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The Joe Girardi Question

Joe Girardi's playing weight was 195 and he looks smaller than that now. But he could be the proverbial elephant in the room.

Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

I wasn't going to deal with this question right now, but then Phil Rogers wrote about it in the Tribune today and yes, I know, Phil Rogers and all, but the question of whether Joe Girardi should replace Dale Sveum as Cubs manager has to be on your mind. So yes, let's talk about it.

The Rogers column appears to be behind the Trib's paywall, so here are the key paragraphs:

When the season ends, the Yankees will approach Girardi about a contract extension. He gets a chance to pick what he wants — the security of a new contract in New York or a chance to become one of this offseason's most intriguing free agents.

As one of the leading candidates for the American League Manager of the Year award, Girardi gets to make the call. If he wants he can stay and work on building the next Yankees powerhouse — without Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera or Andy Pettitte — or he can pick a landing place elsewhere, with the two most tempting in Washington (there's no clear successor to Davey Johnson) and at Wrigley Field.

First, let's give Girardi credit -- and Rogers does, too -- for having the Yankees anywhere close to sniffing contention this year. They have used the same number of players (56) that the Cubs have. Some of them are the same guys -- Brent Lillibridge, Alberto Gonzalez, Thomas Neal -- who had little impact in Chicago. (Gonzalez was even used as an relief pitcher in this blowout game.) The following pitchers have started at least one game for the Yankees this year: David Phelps, Adam Warren, David Huff and Vidal Nuno. To have this team still in contention for a wild card, in my view, makes Girardi the A.L. Manager of the Year even if they don't ultimately make it.

(Incidentally, by Pythagorean numbers the 2013 Yankees and 2013 Cubs aren't all that different. At 80-73 the Yankees are 16 games better in the standings than the 64-89 Cubs. But the Yankees are playing six games over their Pythagorean projection and the Cubs five games under -- that makes the difference between the rosters closer to five games than 16.)

Girardi is in his eighth year as a manager. All seven of his Yankee years have been winning seasons; he's got one World Series title in those years, and he managed the 2006 Marlins, a not-very-good bunch, into contention for a while before settling to a 78-84 mark. He appears to be one of the very few managers around baseball today who can actually have significant influence on his players. While he's been thought of as a Yankee -- he played four years for them and has three World Series rings as a player -- he did, of course, play seven years for the Cubs (and in one postseason, 1989), grew up in Peoria, attended Northwestern, and married a woman who grew up in the Chicago suburbs.

I guess the reason I hadn't considered Girardi in the first place -- I wrote last month I thought Ron Gardenhire should replace Dale Sveum -- is that I didn't think under any circumstances the Yankees would let him go. But now I wonder about that. Much as I hate to say it, I agree with Rogers' conclusion:

If Girardi and his wife, Kim, are willing to uproot their children from schools in suburban New York, it would be difficult — almost unthinkable — for Epstein/Hoyer to ignore Girardi, as Jim Hendry did when he hired Lou Piniella to replace Dusty Baker.

When Baker was replaced, Girardi had no managerial experience, though I'm sure you remember -- I do, because I was there -- Girardi's speaking to a packed house at Wrigley Field on June 22, 2002, when the Cubs/Cardinals game for that date was postponed due to the sudden death of Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile. (You can hear Girardi's announcement, and the emotion in his voice, here.) Even then, Girardi was showing the leadership skills that would one day make him a successful manager.

Rogers is right. If -- and that's still a big if -- Girardi is available, I think Theo and Jed have to go after him. It might not happen anyway, but Joe Girardi would be an excellent choice to help lead the Cubs to the next level. Girardi won't turn 50 until late 2014; he could wind up being the Cubs' manager for a decade, longer than anyone since the 19th Century. Even eight years -- matching his Yankee tenure -- would be the longest single Cubs managerial term since Cap Anson's. (Frank Chance's 7½ years is the longest since 1900; Charlie Grimm managed the Cubs for all or part of 14 seasons in three separate stints, the most years for anyone since Anson had 19, in a far different time.)

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