holdover from the previous staff. When Hendry couldn’t find any free agents worth signing to huge contracts, he chose to make a splash by giving Jaramillo a multi-year deal. Jaramillo had made his reputation as hitting coach in Texas, but since he came to the Cubs, the Rangers have continued hitting well and the Cubs have continued being mostly average.
Listach is a holdover as well, although previously he had served as Quade’s bench coach. I don’t really know how the coaching hierarchy works but doesn’t this seem like a demotion for him? Listach had managed in the Cubs minor league system for a few years, in AA and AAA, and then worked his way up to bench coach for the major league team … one would think he would have started to accumulate a coaching resume fit for a potential big league team, and now he gets moved to third-base coach? I don’t really get it.
McKay comes to the Cubs fresh off a World Championship with the Cards, where he’s been the first-base coach for 16 seasons. His other claim to fame is that he was the strength and conditioning coach for the 1988 A’s and even co-authored a weight-training book with Jose Canseco. Hey now, I can’t imagine that ever becoming an issue for the antagonistic Chicago media. He’ll also be in charge of baserunning and outfielders.
I vaguely remember Quirk as a player also, from back when he was with the Royals. He was not a very good player but managed to stick in the big leagues for a long time; 18 years, to be exact. Since retiring, he’s been bouncing around the coaching ranks, most recently serving as bullpen coach for the Astros. He’ll be Sveum’s right-hand man in Chicago.
Strode enters his sixth season as the Cubs’ bullpen coach.
After Mike Maddux pulled out of consideration for the job, citing family concerns, it seemed to me that Sveum became the favorite. Terry Francona was floated as a candidate, and was easily the most well-known of the candidates, but he took his name out of consideration a couple days ago, citing the need for a year off. I imagine a lot of fans thought that sounded like a good idea, given how the Red Sox’ season ended, and in fairness, it was never clear that he was a serious candidate in the first place. At any rate, this morning Sveum was introduced as the new manager, and he’s signed a three-year contract, with a team option for a fourth year.
Sveum is officially a first-time manager, but he did have 12 games as interim manager in Milwaukee after the club fired Ned Yost in the heat of the wild card chase in 2008. It’s easy to say that 12 games as an interim manager isn’t much on a resume, but those 12 games must have been under as much pressure as it gets for any manager, no less an interim guy, since the team was in the middle of a September collapse at the time. Whether or not it was due to Sveum’s leadership or just a coincidence, the team did right the ship, going 7-5 and making the playoffs, where they were eliminated in the first round by the eventual World Series champion Phillies.
Since that time, he’s served as the Brewers’ hitting coach. In that role, he’s had some tremendous results – the last three years have seen the Brewers with one of the top offenses in the NL – but he’s also had some elite talent to work with. I’m not sure how relevant his record as hitting coach is to his outlook as a manager, but at the very least, he’s had experience dealing with major league players (a prerequisite that Theo Epstein named when the team started the search), and has seemed to do a good job.
Nonetheless, he isn’t being hired as hitting coach; he’s being hired to help the front office implement a new organizational mindset. To that end, his introductory press conference focused on things like “playing the game the right way” and “accountability” and such platitudes. I don’t doubt that Sveum is sincere in his dedication to fundamentals and hard work, but I don’t think he said anything that anyone else wouldn’t have said in the same spot. Like any first-time (full-time) manager, he comes into his new role as a blank slate in a lot of ways.
My first impression of him is that he’s relatively young (47), and seems like he’s a low-key, level-headed guy. The Cubs have a lot of resources as an organization, but the facts remain that this is a team that is not close to having the talent at the major league level to contend, and aside from Brett Jackson also doesn’t have a lot of talent in the high minor leagues that looks ready to hit the majors any time soon. Barring major surprises, the outlook for contention in 2012 does not look good. If Sveum is as level-headed and patient as he appears, that seems likely to be an asset, at least in the near term.
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.