Cubs Progress Report Part 3: Front Office, Manager, Coaching Staff

Continuing on with our progress report series, I’m going to move on to the off-the-field acquisitions…

In the past several days, the Cubs have made some big changes, moving Tim Wilken and Ari Kaplan while letting Oneri Fleita and a few others go, including 6 scouts just 2 days ago.  I expect more changes to come.

In less than a year as President of Baseball Operations, Theo Epstein has made already made some key additions as the Cubs seek to modernize their front office, adding important pieces such as GM Jed Hoyer, VP of Scouting Jason McLeod, Asst. to the GM Shiraz Rehman, Pro Scouting Director Joe Bohringer, and Director of Amateur Scouting Jaron Madison.

Closer to the field, the most obvious addition they’ve made is manager Dale Sveum, but they’ve also brought in a new pitching coach in Chris Bosio, a new defense and baserunning guru in 1B Dave McKay, bench coach Jamie Quirk , and most recently, hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo was fired and replaced for the moment by James Towson.

In case anyone still had any doubts about what direction the Cubs are heading, the most recent firing of scouts was telling.  All were of the so called “old school”.  It’s not that the Cubs don’t value old school ways of thinking, but not to the point of being so old-fashioned that they aren’t able to adapt to some of the advantages that the modern game provides, such as the use of technology and advanced statistical theory.

You wonder if that was the impetus behind the Wilken move.  The Cubs, as do most in the industry, have tremendous respect for Wilken as a pure talent evaluator, but I  speculated at the time that it had less to do with his baseball mind and more to do with how they want to organize things, particularly when it comes to managing the vast amount of information that Epstein has been known to accumulate.  Wilken’s new position as a special assistant would seem to give him all the benefits of having Epstein’s ear, but the Cubs would likely prefer that someone more modern manages all that info.

Modernizing the Cubs front office is job number one and by far the biggest reason for all the changes. There’s also some thought that the Cubs may be trying to tighten things up, plug some leaks, as that has been a problem for a front office that likes to keep things close to the vest.  Of course, leaks are going to happen, and sometimes you can’t necessarily control them, as what happened in the Atlanta trade, but I expect things to continue to tighten up in the next few years.

We won’t specifically evaluate the moves this front office made because that will be done in the other segments such as ones I’ve already done on the trades and  free agents , and later we’ll have pieces on the draft and the farm system.

As far as on the field, I’ve been pleased for the most part with Dale Sveum.  Yes, he could use some work on game management, most new managers do, and I really hope that he won’t have to use as many platoons in the future, at least not with mediocre players.  But I’m very pleased at the renewed effort and how he focuses on things such as OBP and getting good at-bats.  The Cubs have let this slide for too many years and though it will take time, it’s good to know that it won’t be tolerated much longer.

The move of Castro down the lineup is indicative of this.  We all know Castro can hit, but he doesn’t necessarily always have the best ABs.   By moving him down to 5th, and even suggesting he should hit 6th or 7th, sends a not so subtle message that it isn’t batting average or number of hits that is important, but quality ABs and getting on base.  This is what’s paramount to me and, I presume, to many of the readers here.  It’s pretty safe to say that it’s what the Cubs brass values as well.  Get good ABs and everything else will follow. If you can get on base, make the pitcher work, expose the opposition’s bullpen…then suddenly your offense looks a whole lot better and we don’t have to hinge on every managerial decision.

That being said, the firing of Rudy Jaramillo came far too late.  The Cubs rank at the bottom of the NL in both walks and OBP, and not surprisingly, dead last in all of baseball in runs scored.  Jaramillo was never a fit and I wonder if delaying the inevitable may have delayed the change in philosophy.  I’m not sure it’s fair to grade new coach James Towson yet, there’s not much you can change mid-season, but rumors are always swirling that the Cubs will bring on Dave Madagan when he becomes available.  If it happens, the Cubs will have a guy that is every bit as respected as Jaramillo was, but one that actually fits into what the Cubs are trying to do.  Rowson can then slide back to the being the minor league hitting coordinator, where he helped several players improve their approach, most notably Matt Szczur.

It’s tough to grade Chris Bosio because of what he’s had to work with, but we can safely say that, in the first half, starting pitching was the strength of the Cubs team.  He also helped turn Carlos Marmol around and turned Alberto Cabrera from borderline 40 man roster guy to a legit closer candidate down the road by tweaking the grip on his fastball.  Of course, Cabrera has yet to see that success in the majors, but the stuff is there and Bosio will have to find a way to get him to pitch with the same kind of command he did at the AA and AAA levels.

One of my favorite hires this offseason was 1B coach Dave McKay.  He had a tough job ahead of him trying to get the Cubs to unlearn their extreme passivity on the bases and their sometimes half-hearted effort on defense.  Nowhere has that been more apparent with, of all people, veteran Alfonso Soriano.  Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?  Soriano has been aggressive on the bases, even stealing a few, and his defense at age 36 has been perhaps the best of his career.  As McKay gets more time to work with younger Cubs players, I think we’ll continue to see more consistency in two areas that have been a big problem for the Cubs over the years.

Progress Report Grade: Incomplete

This is not cop out. I like what the Cubs are trying to do, but I think the real changes are just starting to happen,and while the philosophy has been sound, we’re far from seeing any actual results on the field.  It’s as if the Cubs were asked to write a huge paper but just completed the outline. I like the outline, but a lot has to happen before this is anywhere near a finished product.  There was a lot to sort out and the Cubs spent most of the season gathering information.  We’ll get a much better idea of where the Cubs stand by this point next season.




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  • John, do you buy your spectacles from ForEyes?

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Ha! Actually have been lucky enough not to need glasses yet, but both my parents needed them once they reached their 50s,so I suspect that time is coming. I'll put For Eyes on the list!

  • I don't think this is a copu out, your 100% correct. The grade should be incomplete, it's way too early.

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    Thanks. This year was sort of a wash. Kind of had to clean house first and we'll start to see the build up soon.

  • Great article John! Do you know if Mckay has more than a one year deal? I hope he stays here a long time. He has done a great job . Keep up the great work!

  • In reply to Cubs26:

    Thanks Cubs26!

    I don't remember off hand how long he's on for. Maybe one of our readers will remember. Hopefully it's multiple years!

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    John, I have asked you before about the Cubs bringing in higher level talent at the major league level for next season. The consensus thought being they won't until 2014-5...Question, do you think Dale Svuem survives potentially 3 100 loss (or close) seasons? Did he know what he was in for when he signed?

  • In reply to Barry Bij:

    I think he does stay on and Hoyer has said that it wouldn't be fair to make him go through the rebuild and then not give him a shot when the talent is there. He'd have to do something foolish to get fired, in my opinion, and I just can't see him doing that.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Sveum's been sounding more depressed lately. I think he'll quit before he gets fired.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    He has sounded very frustrated. I think as long as the team makes progress, he'll be happy -- though, come to think of it, he never really sounds excited. Very low key guy. I'm not sure I'll be able to tell.

  • I agree that McKay was a great pickup. As far as Bosio fixing Cabrera's grip, I thought he had done the same thing with Marmol early on in spring training. It evidently didn't take or Bosio hasn't been working with him on it.

    John, since the future of the team is in the minors, have you thought of grading each team's field staff?

  • In reply to SFToby:

    I haven't thought of that and I'm not sure I know enough about it do it as well as I'd like at this point.

    At some point in the offseason, I'll definitely review each level in terms of prospects. Hint: We'll start with AAA and it gets better as it goes along.

  • I would strongly suggest that Towson have his resume in order.

  • In reply to eaton53:

    I think he might stick as a minor league instructor again. He's done well in that job for the Yanks and the Cubs prospects have shown more progress with plate discipline than the MLB team has.

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    Good article, and I think an incomplete is a fair grade. It's just to soon to tell.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Thanks. It just seems like they're getting started. This offseason and spring are going to be very important.

  • I think John is right. Towson is a placeholder until a more accomplished hitting coach is found. He will return to his roving minor league role. He is here because there are so many recent minor leaugers, the theory was that they would be comfortable working with him. But apparently the skills used as a roving minor league instructor are not the same that are needed at this level

  • In reply to Rob Letterly:

    I guess it's very tough to step in the middle of this and prevent the train wreck. I was a little disappointed in that I thought we'd start to see better ABs, maybe I was being unrealistic.

  • Regarding Rudy Jaramillo, don't you think his late firing is more in line with FO's philosophy of "evaluating what they have then make changes". As you said Jaramillo was/is a respected hitting coach so predictably the FO thought why not give him a shot at teaching the new "Cubbie Way" of hitting. I doubt the FO/Sveum told Jaramillo to keep preaching his hitting philosophy vs. the FO's new philosophy thereby delaying the change you suggested. Seems to me Jaramillo just wasn't as good as a teacher as we thought and the FO figured that out and canned him.

  • In reply to svelocity:

    I do and I do agree with that sort of philosophy, but I thought in Rudy's case he had his system and I don't think he'd be able to vary much from it after all these years. It was one of the few things I didn't agree about when they chose to keep some people around at the outset.

  • So far there is a lot to like about what the FO is doing:
    a) handling trades - just the fact that they would not give in to the bottomfeeder Colletti on Dempster is a huge plus for me. I feel some confidence that our players won't be used as a feeder system for other teams.

    b) priority on building up the minor league system. Yes yes yes! Ricketts deserves credit here also. Hendry probably would have had more success if his tenure was primarily with Ricketts. I think we had a 20 year period there in the '70s and '80s where we produced Grace, Dunston, and Ronnie Woo Woo out of our system. I exaggerate, but not by much. This is the most refreshing part of what I see now.

    c) daily tinkering with the system. It's awesome to see how aggressive we are in claiming players off of waivers. We have grinders in our FO, and me like. It's usually the opposite for the Cubs, losing players off of the waiver wire (Larussa taking Miguel Cairo from us still nettles me.) Good teams have been doing this for years, nice to see we've joined the club here.

    Having said that, the key for me will be can our minor league system actually develop good players. You know, players coming in who actually improve their skills and knowledge of the game! Radical concept? no. Something the Cubs have developed any ability at in the modern era? Never. This has to change, and it's simply too early to tell if the new FO can make a dent here. They need to.

    This is why I was bummed about the whole Ryno affair. Players actually seemed to improve after playing for him in the minors. He seems to be able to help a player's game, so I hope he makes it back to the Cubbies in some capacity.

    Boise has been raking so well with the bats this year. Maybe Billy Buckner is one reason why? This may be a very encouraging sign for us.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    Agreed. Great point on C about tinkering around and taking flyers on some relievers. Nothing to lose there. If you hit on one, it's worth it.

    The development will be the key. I think the FO had to be frustrated that Jackson and especially Vitters still had so much to learn at the MLB level.

  • "It's not that the Cubs don't value old school ways of thinking, but not to the point of being so old-fashioned that they aren't able to adapt to some of the advantages that the modern game provides, such as the use of technology and advanced statistical theory."
    As I posted on the Firings thread, I hope you are right there. I would hate to see "baseball-eyes" guys replaced by number-mongers.

    One error: The Cubs' hitting coach is named James Rowson, not Towson. (As has been said, that Towson guy should be gone, whoever he was.)

    Finally, give Rowson a chance. He hasn't been here long enough to evaluate fully.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Thanks Hubbs! I wonder who the heck James Towson is? I'll fix that.

    I do think they still value that old school stuff. Keeping Wilken close is one indication but the guys I know can do both -- and that's essential right now.

    When I went to a Bloomberg Sports event, Shiraz Rehman was there and he's definitely a numbers guy, but even he was talking about stuff like mental makeup and some of the more intangible stuff.

    I think the stats-only way of thinking is becoming a bit out of date as well. The more progressive FOs use both -- but they enhance that old school stuff with technology, something that I heard some of the guys had trouble adapting to, and I'm not talking high tech stuff, just the basic stuff necessary to keep up with the amount of info in today's game.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    There's necessary adjustments and counter adjustments in baseball. Before "Moneyball," Billy Beane was the only guy on the planet who wanted 90% of these guys. (It's a reason he was really, really foolish to tell everything to Michael Lewis.) Since he was alone there, he could grab everyone he wanted and those with the right intangibles rise to the surface. So, he didn't really have to worry about them too much.

    Now that EVERYONE is trying to get Moneyball players, you have to pick and choose which ones you sign, because there's going to be competition. Thus, you use intangibles to tell you which high-OPS-type players are most likely to be successful in the major leagues.

    I tried to cram a lot into this post -- hope it made sense.

  • John, Overall Sveum has done okay, but like the cubs players he has some things to work on too. First, and you pointed out platooning. He overuses it and sometimes he'll go with some players too much; Second, one of the most frustrating things for me was his righty-lefty lineups. He's been caught a couple times with the wrong players in once an opposing team switches pitchers; and third, (although I'm somewhat biased here),when he lifts a power hitter like LaHair for Mather it doesn't seem to make much sense even though LaHair was in a slump. I believe it may have eroded LaHair's confidence somewhat. He also tends to sit players until you began to wonder why,for example Cardenas and Vitters.

  • In reply to pricewriter:

    I think this is a pretty accurate take with regards to Sveum. Maybe he's like Jackson/Vitters in that he's got some holes in his game that need to be worked on while @ the MLB level. I just remember that time we had a runner at 3rd (I think Campagna), 1 out, bottom of the 9th and he let a struggling Barney swing away vs. calling a suicide squeeze. I thought it was the obvious call, he missed it.........

    McKay was the coaching hire/find of the year. If they kept WAR stats on coaches, he'd have to be leading the league.

  • John very nice piece. Is Moises a candidate for hitting coach? I like Hispanics who understand plate discipline.

    I'm a long time Quirk fan as a Royal but does he add much as bench coach?

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