The Chicago Cubs have hired Dale Sveum as their new manager, hoping the Milwaukee Brewers hitting coach can help turn around the long-suffering franchise.
The Cubs said Sveum would be introduced at a news conference Friday at Wrigley Field.
Sveum replaces Mike Quade, who was fired by Theo Epstein, the team’s new president of baseball operations. The Cubs finished 71-91 after a disappointing season that extended their infamous championship drought to 103 seasons.
Sveum, who turns 48 next Wednesday, has little experience as a manager, other than an interim stint for the Brewers late in 2008 after Ned Yost was fired.
Sveum had competition for the Cubs job. Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux, Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin and Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. all interviewed face-to-face for the spot. Red Sox bench coach DeMarlo Hale was interviewed over the phone and former Boston manager Terry Francona pulled himself out of contention.
Sveum also interviewed for the Red Sox manager’s vacancy and met a second time this week with officials from both the Cubs and Boston.
Sveum — the name is pronounced swaym — will take over a team that finished fifth in the NL Central and is saddled with big contracts belonging to Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano. The Cubs also boast a talented young player in All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro, but have a host of personnel questions to sort through.
The Cubs’ new management team comes with a championship pedigree that the new manager knows well: Sveum served as Boston’s third base coach in 2004-05, when Epstein was the general manager.
At the time, Sveum was often criticized for an aggressive approach that led to runners being thrown out at the plate. But the coach with the nickname of “Nuts” was part of a championship team and is a believer in the advanced statistical analysis that Chicago’s new leadership loves and is counting on to build up the farm system.
“I do my due diligence and video work and prepare as much as anybody,” Sveum said before he was hired. “As far as the stats, those are what they are, and we can use them to our advantage. It’s a big part of the game now. It’s helping us win a lot of ballgames, the stats and the matchups. That’s just part of the game now, and you use what you can.”
Sveum was a switch-hitting shortstop for the Brewers and had a 25-homer season before his career was slowed after an outfield collision. In 12 seasons with Milwaukee and six other teams, he batted .236 with 69 home runs and 340 RBIs in 862 games. He was drafted by Milwaukee in the first round (25th overall) in 1982.
Sveum did well in his limited run as Milwaukee’s manager. After Yost was fired following a 3-11 slide in September, Sveum led the Brewers to their first playoff appearance in 26 years, winning six of seven down the stretch and capturing the wild card on the final day of the regular season.
Milwaukee then decided to hire a more experienced manager in the offseason and went with Ken Macha, who lasted two seasons. Sveum stayed on as the hitting coach and oversaw one of the best offenses in the National League last season. With Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder leading the way, the Brewers hit an NL-high 185 homers and were third with a .261 batting average on their way to the NL Central title — well ahead of the Cubs.
The past two seasons have bottomed out for Chicago.Lou Piniella abruptly retired in August 2010 and while Quade stepped in and did well, the Cubs didn’t respond as well this season.
Zambrano was suspended late in the season after another outburst and is likely gone, even with a year left on his five-year, $91.5 million contract. There is a potential ace in Matt Garza and a promising young arm in Andrew Cashner.
First baseman Carlos Pena, a free agent who hit 28 homers with 80 RBIs and a .225 average, would like to come back. Aramis Ramirez, who hit .306 with 26 homers and 93 RBIs, said he plans to explore the free agent market, though there is a mutual $16 million option on the table. Soriano, who has three years remaining on his deal, batted .244 but did hit 26 homers with 88 RBIs.