The opening of Spring Training ends a very emotional off-season for Cubs fans. We lost a legend, and a hero returned. There was a controversial trade, and free agent signings kept us buzzing. And, as always, there is the promise of youth.
However, one decision stands out as a possible sentinel moment concerning the team’s future: The hiring of Mike Quade as manager over fan favorite, Hall-of-Famer Ryne Sandberg. While I want to give my full support to the Cubs’ new manager, it is my opinion that the decision has already shaped the future of the franchise. This is how I believe things would have been different this off-season, had Ryne Sandberg been named manager. Just say “no” to veteran signings
The naming of Sandberg as manager would have announced a new direction for Cubs fans. The “make a splash” spending would be over, and the team would concentrate on developing their talent. While not much could have been done with the “big money” or expiring contracts, the team would have sought to eliminate some of the “dead weight” contracts. This means not signing players such as Jeff Baker, Koyie Hill, Reed Johnson, Todd Wellemeyer, and Augie Ojeda.
While every team signs veterans to spring training contracts, the Cubs seem to have an affinity to players with a connection to the organization. If real competition is wanted, then sign the best available players on the market. If it’s roster fillers you seek, then try to get a player you don’t mind cutting. I believe this business of bring back players for a “curtain call” would have been ended by Sandberg.
Garza stays a Ray
Okay, maybe Matt Garza would have ended up on another team, but it wouldn’t have been the Cubs. Sandberg has a unique perspective on trading for starting pitchers from his playing days.
In1984, Sandberg saw the Cubs trade for four starting pitchers. While those moves got the Cubs close, they also gutted their farm system. While many point out that Garza is only 27; Steve Trout was 26, Scott Sanderson was 27, Rick Sutcliffe was 28, and Dennis Eckersley was 29 when the Cubs dealt for them. Each pitcher would break down in the following seasons, and there was no minor league depth to fall back on. By 1988, the Cubs had rebuilt their pitching staff with home-grown talent such as Greg Maddux, Jamie Moyer, Les Lancaster, and Jeff Pico.
After this experience, Sandberg would have known that four prospects “in the hand” would beat one starter “in the bush”, and nixed the Garza deal.
10 youngsters on the squad
After not signing a bunch of “Cubs’ Convention” veterans and passing on the Garza deal, the roster would have been left wide open. This is where Sandberg might have had the greatest impact. By managing at several levels of the organization the last few years, he was exposed to a number of players throughout the system. It would be easy to envision at least five pitchers and five position players from the minors making the squad. While they all may not have been rookies, most would have had less than one season of major league experience.
Most of the names would be familiar: Darwin Barney, Andrew Cashner, Welington Castillo, Casey Coleman, Scott Maine, Marcos Mateo, Jeff Samardzija, and Brad Snyder to name a few. Some might have been a player who might not have the publicity, but because of his personal knowledge, Sandberg would know they would be useful. It’s just the kind of insight that builds champions.
Aramis on First
We hear a lot of tough talk about benching veterans, but when the opportunity arises, how often does it happen? Sandberg, with his Hall-of-Fame credentials, would make decisions stick. The first salvo would have been an easy one. With an armful of infield prospects and a big hole at first, Sandberg would have been the man to tell Aramis Ramirez that now is the time to move to first base. This would be the “line in the sand” for veterans. Unless they were willing to do what was necessary to help the club, their days would be numbered. And about the $10 million they would have saved by not signing Carlos Pena? The team could have used it to defray some of the salaries of veterans they would trade at mid-season.
The Arrow Pointing Up
Players don’t live in a vacuum. If it is obvious to fans that Cubs management is reluctant to go with younger players, the veterans know this also. Despite the recent tough talking, veterans this season, for the most part, won’t be “looking over their shoulder” due to how the final roster is a appearing to shape up. That could lead to some players underperforming come August 1. Under Sandberg, with so many young players would be on the roster, it would be a “shape up or ship out” attitude. Because of that, the records might be the same, but the future might have looked brighter under Sandberg.
A Changing of the Guard
Finally, as the 2011 ended, there would have been one last change. Quietly, on a busy sports news day, when the story may get lost, the Cubs would make an announcement. Jim Hendry would be stepping down as General Manager, and accepting the position of Special Consultant for the final year of his contract. He would work with the newly named GM, perhaps Greg Maddux, to help with the transition.
Attention CCO Readers!
Please continue to post the names of the minor league players you would like the Down on the Farm Report to follow next season. I will track the progress of ten players throughout the entire season. I would like a representative sample of positions and levels of play, and I’d prefer to track at least one player acquired by the Cubs in the off-season. You can name as many players as you like, but remember, only ten will be chosen.