The Chicago Cubs are a team on the rise, and it's fair to say that there's no one in baseball who wouldn't like the opportunity to be on the roster when the team finally breaks through and brings a title to the long-suffering fanbase.
There will be a great deal of roster turnover over the next couple of years, as the team incorporates a good deal of high-end young talent from its stocked minor league system and likely spends big in free agency to fill in the remaining gaps.
However, the question remains: Who will be at the helm of this team when it's expected to return to at least some level of contention in 2015 and beyond?
Hiring current manager Dale Sveum was among the first moves made by Theo Epstein and company after they took control of the team prior to the 2012 season, but he may have been viewed as a short-term answer all along.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports wrote a piece to that effect on Wednesday, saying that Sveum is well liked, a good baseball man and could again be a manager somewhere else, but that he was never going to be the one at the helm when things turned around in Chicago:
The Cubs did not hire Sveum to be a long-term answer. He was the caretaker, the bridge to the big-name manager who would “complete the job” once the team was ready to win. Sveum knew it. The Cubs knew it. Everyone knew it. So no one should pity Sveum if the Cubs dump him to hire Joe Girardi or some other manager.
The most interesting takeaway from that excerpt may be the inclusion of Joe Girardi as one potential candidate to be the Cubs' dugout boss moving forward.
Jon Heyman of CBSSports wrote an article focusing specifically on Girardi and whether or not he could opt to shun the Yankees (who have publicly stated they'd like him back) and instead head home to manage the Cubs.
Girardi is a native of Peoria, Ill., and played his college ball at Northwestern University before being selected in the fifth round of the 1986 MLB draft by none other than the Cubs.
The catcher spent the first four seasons of his big league career with the Cubs before being taken by the Rockies in the 1993 expansion draft. He spent seven seasons with the Rockies and Yankees before returning to the Cubs for three more seasons.
Girardi spent some time as a coach before taking over as manager of the Marlins in 2005, and despite winning Manager of the Year while keeping the low-budget Marlins in contention for much of the season, he was fired at the end of the year.
That freed him up to take over the vacant Yankees job heading into 2008, and in six seasons with the team he is 561-406 with a World Series title in 2009.
This season the Yankees are all but assured of missing the postseason for the second time in his tenure as manager, but that Girardi has been able to keep this team together and make them legitimate contenders has been nothing short of amazing.
The Yankees have not only had to deal with injuries to Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and a number of others, but also the PED controversy surrounding Rodriguez and the media circus that followed his return. Despite that, the Yankees have still managed to go 82-75 and sit five games back in the AL Wild Card picture.
Managing the Yankees is usually a coveted job, not one you walk away from, but the team is heading for a changing of the guard of sorts.
Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte are set to retire. Jeter is likely not far behind them, and the team will have decisions to make regarding free agents Robinson Cano, Granderson, Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes and others.
To put it bluntly, the Yankees are an old team with little in the way of young talent to step in and far too much money tied up in aging former stars.
The Cubs, on the other hand, offer the polar opposite, as they have one of the best farm systems in baseball and have trimmed the fat on what was once a bloated payroll.
It's an exciting time to be a Cubs fan, even with the team scuffling again this season, and the hometown native Girardi may well want to be a part of that. However, the question is: Is he the right man for the job?
Girardi is a player's manager, someone who brings the same level of demeanor to the stadium day-in and day-out, and for a young team that is only going to get younger in the years ahead, that would seem to be exactly what is needed.
He's handled the media demands of New York, so dealing with the onslaught of media attention that would inevitably come with the Cubs' return to contention would be no problem for him, either.
At 48, he's still young enough to connect with a young team, but he has also spent enough time managing that he should have no problem commanding the respect of his troops as well.
There will be other candidates, and this is something that will likely be kicked around until Girardi accepts an offer from the Yankees or officially announces he's leaving, but on the surface it certainly looks like Girardi would be the perfect man to lead the Cubbies' return to contention.
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