Lou Piniella has gone against all good reason and sanity in an effort to fix his bullpen problem by converting a top 20 starter into a set-up man. He rolled with his veteran corner infielders in an effort to let them hit out of their slumps. He has moved one of his best early performers all over the lineup in an effort to plug the gaping hole in the offense.
He recently benched fan-favorite Ryan Theriot for reaching Aaron Miles levels of absolutely terrible. His OPS in May was .502. Aaron Miles' OPS last year was .462.
He finally benched practically his entire core of players that were supposed to be the guys playing the most crucial roles in returning the Cubs to the playoffs. The end result was an offensive showing that was exactly the same as the game before that included the benched players.
He has used Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol as much as humanly possible without completely blowing them out before the All-Star Break. He gave John Grabow every opportunity to earn the money Hendry gave him in the off-season.
Despite all the different things he has tried this year to kick-start the team, Cubdom is up in arms and many people are calling for Lou to be fired. People are mad he isn't "showing energy" and getting kicked out of games to show the players he is behind them. If the team is made up of guys who need a 66-year old man to scream at an umpire to get themselves worked up, the team has deeper problems than Lou's reluctance to act like Milton Bradley.
Al Yellon, who has been consistently critical of Piniella this year, is leading the charge at BCB:
I've said this before but it bears repeating. Two recent teams, with talent, struggled like this early in the season. The 2003 Marlins replaced Jeff Torborg at 16-22. Even then, they got worse before they got better; they immediately lost seven of their first ten under Jack McKeon to drop to that magic ten-games-under mark at 19-29. For the rest of the season they went 72-42 to win 91 games and the wild card.
Last year's Rockies were 18-28 when they fired Clint Hurdle, who had taken them to the World Series two years earlier. They went 74-42 under Jim Tracy and returned to the playoffs. Incidentally, almost the same thing happened with Tracy as with McKeon -- the Rockies lost four of their first six under him before going on a run of 17 wins in 18 games (and 20 in 23) that put them back in contention.
He is giving only two examples in over 100 years of baseball history. But more than that, he is suggesting that the results of firing guys like Jeff Torborg and Jim Tracy can give an indication of how the Cubs could rebound with a new manager. The problem is that Jeff Torborg and Jim Tracy aren't that hard to replace. They are decent managers, but not great. There is nothing special about them.
To borrow a phrase from Al, I've said it before but it bears repeating: Lou Piniella is the best manager this team has had in my lifetime and probably my father's as well. If someone wants to argue that Leo Durocher was as good or better, I'll listen because I wasn't around then, but he would be the only one. At worst, he is the second best manager my father has ever seen in his lifetime (and probably my grandfather's too). He is not easy to replace.
The problem isn't Lou Piniella just like the problem wasn't Dusty Baker. Look! Dusty is a good manager again now that he's been given a team that doesn't involve Neifi Perez, Jacque Jones, and Matt Murton, but does have Joey Votto, a resurgent Scott Rolen, and a talented young pitching staff (that he will hopefully destroy). I'll bet all the money I have that Lou Piniella would likely be a good manager again if the aliens ever return Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez.
Last night on Twitter, I asked people who want Lou fired who they would prefer manage this team. The answers came back, Bob Brenly, Ryne Sandberg, and Alan Trammell. We might as well throw Jeff Torborg and Jim Tracy onto that pile as well since they are all essentially the same level of manager. Actually, that isn't fair of me to say. Ryne Sandberg has yet to do anything to convince me he is capable of reaching that level and Alan Trammell oversaw one of the worst teams in baseball history.
We know what Brenly would do because he tells us at every opportunity on the broadcasts. He would be a hard-ass who would be benching guys like Soriano and Ramirez for lack of hustle as though it would have any lasting effect besides pissing off his most talented players. You can't tell me this veteran team will respond to that in a more positive way than they have responded to Lou.
So the best case scenario in a managerial change will result in a team playing exactly the way they have been before but paying another manager on top of what is left on Lou's salary. It could also result in this team spiraling like the 2005 and 2006 teams and playing in front of a half-filled Wrigley Field.
Nothing will change with this team until the personnel on the field changes and since Jim Hendry has had years to build the team properly through the farm system and the easy way of using a boatload of cash and failed at both, he needs to go. Let the next guy hire the next manager.
If the Ricketts want to go ahead and fire Jim Hendry and place someone else in charge and the next guy wants to get on with the future and dump Piniella, then that's one thing. At least that is a forward looking plan and would also presumably involve a fire sale that would stock the system with some real talent. But making a move just to salvage a team that was projected to be mediocre while including Lee and Ramirez not being pod people is just stupid. The best hope for this season is Lou Piniella pulling one last rabbit out of his hat.
After that, as far as I'm concerned, anything goes.