Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum doesn't have a great deal of talent on his current 25-man roster. Most baseball fans would agree that first baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro are two of the most talented and valuable players in the organization.
That's what made Sveum's critical comments about Rizzo and Castro so puzzling this weekend.
While Cubs fans may question Sveum's anger and patience during Chicago's rebuilding effort, don't forget that he knew what he was getting into when accepting the managerial seat prior to last season. Furthermore, both Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein knew what kind of manager, leader and motivator they were hiring to oversee the complete and thorough rebuilding process at Wrigley Field.
According to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times, Sveum was speaking specifically about Castro and Rizzo, two young, foundational pieces, after a loss Saturday evening in Milwaukee.
“I don’t think [anyone’s] invincible if you’re not performing,” Sveum stated after the struggles of Castro and Rizzo were brought up. “It’s not about what we think can happen three or four years from now. It’s time to perform on a consistent basis.”
“It’s very important to understand that this is an organization that’s trying to get to another level,” he said. “But as a major-league team, it’s very difficult to get to that other level until we get people playing—no more, no less—but just up to their capabilities on an every-day basis.”
Despite seven errors from Castro and a .190 batting average from Rizzo, there's little chance either are sent down to Triple-A Iowa anytime soon.
In Castro's case, he's hitting .304 and posting the highest OPS+ (114) of his career. He's only 23 years old, has been an All-Star in back-to-back seasons and was guaranteed more than $60 million by Cubs management last offseason.
Rizzo may be hitting under the Mendoza Line, but he already has five home runs, is on pace to walk more than 50 times and has long been the apple of Hoyer and Epstein's eyes.
Coming off a 101-loss season in Sveum's first year in the dugout, it's easy to understand the frustration from the manager, but don't confuse motivation for sincerity.
Chicago isn't going to send down either of their young stars any time soon. Sveum knows that, but Castro and Rizzo don't have to be privy to the same thought process or information.
Every player is different. Thus, every player will respond differently to criticism in the media, from fans and from coaches. Before harshly criticizing Sveum's tactics, let the next few weeks play out. If Castro continues to have the yips in the field and Rizzo can't make consistent contact, the criticism may have been a detriment to their slumps, respectively.
However, if they turn their respective seasons around, the outburst from Sveum may have been warranted and successful.
Upon hiring Sveum in 2011, after a bidding war with the Boston Red Sox for his services, Theo Epstein offered this nugget about why Chicago was so fond of Sveum's acumen and future in the dugout:
"He has a rare ability to hold players to high standards and hold them accountable, while also connecting with them and earning their respect and admiration. Dale demands a lot of his players, but is held in universally high regard by them. That's hard to pull off."
The 2013 Chicago Cubs aren't a good baseball team, won't be one with Castro and Rizzo playing in Triple-A and have years to go before contention. Their .287 team on-base percentage is a joke, 17 errors in 17 games is unacceptable and 13 wild pitches thus far represents a lack of focus.
Sveum was sending a message Saturday, specifically to his most talented young players, to lead by example with their play.
Hoyer and Epstein knew who they were hiring. Sveum understood the perils of a rebuild.
Until that changes, he's still the right man to lead the way.
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