So, it appears there are only 3 days left in the Dusty Baker Era. The rumor mill is running rampant about who will be the new manager. Joe Girardi is currently the front runner in most people’s minds, but it’s also known that Jim Hendry likes Atlanta’s Freddy Gonzales (who would have been hired prior to 2003 had Baker not been available) and today in the Tribune, Phil Rogers floated the name of Trey Hillman, the current skipper of the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japanese League.
My question is, will it matter? The team was dreadful this year. Dusty Baker surely didn’t distinguish himself, but who could have? And no, I’m not advocating that Baker be retained. He should have been fired at the All-Star Break. Would it have done any good for the season? Maybe not in the standings. But it might have sent a message: the excuse making is over, the country club is closed, you will play the game correctly, or not at all in Chicago. Instead, Jim Hendry continued his “evaluation” and Andy MacPhail continued taking clavichord lessons or whatever it is he does with his time. And now that we’ve seen that this team can lose 90 games, in the worst division of a bad league, Jim Hendry will hold a press conference soon to announce the name of the new Cubs manager. And there will be much talk of a new beginning, and a different direction and concentration on fundamentals and all that. And I ask again does it matter?
No, it doesn’t. Not initially. I will not look at our new manager and say “the day is saved, surely with Joe Girardi/Lou Pinella/Trey Hillman/Freddy Gonzales/St. Jude at the helm, this team will be turned around. It won’t. So don’t let the Cubs sell you on the fiction that a new manager will change everything. Because this team is going into the offseason with the following needs:
Two starting outfielders
Starting second baseman
Two, possibly three good starting pitchers
Most of a bullpen
Possibly a starting third baseman
Experts consider this to be a weak free agent class, but that doesn’t matter much, as the Cubs haven’t exactly distinguished themselves in the free agent market, regardless of what players are available. While it would seem to be the ideal time to try and rebuild the entire team with youngsters, that often takes a long time (Florida notwithstanding) and GM Jim Hendry has neither the minor league talent, nor the time (with a 2 year contract) to enact such a plan. My fear is that the Cubs will introduce a new manager this offseason, and sign some mediocre veterans to supplement whichever young players they consider building blocks and be done with it. Maybe they’ll catch lightning in a bottle, probably, they won’t.
So when the Cubs hold that press conference, that is supposed to bring hope to our hearts; remember one thing. Without an upgrade to the players on the field, the manager won’t make much difference.