By all rights, Dale Sveum should have had a really bad time last season. The 2012 Cubs lost 101 games, half of his starting rotation either got traded away or hurt, the other half not named Jeff Samardzija sucked, the offense sucked, and the only real bright spot was that the defense improved. Dale Sveum was not dealt the right hand to win with. It’s really hard to win when you only have 10 high when everyone else has at least a pair, and unlike in poker, you can’t often bluff very well in baseball.
But because the Cubs have a long-term vision and aren’t owned by demonic con artists, they actually had nothing but nice things to say about Dale Sveum’s first season as full time manager.
One thing Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer don’t have to worry about is Sveum. When hired prior to the 2012 season, Sveum was told about the organization’s plans to build and that he would not be evaluated on his record in the first year.
“I don’t think any manager in baseball was going to win the pennant with the club we put on the field last year,” Epstein said, “but I hope Dale is the one who wins it with the team we put on the field moving forward.”
“I thought he did a fantastic job,” Hoyer said of Sveum. “It’s not easy, day in and day out, when a team is struggling, to keep your cool, to really maintain the same message. He had the same message all year. Our guys played hard, and we didn’t have a single clubhouse incident the whole year.
“I saw a guy and a staff that even in late September was trying to teach guys, preparing for every game, and that’s really commendable. Usually when you see a team lose 100 games, or even in the high 90s, there’s controversy on the team, there’s falling outs. We never had that. We didn’t have enough talent, and that’s why we lost 101 games. It wasn’t for lack of trying or because we had bad clubhouse chemistry. I think that bodes well for the future.”
As of right now, with rosters still in flux and only projections to go with, the Cubs are predicted to win about 77 games (give or take a dozen depending on how good you feel). That’s a marked improvement over the previous season when they only won 61, and doesn’t take into account injuries that may crop up as well as trades at the deadline when the Cubs will inevitably drop out of the pennant race barring an insane miracle.
Dale Sveum isn’t stupid. He may do some things on the field that people will question (all managers do, I’m sure even Earl Weaver had a few head-scratchers) but the gist of everything that’s been written and said about the guy is that he prepares his players, holds everyone accountable, and is a splendid teacher. He knows that the team he has on the field isn’t going to win the division, but that doesn’t mean that the team should stop trying to improve and to win a few games here and there. With a young, impressionable team, the goal should be to teach them professionalism and to always strive to improve to the best of their ability, whether it’s a potentially elite player like Starlin Castro or a scrub like Luis Valbuena. They always show up to play, and they are on track in spring training now even if the projections may not be kind to them.
”Most 101-loss teams or even most last-place teams have a lot of controversies and a lot of brush fires and we had none last year,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. ”I think some of that credit belongs to our players, but a lot of it should go to Dale and his staff. They kept a positive atmosphere.
”We weren’t talented enough, that’s why we lost all those games. But we were prepared, our guys had a good attitude and that will help us a lot down the road.”
The Cubs enjoy playing for their manager, and there is an incredible chemistry in the clubhouse that you don’t normally associate with a loser ball club. This is likely to change as the rebuild chugs along, as prospects mature into the potential All-Stars and MVPs of the future and expectations rise, but for now I wager that the players appreciate playing for a guy that they don’t have to hate.
In short order, Dale Sveum and his staff have helped Jeff Samardzija turn into a bona fide starting pitcher (hope he stays that way), helped Brett Jackson refine his swing (hope the new swing works better), and helped Starlin Castro focus more on the field with extra motivation. There’s only so much the man can do with the pieces he has. The improved-on-paper rotation depth and improved defense should help the 2013 Cubs get to their 77-win projection, and maybe if Dale Sveum can squeeze out a few extra wins with creative platoons in the outfield and the rotation, he might find himself in the running for Manager of the Year. It’s a long shot, of course, but Joe Girardi won the MOY once upon a time for the Marlins despite finishing under .500, so anything can happen.
The Cubs will definitely expect some improvement in terms of the record this season, but I think they will still be more than happy with the way Dale Sveum does things as skipper of the North Siders. If you’re a proponent of the proper attitude, then I believe the Cubs found the right man for the job and I hope they have the patience to keep him around for the length of his contract and beyond.