Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The rest of the year for the Cubs...

Assuming that woefully failed manager Dusty Baker (and presumably at least some of the coaches) is, in fact, finally to be shown the door--and GM Jim Hendry is making noises to that effect--it’s time to set down in stone what the team goals should be for the second half of what is already one of the worst seasons of Cubs baseball ever. Which is saying something.

First, it is essential to acknowledge that we will, under no circumstances, be in the race for a post-season slot. This is obvious, so both we the fans and the team should all be comfortable acknowledging it. (The fans, in fact, have proven more than ready to concede this. Hell, we've been screaming it for months now.) It would be a downright miracle if we could get back up to .500, much less win the wild card.

Hendry needs to sit down with whomever he hires to fill Dusty’s shoes, whether we’re talking the new long-term manager long term or simply an interim guy, and emphasize that his job is about nothing other than preparing the Cubs for a more successful 2007. That’s the only profitable course remaining for a team mired this far into the depths of the standings. With players like Kerry Wood gone and off the payroll next year, big changes are in store. The rest of the year should be about mapping out exactly what we will have and what we will need to acquire.

In sum, the number one job (and two, three, four and five jobs) of the new manager has to be PLAYING THE KIDS. We should see as little of Wood, Niefi, Mabry, etc., and as much of Murton, Cedano, Marmol, Guzman, Pie, whoever, as possible.

Hendry and the new manager have to sit down with the kids and tell them explicitly that there is no pressure to win anything at this point. Instead, they should relax and play to their abilities, and most of all, work on improving their fundamentals. They should be told that they won’t be judged on the second half win totals (which in any case almost have to be better than the first half’s), but on aspects of the game that have not be emphasized under Dusty: Plate discipline, on base percentage, and keeping your head in the game and not making the incredibly boneheaded miscues we’ll been witnessing nearly every game.

Let them know that there’s no need to pressure to win that day’s game. The idea is to see day-to-day and long-term improvement, not (as Dusty would no doubt call for) to strive to battle their way back to a pointless .500 record. If they follow this plan, their win rate will improve on its own. The new manager must have regular one-on-one meetings with the players, many more team meetings to keep everyone on the same page, and re-instigate daily game practice.

Some are asking what it will profit us to dump Dusty at this juncture, rather than letting him manage to the end of the year. The answer is, because it is literally impossible for him to manage the way I’ve described. He didn’t care about long-term betterment of the team when he knew his job was secure, much less will he when he knows he’ll be gone next year. Rather than a slow, patient, tough focus on team improvement, we’d hear the same stuff about “putting the best guys out there to win today” and guff about how “these veterans have earned the right to play.”

It’s time we stopped worrying about the player’s “rights” and focused on the team. The fans are calling for a youth movement, and for good reason. If we’re going to watch the team lose—and again, I can’t see how they wouldn’t in fact win more games doing this—then it’s still better to do so while also getting the chance to evaluate the team’s future. Winning two or three more games total makes little sense if it means holding off until next year the essential, grinding scutwork this team requires to rebuild. If we start now, we’ll be in a much better position to hit the ground running in 2007.


At 10:04 AM, Anonymous Chris M said...

Not to rub salt, but Corey Patterson's having the year of his life.

If Dusty Baker were fired today, I predict he'd still get picked up by another clueless team next year. Even with his reputation ... he just still has a positive W-L record and for some reason that's all these brilliant GMs see when they evaluate managerial talent (must be too busy crunching numbers on high school lefties with curveballs). Most likely to hire Dusty in '07?: Philadelphia.

You think Ron Santo's frustrated. Wait until Dusty hits Philly.

At 1:43 PM, Anonymous Jazzy J said...

As a fan of a team that did NOT do the rebuilding thing well (Dodgers -- no playoff win since the '88 World Series), I will say a prayer that you will get what you want. Good luck!

At 4:44 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

Actually, I've been putting that one bullet back in my revolver. Hendry in the paper this morning is all "Hey, I didn't mean I was going to fire anybody! What's important is winning more games this year!" Uh, now, that's the opposite of what's important, you moron.

What an asshole! (Pardon the French.) Fans have been dying for two years to see Baker road out of town. So finally Hendry signals that he is way belatedly ready too, and again we start feeling slivers of hope, and then a day later he withdraws the idea.

So why bring it up in the first place? It's like (and this pretty much sums like the life of the Cubs fan) Hendry was Lucy holding out that football for the 10,000th time.

And sure enough, I tried to kick it.


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