A good indication of just how early the Cubs got bounced from the playoffs is how much attention has been focused on the final year of Joe Maddon’s contract. What can you say? Cubs fans are dying for content while beat writers and bloggers need graspable topics on which to churn out copy.
Take, for instance, the idea of of Joe Girardi as a Cubs managerial candidate next year. But from where I sit, that seems a low-hanging fantasy. Yes, Theo Epstein appeared to covet Girardi after 2013 had the skipper not re-signed with the Yankees. But that was a different time.
Epstein was eager for a statement signing back then, when the organization was clearly in a different place from where it is today. He wasn’t able to lure Terry Francona the previous offseason either, finally pouncing and scooping Maddon up after a contract loophole released him from Tampa after 2014.
Girardi is far less attractive as a manager today than he was five years ago. And of course, he has a mixed-bag reputation for working well within an organization. He’s achieved success at previous stops, but that’s tempered by his ugly end with the Marlins, frictions with Yankees players and GM Brian Cashman, and his gross missteps in giving tips to opposing players like Jon Lieber.
What Girardi mostly is now is a brand-name.
He’s what Lou Piniella or Dusty Baker were when Jim Hendry hired them to manage the Cubs. So if you miss those days, signing Girardi would really scratch an offseason itch or two. But it would probably end in inevitable frustration or worse. (However, I do see much merit to Michael Canter’s prediction of Girardi landing in St. Louis.*)
Okay, maybe the Piniella/Baker comparisons are low blows. It’s probably more fair to call Girardi a poor man’s George Seifert. For those unfamiliar with San Francisco 49ers history, George Seifert succeeded the great head Bill Walsh as head coach in 1989. Seifert then immediately won a Super Bowl with the same veteran cast and system he inherited.
Girardi did the same when he took over for Joe Torre, winning a World Series in 2009. The big difference between Girardi and Seifert is the latter added a second Super Bowl title five years later with a fairly large turnover of the core he inherited. In contrast, Girardi never got back to the World Series despite a big payroll and talent that averaged 90 wins the next eight seasons.
It’s worth noting that Girardi spent exactly 10 years as Yankees manager. Theo Epstein has cited Walsh’s — yes, the same 49ers coach — theory that a decade is probably the longest an executive or manager should stay with one organization. Thus, Epstein might discount the friction Girardi experienced at the end of his tenure in New York.
That said, I’m sure Epstein and the rest of baseball is wondering why Girardi interviewed for but then withdrew from both the Rangers and Reds jobs. Does Girardi doubt his ability to forge a strong clubhouse and winning culture all on his own? Or is he just looking to take over another fairly established squad and coast to a second title the way Piniella had hoped to do with the Cubs?
The answer probably doesn’t matter. Epstein’s most successful managerial hires – Francona in Boston and Maddon in Chicago – bear little resemblance to Girardi. Unlike those curse-breaking skippers, it’s difficult to point to any specific outstanding trait Girardi embodies except that he didn’t rock that veteran-laden Torre/Cashman boat in 2009.
So if the Cubs fall short of World Series expectations once again in 2019 and Maddon moves on, I doubt Girardi will provide the tonic to correct whatever Epstein perceives to be missing. My guess is Epstein’s dream would be a reunion with Francona, who is signed to stay with Cleveland through 2020. Of course, much can change before then, so let’s check back in a year.
* Girardi’s personality seems a good match for St. Louis in one other respect. It falls into same authoritarian, suck-on-it-if-you-don’t-understand-it leadership style St. Louis has oddly embraced going back to Tony La Russa.