The news has come in that Dale Sveum has been named the new Cubs manager. Anno has already blogged about his thoughts in the previous entry. As you all know, Sveum used to be bench coach/third-base coach/hitting coach/random manager for the Milwaukee Brewers before he agreed to the Cubs job. He’s also pretty chummy with his players, including Prince Fielder. So what are the chances that having Dale Sveum manage the Cubs will increase the likelihood of a Prince Fielder signing by said Cubs?
We know a few things about the Cubs at this point. We know that Theo Epstein wants to simultaneously maximize the major league product while also building from within to set up a solid foundation for this team to stand on for years to come. We know that Prince Fielder wants a contract fatter than he is. We know that Scott Boras is Fielder’s agent and will probably get somebody to pony up that kind of cash. We also apparently know that Sveum and Fielder have some kind of bromance thing going. So the question the media poses, of course, is whether Sveum is a prelude to a Fielder-to-Cubs move. Although if you read the article by Bruce Levine, you kind of wonder when Sveum ever had a connection with Marlon Byrd, but I digress.
The issue here is that I believe the two situations are independent of each other. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have said on a few occasions that they want a manager who has had previous major league experience as a coach or manager (check), is open-minded and accepting of statistical analysis (check), and though I don’t know if it was overtly stated, it’s probably important that said manager can command the respect of his players (check). That’s Dale Sveum in a nutshell. I’m sure grabbing Prince Fielder with Sveum’s bro-powers is a bonus, but we really don’t know how far those bro-powers extend. Considering Fielder wants Ryan Howard money ($25MM per year) for a really long period of time, that’s one hell of a bro-discount they’re going to be asking Sveum to help them provide. With Scott Boras as the agent, that ain’t going to happen.
Besides Scott Boras, you’re looking at a team that will be minus Aramis Ramirez (goodbye part of offense) and possibly Carlos Pena (goodbye another part of offense). Pena strikes out a lot but he also hits a lot of homers, but Fielder hits more. You will basically subtract two offensive players and replace them with one, who might not be able to make up the offense of both put together. You also are burdened with the contracts of Alfonso Soriano (I don’t think he’s going anywhere) and Carlos Zambrano (who might be released but I wouldn’t be surprised if he stuck around). Money is coming off the books, and there are parallel goals, but I’m inclined to believe that the Cubs aren’t just going to spend for the sake of spending. You have to wonder whether the Cubs actually want to blow that much money on Fielder (with or without the bro-discount provided by the presence of Sveum) when there is nobody in the lineup that can protect him other than the inconsistent Geovany Soto or the declining Soriano. If you decide to do a mini-salary dump on Soriano or Zambrano, that’s money you can’t spend to shore up the offense or the rotation, which we haven’t mentioned yet, but is one of the Cubs’ priorities.
In addition, if you sign Prince Fielder and don’t surround him with the right supporting cast, then what’s the point? Maybe you try to convince him that he’ll be the only Cubs All-Star in 2012 and hope he buys it. Maybe when more salaries come off the books when Ryan Dempster and Zambrano are done, you can splurge on the next class of free agents. But if the other parallel goal is to build up the farm, and signing Fielder will cost you a second-round pick (the first-rounder is protected because the Cubs sucked so hard), then that just killed part of the goal. If the Ricketts family magically finds more money and splurges on CJ Wilson, Jose Reyes, or other Type A free agents in addition to Fielder, there goes the picks in rounds 2-4. Signing Type B’s like Mark Buehrle would be better as the Cubs wouldn’t give up draft picks, but that doesn’t help your offense any and Buehrle probably won’t come to the North Side anyway (both for anti-Cub reasons and because after signing Fielder and whoever else, it’s hard to imagine the Cubs having money left to pay the janitor).
If you look at it from another perspective, if Sveum and Fielder are truly friends, if Sveum truly considers the welfare of Fielder as a friend, Sveum won’t want to have his friend take a pay cut anyway. Yeah, it’s great to work with friends and have BBQs afterwards, but asking your friend to give up a couple of years of contract or $25MM or more seems like a pretty big dick move.
I don’t think Prince Fielder cares who his manager is as long as the team he signs with gives him a shitload of money. But I have been wrong before. Maybe the Cubs will get lucky.