The Chicago Cubs' managerial search is officially underway.
The decision is an important one. Managers help establish a team's identity and style of play.
Terry Francona is the biggest and most successful name on the market, so will the Cubs go after him?
A number of factors will be considered by the Cubs' front office. The following 10 are the most crucial.
The most important argument in favor of Francona is his success.
Yes, Francona has always been given good teams to manage. While this certainly helps, Francona's own contributions to the Red Sox should not be understated. He gave his homegrown players (Youkilis, Pedroia, Ellsbury) a chance to develop and become stars. In some cases, like sticking with Dustin Pedroia for instance, Francona was criticized at first for doing so.
But Francona stuck to his own mind, and it payed off for everyone.
Furthermore, Francona's playoff history suggests he is not just a good evaluator of talent but also a master of strategy.
In the playoffs, each win is crucial and small decisions can have huge implications. For proof, look no further than the recently finished World Series, in which bullpen management was a deciding factor. If Epstein wants to eventually create a team with perennial postseason presence, he will need a manager who can perform under October pressure. Francona looks like a good choice.
Francona's teams have excelled in the playoffs, especially once they advanced beyond the ALDS. Boston won two World Series and made two additional ALCS appearances in a seven-year span. That makes the Terry Francona era Red Sox one of the greatest teams of all time. No other available manager has a better resume in this regard.
Theo Epstein seems to prefer working with familiar personnel. Epstein has already worked extensively with general manager Jed Hoyer and scouting directer Jason McLeod in Boston. These moves show that Epstein wants to be personally acquainted with the merits and approach of his team members.
Given this precedent, Terry Francona is a logical choice to succeed Mike Quade as manager.
Epstein has worked with Francona for eight years, which is a fairly long time for a manager. If Epstein was dissatisfied with Francona's managerial skills during that span, he would have been replaced.
It is obvious, then, that Epstein legitimately respects Francona's ability. Because Epstein is both familiar with and impressed by Francona, the former Red Sox manager seems like a perfect fit in Theo's scheme.
I have mentioned that Terry Francona's eight-year run with the same team is good for any manager. That Francona was able to do so in Boston makes his accomplishment all the more impressive.
Large market teams like the Red Sox come with passionate fans and a heavy media presence. Managerial failures can become magnified to the point where it is difficult for teams to go on without making a change. Whoever manages the Cubs will face a media and fanbase similar to that in Boston, so a manager who can perform under scrutiny is absolutely necessary.
In the last decade the Cubs have hired two extremely high-profile managers in Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella. Both were expected to win. Both left unceremoniously after relatively short stints with the team.
But Francona has already shown he can handle pressure of a similar or greater magnitude, and this gives Francona a credibility that less-experienced candidates cannot hope to match.
Furthermore, Francona is the only manager in baseball history to overcome a drought of Cub-like proportions. The Cubs' drought weighed heavily on the 2003 and 2008 Cubs, who both suffered dramatic meltdowns in the playoffs. Francona has already proven he can surpass this sort of pressure. This makes Francona uniquely qualified for the job.
Epstein set forth his criteria for potential managers in a recent press release (you can read the full statement here).
According to Epstein, "The next manager must have leadership and communication skills; he must place an emphasis on preparation and accountability; he must establish high standards and a winning culture; he must have integrity and an open mind; and he must have managerial or coaching experience at the Major League level."
Given this criteria, it seems like Francona is precisely the type of candidate Theo Epstein is looking for.
Francona led Boston to two World Series championships. His leadership, preparation and high standards cannot be be questioned.
As for the more intangible qualities, it is hard to imagine a manager showing more integrity than Francona. It is true that last September's Boston meltdown might cast a shadow on Francona's resume, but how many managers would go directly to their front office and take responsibility for their part in the collapse?
Every manager will fail at some point. Not every manager will admit it.
Theo Epstein has a reputation as a detached and analytical baseball mind.
However, Terry Francona's personal communication skills should help his case.
After all, Theo has stated he values communication in a manager, and Francona has generally enjoyed a very good reputation as a player's manager. Francona's last year in Boston was low mark of his career, and yet even at this point several players continued to be outspoken in support of their former skipper.
The Cubs should be familiar with the importance of player-manager relationships. Lou Piniella's scuffles with Milton Bradley and Carlos Zambrano, and Mike Quade's shouting match with Ryan Dempster seemed to strain the team's unity.
If nothing else, good relationships within a team keep everyone focused on winning baseball games. If the Cubs wish to end their drought, they cannot afford to be anything but focused.
Emotions were certainly running high in Boston last September.
Even so, Terry Francona's speedy departure was unexpected. Many onlookers believed relationships between Francona and the front office were irreparably damaged. Francona himself admitted he no longer felt comfortable in Boston.
It is undeniable there was problematic tension in Boston.
However, it is important to remember that Theo left Boston as well.
This proves that, whatever was going on, it was more than just a clearly drawn disagreement between Francona and the Red Sox front office. It is impossible to know private feelings, but it is certainly unlikely that two men would willingly work together for eight years if their baseball philosophies were at odds with each other. Their success speaks for itself.
In order for Francona to be interested in signing with the Cubs, he has to be willing to manage a team in rebuilding mode.
This might be a difficult adjustment. Boston has been a consistent powerhouse in the last decade, but the Cubs have a ways to go before they can contend again.
The Boston team that failed to make the playoffs in 2011 was still a very good team. It would be a miracle if the 2012 Cubs are good enough to barely miss the playoffs.
If Francona is uncomfortable with a team that finished 18 games above .500, then perhaps the Cubs are not the team for him. That said, this type of attitude may be precisely what the Cubs need. The last thing Epstein should want is a manager who is comfortable with the idea of losing.
The Cubs will likely strongly consider pursuing Dave Martinez.
Martinez is a highly-respected bench coach for the Tampa Bay Rays. Like Boston, Tampa Bay has a reputation of being a statistically-minded team with an emphasis on developing players. Theo Epstein has watched the cash-strapped Rays finish better than the Red Sox for two years running, and this might strengthen Theo's interest.
Martinez also has Chicago ties. He was drafted by the Cubs in 1983 and played his first two seasons in Chicago. Whether or not he has particularly fond memories of the Windy City, Martinez would likely jump at the chance to manage at the major league level.
Dale Sveum is also emerging as a potential candidate to manage the Cubs. Sveum has done well as bench coach for the Milwaukee Brewers. Taking Sveum away from the Brewers would also be a coup of sorts, as Sveum played a small role in establishing the Brewers as a contending force.
Sveum also worked with Theo Epstein earlier in his career. He was third base coach for the Red Sox during their curse-ending 2004 championship season. Epstein's familiarity with Sveum could give him a sizable boost.
If Theo Epstein wants to make a splash with a big name other than Sandberg or Francona, he might wish to consider Texas Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux. Despite not having a particularly stacked pitching staff, the Rangers have performed well under Maddux, going to the World Series each of the last two years.
Though Maddux has no personal experience with the Cubs, the Maddux family has strong Chicago ties. Greg Maddux won his first Cy Young award with the Cubs and is one of a handful of players to have his number retired by the team. Greg also works in the Cubs organization as a special adviser.
If more than one team actively pursues Maddux, these ties might give Chicago the edge.