Daily Herald sportswriter Bruce Miles has been, as you know, a visitor and friend to BCB, and recently agreed to answer some questions I put to him about the future of the Cubs.
Q: What is the legacy of Dusty Baker in Cubs history, in your view? Right now, his tenure is seen as a failure. Years from now, will that be seen differently?
A: I believe the Baker legacy will be one of great expectation followed by great disappointment. Until Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, Baker could have been elected mayor of Chicago. After that, he'd have a hard time running for dog catcher. It's hard to believe so many things turned on one game, but that's what happened. Dusty, on balance, is a good manager. He needs the right mix of players, which he had in 2003.
Q: If you could choose ONLY ONE PLAYER to add as a free agent to the 2007 Cubs, what position would you choose and who would it be and why?
A: Barry Zito. The Cubs need a second dominant pitcher to go with Zambrano. Zito might be cost prohibitive. He'll also go from a large park with huge foul territory to Wrigley Field. They'll have to do a lot of homework on this one.
Q: To follow up on that, let's say the Cubs don't get Zito, or decide he's not a good fit. Who else would you prioritize acquiring?
A: If you can't get Zito, you get Alfonso Soriano and worry later about where he plays. The Cubs desperately need offense.
Q: Tell us what you know of John McDonough. Why WILL he make a good team president... and why WON'T he make a good team president?
A: John McDonough is one of the sharpest and most personable people I've ever been around. Actually, I can say the same thing about Andy MacPhail. John will be a good president because he's been in the organization for a long time and has had success running his area. The fact that he's not a "baseball guy" is overrated. If he doesn't succeed, it will be because the Tribune Co. doesn't give him all the resources he needs.
Q: What is your opinion of Joe Girardi as a man, and as a manager? Would he be your choice to succeed Baker? If not, who would you choose?
A: Joe Girardi is a solid man. From all appearances and from this distance, it appears he did a good job, perhaps a great job, of managing the Marlins. I'd choose him.
(Note: this interview was conducted before the apparent dismissal of Joe Torre by the Yankees. I'll let Bruce chime in here if he feels differently, but I suspect this, if it does in fact happen, wouldn't change his mind about Girardi.)
Q: What are the primary reasons, in your view, that the Cubs, a big-market franchise, have not been able to produce consistent winning teams?
A: Poor drafting and a flawed philosophy of player procurement at the big-league level. The Cubs did turn "prospects" such as Bobby Hill and Hee Seop Choi into gold, but they've failed to develop position players. On the big-league level, they need to pay attention to more scientific methods and start valuing stats such as on-base percentage and the effects of high pitch counts by their starting pitchers. I'm encouraged from what I've seen of Tim Wilken, the new scouting director.
Q: Kerry Wood. Does he return?
A: Yes, as a reliever.
Q: I agree with you, both that it should happen and that it WILL happen, So, presuming it DOES happen, is he immediately installed as closer? Or does he have to be a setup man first? And if he is the closer, what do you do with Ryan Dempster?
A: On Kerry Wood, you make him a setup man first and see if he's physically fit to be a closer. In other words, can he pitch three days in a row and four out of five? You begin with Dempster or Howry as your closer, depending on how Dempster looks in spring training. If Wood can become the closer, you look to trade Dempster.
Q: It's well known that the organization tends to value scouting reports and "toolsy" players and puts less stock in statistical analysis. Why do you think this is, and what could be done to show Jim Hendry & Co. that BOTH scouting and stat analysis are useful?
A: Jim Hendry comes from a coaching background in college, and his mentors in pro ball have been scouts or "scouts guys." I believe the tide is starting to turn, however, and that they'll achieve more of a balance in coming years, although it will be a gradual process. The Cubs have taken a pretty good beating from the stats community, and they know it. The mainstream media has been slower to embrace sabermetrics, but that's changing too. The Cubs still will rely heavily on their scouts for amateur drafting, as they feel too many stats become skewed at the high school and college level by things such as pitchers with poor control, teams pitching around good hitters and teams having less-than-average fielders.
As always, I thank Bruce for his time and insights.