Cubs Or Cards For Francona?

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The Cubs currently have a manager so it’s unfair for people to speculate on whether or not Terry Francona is going to take over while Mike Quade is still employed—the job’s not open, so until it is he’s not a candidate.

But that doesn’t mean he’s not going to be a candidate once Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are settled in and come to a decision on Quade.

Common sense dictates that if they’re making a change, they’ve informed Francona that he should wait before taking another job.

And presumably that was before Tony LaRussa retired and a potentially more inviting job came open—a job where Francona could walk in and win immediately with the Cardinals.

The teams are bitter, historic rivals and that’s only be exacerbated if their manager of choice has to pick one over the other.

Which job is better?

Which is preferable?

Let’s take a look.

Expectations.

The Cubs demands are going to be muted as Epstein sifts through the current mess, tries to clear the contracts of Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano, repairs the farm system and alters the culture. Francona could run the club on the field while they retool and no one’s going to be comparing him to his predecessor—if they remember his predecessor at all.

The Cardinals are the world champions are are accustomed to contending almost every single year. With or without Albert Pujols (who’s going to have a say in whom the new Cards manager is), they’re good enough to make the playoffs in 2012. It’s not easy being the replacement for a legend and even though Francona has some hardware in his own right with two championships, there’s forever going to be the onus of the appellation of “middle-manager”; that other managers could’ve won with the Red Sox collection of talent; and the way his tenure in Boston ended was a humiliating disaster.

Being the boss and familiarity.

The Cardinals are ready-made to win, but with LaRussa’s departure, I’d be concerned that they’re going to return to their earlier attempt to go the Moneyball route with the Jeff Luhnow-types in the front office and ignore what the manager thinks. LaRussa was able to use his resume as a hammer to fend off those adjustments and eventually won the power struggle; GM John Mozeliak was the man in the middle, appeasing his bosses and the manager. If Francona comes along, he’s not going to have the sharp elbows that LaRussa did. Francona’s much more affable than LaRussa, but that might not necessarily be a good thing.

Francona can work with Dave Duncan and doesn’t have the ego to retreat from delegating responsibilities to his coaches and players.

With the Cubs, he’d have at least some say with the construction of the roster because of his prior relationship with Epstein and Hoyer.

Talent.

Short of a miracle the Cubs aren’t going to be winning anytime soon and Epstein ain’t Moses.

The Cubs have a semblance of a good nucleus with Geovany Soto and Starlin Castro forming the basis for a solid up-the-middle club; Blake DeWitt deserves a chance to play and under Epstein his on-base skills and good defense will be better appreciated.

But it’s going to take a couple of years for the Cubs to be ready to win.

When Epstein took over the Red Sox, much of the ALCS club from 2003 and championship club from 2004 were already in place due to the prior work done by Dan Duquette. The Cubs have some talent, but are far from contending status. Would Francona be willing to walk in and have his record sullied by a 75-87 season in 2012? His job wouldn’t be on the line, but it’s a weak follow-up to the Red Sox collapse.

A starting rotation with Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook; a bullpen with a 100-mph fastball of Jason Motte; a lineup with Lance Berkman, Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, David Freese and presumably Pujols automatically has the Cardinals in contention.

The aggravation factor.

Francona’s hands-off approach eventually exploded in his face with the Red Sox, but the Cardinals have leaders who don’t tolerate any nonsense.

The Cubs have Zambrano and Soriano. It’s in their DNA to torment the manager.

There’s not a black cloud hanging over the Cardinals as there is with the Cubs. The negativity isn’t, nor will it ever be, present in St. Louis as it is on the North Side of Chicago.

While they’re almost waiting for something bad to happen to sabotage them—they almost revel in it as if it’s a badge of honor—the Chicago media and fans might be less willing to accept the “Flubs” if they don’t look like they’re on the right track under the new regime.

The Cardinals fans and media will support the club and their manager regardless of what happens as long as Francona doesn’t screw it up. And Francona’s not a “screw it up” guy who’ll make changes just for the sake of them.

There’s something to be said for being the manager of both the Red Sox and Cubs and ending two perceived curses—that’s part of what attracted Epstein to the Cubs in the first place; perhaps that would appeal to Francona. But for the reasons listed above, the Cardinals are a better job.

If offered both, the Cardinals job is a better situation and that’s the one I’d take if I were Terry Francona.

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MLB Draft Dollars And The Strategy Of Spending

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Why do I get the feeling that with all the talk about clubs spending, spending and spending some more in the MLB Draft, that 2011 will wind up going down as the year that teams overspent and got little return?

We can go up and down, back and forth with the arguments for carting wheelbarrows of cash in the draft and bringing in top-quality talent, but the fact remains that the draft is the ultimate crapshoot.

As opposed to one of the most idiotic assertions in Moneyball that the genius Billy Beane was counting cards in a casino (repeated by Michael Lewis in the afterword/extra chapter of the paperback version as if saying something stupid once wasn’t enough), all you can do with drafted players is hope.

Naturally giving them an opportunity to play in the majors instead of continually bringing in veterans is a key to their development and becoming useful big leaguers, but the truth about the draft is that you don’t know until you know.

Picking a year at random (and I’m actually picking a year at random) with 2004 and the 1st round.

How many “star” players are there? There are two: Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver.

Apart from that, you have useful cogs (Huston Street; Jeff Niemann; Phil Hughes; Neil Walker; J.P. Howell; Gio Gonzalez); the underdeveloped (Bill Bray; Homer Bailey; Blake DeWitt; Philip Humber); and the busts (Matt Bush; Jon Poterson; Greg Golson).

Being a 1st round pick and getting a load of money increases expectations and the amount of time a player is going to get with the organization. The bigger amounts of attention and money they receive, the more a club is going to want to get some kind of return on that investment; that goes a long way in keeping a player employed and moving up the ladder even if he doesn’t deserve it.

The obvious and easy response to any failure or perceived success is to go all in. So if teams are seen to be “winning” with the Moneyball system, that’s what will come en vogue; if teams win by signing veteran players, that will be the new strategy.

It’s the same with the draft and development—others will copy it while it appears to be working; then they’ll move on to something else.

The drafted players have taken advantage of MLB’s complete lack of competence in implementing the bonus slots. The reliance on the draft to find players not to collect and trade, but to use is making them more valuable and the bonuses reflect that. But simply spending isn’t the answer on the big league level nor in the draft; it’s a matter of picking correctly.

This strategy of spending might be a one-and-out, because judging from history, it’s unlikely to succeed as well as the money or public accolades indicate it should.

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