Cubs dismiss Sveum after two seasons at helm
Epstein cites issues with player development as a reason for decision
CHICAGO -- Dale Sveum helped lay the groundwork for the Cubs' way. Now, Theo Epstein is looking for a manager who can take the team and its up-and-coming prospects to the next level.
On Monday, Sveum was dismissed after two seasons at the helm, and the search for the Cubs' 53rd manager will begin on Tuesday.
When Sveum was officially introduced in November 2011, Epstein, president of baseball operations, and general manager Jed Hoyer said they were impressed by how prepared he was.
"I think the passion he has for the game is so obvious -- and the knowledge he has," Hoyer said at that time. "It wasn't that he prepared for the interview; he prepared for this [job]. This is what he had done his whole life."
On Monday, Epstein said there were issues regarding the development of some of the Cubs, and although he wouldn't get into specifics, it would appear that Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo are examples of players who regressed and hurt Sveum's chances of staying with the club.
"There has to be a clear, unified message, and they can't be getting different signals from different directions and collectively -- myself included -- we failed to provide that," Epstein said of the players.
Sveum has been under public review since Sept. 17, when Epstein said he was evaluating the manager and his coaching staff, but he was told at the All-Star break that there were questions about whether he was the right person for the Cubs.
Epstein said there were concerns during the first half of this season, and he had a "long, difficult, and brutally honest meeting" with Sveum at the All-Star break to explain areas that needed to be improved. Sveum was given the second half to work on those, Epstein said.
In mid-September, Epstein met again with Sveum for two hours to notify him that there had been discussions about making a change. Epstein was in St. Louis on Friday to meet with Sveum again, and then returned to Chicago to think about the decision. The two met late Sunday, and had beers and Sveum was notified at that time he would not be returning.
In Sveum's first season in 2012, the Cubs were 61-101, and they finished this year last in the National League Central at 66-96.
Epstein said he did not consider letting Sveum go at the All-Star break.
"This is the last thing I expected last winter," Epstein said. "I sat here last year and was very complimentary of Dale and the job he did in 2012, and I stand by that. This was really unexpected. When we all started to have concerns in the front office and discussed them toward the end of the first half, it was clear we were all thinking the same thing and the first step was 'Hey, we need to sit down and have a brutally honest talk with Dale and get his take on this and hear from him, and then look for ways to allow him to adjust in the second half.' That's what we did."
Sveum's coaching staff, which included his former Brewers teammates, Chris Bosio and Rob Deer, were also dismissed, although some could be retained, depending on the new Cubs manager. The club told the coaches on Monday they are free to investigate other jobs.
The emphasis for the Cubs has been rebuilding, and Sveum has had to deal with developing young players such as Rizzo and Castro, plus make others marketable so they can be flipped for prospects. In 2012, Epstein and Hoyer traded two starting pitchers (Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm ) and catcher Geovany Soto. This year, Sveum lost two more starters when Matt Garza and Scott Feldman were dealt, then leadoff man David DeJesus was traded to the Rays and veteran Alfonso Soriano was dealt to the Yankees.
The Cubs used a franchise-record 56 different players this season, and only 12 who were on the roster for Game No. 162 were present on Opening Day.
Epstein insisted the Cubs' record wasn't the only item on his checklist in evaluating Sveum. Instead, Epstein was looking at the development of young players; in-game decision making; the way Sveum used the roster; the manager's ability to create a culture of accountability, hard work and preparation; and the ability to develop solid, trusting relationships with players.
"Dale's been given a difficult hand to play at times by us," Epstein said on Sept. 17 in Milwaukee. "There are certain categories where it's hard to evaluate him. Any time an organization suffers back-to-back last place seasons, you have to examine every single aspect of the organization. We're looking at our own decision-making process in the front office and evaluating the players."
If Sveum was evaluated in the same way at the end of his first season as manager, it wasn't made public.
When Sveum was hired, Epstein and Hoyer entrusted the manager to institute "The Cubs' Way," an outline for how they want the game to be played, and a plan for the entire organization to follow.
"I think, as a whole, Dale has had a nice calming effect on the club," Epstein said in Milwaukee. "I think he's established a level of professionalism here that's admirable and held his head up high in difficult circumstances in the course of two years."
There weren't any problems until that Milwaukee series, Sept. 16-18, when Sveum was caught on camera in the dugout arguing with pitcher Edwin Jackson. The next day, Jeff Samardzija was seen yelling at coach David Bell in the dugout. Epstein called those incidents "brush fires" and complimented Sveum because they were the only such incidents during his two years at the helm.
"It happens," Jackson said Sunday about the argument. "In families, there's nobody who has brothers or sisters who hasn't been in an altercation with a brother or sister. It happens in other sports. But when it happens in baseball, it's the less aggressive sport than other sports, and sometimes it's made to be a big deal.
"You see a first-place team, a playoff team [like the Braves], and it happens," Jackson said of Atlanta's tussle Saturday between coach Terry Pendleton and Chris Johnson. "I'm sure they talked it over the next day. I'm sure it's happened with plenty of players and managers, and they make up the next day."
Sveum's popularity with the players was evident during a team meeting this spring when they took off their jerseys to reveal orange hunting gear. Players then donned neon orange caps. It was a reference to Sveum's offseason hunting accident when Hall of Famer and former teammate Robin Yount accidentally shot him in the ear. Sveum was given a vest with a target on his back. Little did he know at the time how fortuitous that was.
Players such as Welington Castillo, Travis Wood, Samardzija, Hector Rondon and Chris Rusin showed progress. Rizzo delivered 23 home runs, 40 doubles and 80 RBIs in his first full season, although he batted .233. Darwin Barney should win a second Gold Glove Award.
Third baseman Luis Valbuena was surprised at the news.
"There were things that happened this season that he couldn't control," Valbuena said.
Castro, a two-time All-Star who began the year with a career .297 average, finished at .245. Sveum at one point pulled the shortstop from a game after a mental gaffe on the field.
"I think next year, I'll have a strong mind," Castro said Sunday. "It's bad, because it's a bad year, but I think it's good because I learned a lot. I never had a bad year, and I think this has been important for me to put my mind strong and grow more."
Epstein made a point of saying Sveum is not the "scapegoat" for the two losing seasons. On Monday, Sveum packed up his office at Wrigley Field and said goodbye to the staff.
"You come in and get a job like this and you want to see it through, and you're very disappointed that you didn't get anything started," Sveum said. "We accomplished a lot. Obviously, it wasn't good enough."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.