Dale Sveum has managed the Cubs for two rather long years. Very long. Much of the lack of success isn't at his feet. Some of it likely is. His bullpen management has been oft-questioned, though the talent in the pen has been as well. His line-ups have been spotty as well, though in large part due to his roster. Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo haven't advanced as hoped. If Sveum loses his job, as early as Monday, would Brad Ausmus be a good hire?
The potential replacements with public acceptance are the Yankees' Joe Girardi and the Twins' Ron Gardenhire. While either of the two would be solid, experienced options, this isn't so much of a comparative piece. I'm opposed to firing Sveum to bring in 'some guy'. That appears to be what the Sveum experiment was. It seems to have not worked, though in large part due to a lack of talent. Peter Gammons today floated Ausmus as a possibilty to replace Sveum.
Some will want splash with the potential new hire. But should that matter at all? The manager spot does a number of things most fans, myself included most of all, don't fully grasp. Obviously, they fill out a lineup card, and make pitching changes. They also communicate internally (with players, coaches, and club representatives) and externally (mainly with media types). They also have a bit of responsibility in getting the players as individuals, and the team as a whole, to perform better.
Failure in any of those areas can be a fatal flaw.
Brad Ausmus (here's his baseball-reference page) was a light-hitting catcher for an extended period with a very good Houston Astros team. He spent ten non-consecutive years in Houston, after starting in San Diego, where he now works for the Padres in one of those amorphous "special assistant to the general manager" jobs. He also spent time with the Tigers and Dodgers. He won three Gold Gloves, and reached the playoffs in half of his Astros seasons. He hit just over .250 for his career, drew some walks, and stole some bases. Those will not be the reasons he gets the job.
Catchers tend to make good managers. They have to think for an entire pitching staff every season. They have to know the rudiments of hitting, but are best served if they can be of one mind with their manager. Calling pitches are the expected at the major league level. If a catcher can call a game, year after year, it stands to reason they can communicate with a wide breadth of pitchers, from brash to more sedate.
Ausmus has enough experience in the league that he should have an idea what kind of ship he would want to run. I'm not aware if he would be a disciplinarian-type or more of a players-type coach, but I think either can be successful. Ausmus knows baseball. He has dealt with pitchers. He was a catcher in the 11-man pitching staff days. I doubt there's that much difference between Ausmus and Mike Matheny of the Cardinals. Except, of course, the talent on their April rosters if Ausmus gets the Cubs job.
While Girardi is doubtless a better manager, rumors of having to exceed his Yankees $3 million salary gives me pause. Until the talent in the system matures, the dollars to spend will be limited for the Cubs front office. To give a manager a $15 million dollar deal over 3 seasons would be a few free agent players the team couldn't sign, likely. If Ausmus could improve the pitching, corral a staff to help upgrade the offense and defense, deal with the media, and get the team to .500 or better by 2015, most Cubs fans would be appreciative. With his Padres connections, Jed Hoyer is likely familiar with Ausmus from an executive perspective.
And as a cheaper financial option that Girardi, that would be more money to spend on Shin-Soo Choo, Masahiro Tanaka, or just another Paul Maholm. I'd prefer Ausmus over Sveum. I'd prefer him enough to make the move, even though a manager rarely makes a difference in the win column. Why?
I think he has enough success and experience calling games as a catcher to help improve the pitchers and catchers, and a good enough reputation to build a solid coaching staff. And this team needs to have a confident leader running the show. Even if it isn't Girardi.