Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Firing line

White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen says he's not worried about getting fired. He joins Cubs Manager Lou Piniella in that sentiment. Both teams have disappointed this year, the Cubs certainly more than the Sox. Yet, while the possibility of Piniella getting fired before he finishes out his contract next year has been discussed openly, I don't think anyone has been calling for Ozzie's head.

The Cubs are above .500, but that's not enough, of course, and they have a lot of excuses for they did not excel this year: Injuries, poorly-executed changes to a 97-win team, a few bad free agent signings, unexpected player slumps. Even so, this team should have done better, and Lou deserves a portion of the blame--along with GM Jim Hendry, certain individual players and the Cubs fan's eternal friend--fate. You could argue Lou shouldn't be back, though the team, despite new ownership, will not be re-building over the off-season. A few changes here and there, but if Lou gets fired at some point, it will be because of a poor start in 2010, not the disappointment of 2009.

Meanwhile, the Sox entered this year, like the Cubs, coming off a first-place finish in 2008. But, the most glaring needs-an everyday offensive and defensive threat in centerfield, better pitchers to round out the starting rotation--weren't addressed, or at least not until very recently. And the solution is more an effort to set the table for 2010 than to improve the team's chances now. The Sox are under .500 in a division that, despite Detroit's best efforts, is seen as under-achieving. GM Kenny Williams has stated as much, though he waited until late in the season to address obvious lingering problems.

So, should we be blaming Ozzie for the poor results? The Cubs have fallen further, but the Sox don't have nearly as many excuses for failing. The Carlos Quentin injury was a big factor, but players like Paul Konerko, Gordon Beckham and Scott Podsednik have had very strong years. Jermaine Dye started strong, but faded; Alexei Ramirez started poorly, but mostly came out of it; the starters, except for Mark Buehrle, slumped for the first two months of the season; and the bullpen was inconsistent. Kenny did acquire players like Jayson Nix, Wilson Betemit and Brent Lillibridge to add depth, though only has had much of an effect.

I guess it all depends on whether you want to blame the players for not performing up to par, blame the manager for not getting their best out of them, or blame the GM for tinkering too much or too little with last year's squad. When I look at the Cubs, I see a manager stuck between a GM who made the wrong moves and players who either under-performed, were injured for long stretches or became selfish distractions. When I look at the Sox, I see a manager whose GM made some moves, though not enough of them, but who still had his core line-up from last season to work with, plus two nice additions (Pods and Beck).

I feel like Ozzie should have gotten more out of this team, though I think he's the best man for the job next year managing a team that is already set up to improve. Basically, like Lou, he needs to start very strong and not allow his team to fall back for any reason. If there were a lot of great manager candidates out there, I might feel differently about both of them.

For the Cubs, I think Lou is the best option and regardless of what happens in 2010 probably will provide a bridge to Ryne Sandberg to manage the Cubs in 2011. If the Cubs win the World Series next year, I think Lou will retire, and if they don't, that there will be a mutual parting of ways. Meanwhile, Ozzie gamely and predictably has said that management will have to fire him eventually--that it's the only way he'll go. Will that be in 2010, or beyond?

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