The Cubs announced today that Mike Quade is no longer the interim manager, as he signed a deal to manage the big league club for the next two years. This decision was made at the expense of denying the job to former Cubs second baseman, Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, and while most longtime Cubs fans are probably very disappointed in the decision, I’d be willing to bet large amounts of money that the team will do just as well with Quade at the helm as they’d be with Sandberg.
Why is that? It’s simple. The team went 24-13 after Quade took over for the retired Lou Piniella in August, and they were a completely different club. They played with energy, didn’t make nearly as many dimwitted mistakes, either defensively or on the basepaths, and the pitching was phenomenal, particularly Piniella whipping boy, Carlos Zambrano (8-0 with a sub-2.00 ERA in his last 14 starts, looking like the player he was before Piniella was hired). In short, they became fun to watch for the first time all season, and a lot of it stemmed from having a manager who wasn’t distracted by family issues and lame duck status (or maybe it was just the psychological warfare Quade’s frightening face provides) like Sweet Lou was.
Now, I’m sure Sandberg would do a great job managing in the big leagues, and he probably will be hired somewhere very soon — think of the poetic justice if he were hired, and won, in Milwaukee — but the fact remains that Quade spent even longer in the Cubs’ system, lorded over the third base coaching postion like some sort of Universal monster since 2007, and then took a team that traded away most of its productive veterans and made them into a winner for the last month and a half of the year. He’s paid his dues and is just as worthy of a shot as Sandberg.
So now the work of turning the Cubs into a winner for a full year begins. Quade will have his work cut out for him, as most of the truly productive minor league players from the last couple years — Starlin Castro, Tyler Colvin, and Andrew Cashner — are on the big league team. They’re still pretty raw but will be good in time, and there are a few other players in the system who will be calling Wrigley home very soon, like outfielder Brett Jackson. But the fact remains that the team is still without a true first baseman/middle-of-the-order power threat, and the budget will be lowered next year. Maybe they will sign Adam Dunn, watch him strike out 8,000 times a year and be a liability at first in order to get some left-handed run production, but that is not a guarantee. Either way, my optimistic prediction for next year remains: the Cubs will be a third- or fourth-place team, hovering around .500 as they develop their young players for a shot at winning in 2012 and 2013. And for those of you still smarting from the Sandberg snub, remember, the plan would be the same if he were hired.
So as a frustrated Cubs fan who would have loved to see Sandberg in the dugout, I still think GM Jim Hendry and the Ricketts family made the right choice. Now, for the love of all that is holy, go win for once.