Dale Sveum is a fine baseball man. If he loses his job as Cubs manager, he can simply return to coaching, becoming an asset to any team that hires him. Who knows? Maybe one day, he would even get a chance to manage again.
But let's get one thing straight: 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. Not when Sveum has a year left on his contract. And not when the regressions of several developing Cubs raises the question of whether Sveum is even right for a rebuilding club.
Is it the fault of Sveum and his staff that first baseman Anthony Rizzo, shortstop Starlin Castro, second baseman Darwin Barney and right-hander Jeff Samardzija all have gone backwards?
Not entirely. Maybe not at all. Still, the primary task for the Cubs' on-field staff this season was not to win games, but help the young players improve. And it's simply not happening.
Rizzo's month-by-month OPS: .846, .807, .745, .701, .667, .617.
Castro's OPS from 2011 to '13: .773, .753, .627.
Barney's OPS from 2011 to '13: .666, .653, .573.
Samardzija's first 11 starts vs. his next 21: 2.85 ERA, 5.13.
Granted, a manager and his staff can do only so much. Maybe the players are finding their true levels. Or maybe it's the Cubs who need to adjust. One rival executive suggests a move of Castro to second, where he could be a Brandon Phillips type, offering both plus defense and offense. Javier Baez, after all, is the Cubs' shortstop of the future.
One thing, though: Losing is difficult on a manager, especially a relatively new one like Sveum, whose only previous experience was 12 games with the Brewers in 2008 and four more in the postseason.
A manager's temperament will change. His relationships with players will change. His patience will get exhausted. To what extent that is happening with Sveum is difficult to say. But once speculation about a manager's future begins, it's often difficult to stop.
There is no guarantee that the Cubs can get Girardi, so perhaps they will stick with Sveum for another season. The basic equation, though, hasn't changed. Sveum came with an expiration date. Sooner, later, it's just a matter of when.
EARLY CLINCH WOULD BENEFIT INDIANS
The Indians cannot be picky about when they would secure a wild-card berth - anytime would be great. But in a perfect world, they would clinch before Sunday, the date of right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez's next scheduled start.
Jimenez, who leads AL starters with a 1.86 ERA since the All-Star break, would be the Indians' first choice to start the wild-card game on Wednesday, but not on two days rest. Indeed, the Indians could face an interesting decision if they enter Sunday tied for the wild card but assured of a berth.
Would they start Jimenez in an effort to gain home-field advantage for the one-game elimination? Or would they scratch him and take their chances on the road?
Probably the latter.
If the Indians need Jimenez on Sunday, they would have a multitude of pitchers available Wednesday - righties Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber, lefties Danny Salazar and Scott Kazmir, maybe even righty Justin Masterson.
Manager Terry Francona used seven relievers behind Salazar in a 3-1 victory over the White Sox on Sept. 13. If need be, Francona can employ a bullpen tag team again - yes, even in the wild-card game.
HOW THE YANKEES ROLL
The Yankees routinely are criticized for their failure to develop young talent, but the 2006 draft was one instance where they actually did quite well, only to be compromised by future trades.
Here are the picks from that draft who currently are in the majors, listed by the rounds in which they were selected.
1. Ian Kennedy, SD.
1. Joba Chamberlain, NYY.
3. Mark Melancon, PIT.
5. George Kontos, SF.
8. Dellin Betances, NYY.
9. Mark Melancon, PIT.
11. Zach McAllister, CLE.
17. David Robertson, NYY
Kennedy went to the Diamondbacks in the three-team deal in which the Yankees landed outfielder Curtis Granderson from the Tigers - no problem with that. But Melancon went for first baseman Lance Berkman and McAllister for outfielder Austin Kearns in 2010. (Kontos delivered a more meaningful return - Chris Stewart, who has caught 162 games the past two seasons.)
While the losses of Melancon and McAllister seemed inconsequential at the time, the Yankees would have benefited from keeping both pitchers, if only to generate greater value for them in later trades.
General manager Brian Cashman likely was mindful of such past missteps when he tried to resist pressure from ownership to acquire outfielder Alfonso Soriano from the Cubs on July 26.
Cashman disputes reports that say he opposed the trade - he says he merely opposed the timing. He believed that if the Yankees had until closer to the non-waiver deadline, the Cubs would have settled for a lesser prospect than right-hander Corey Black.
UPTON, UGLLA, UGLY
It's rather amazing - and a testament to the contributions of first baseman Freddie Freeman, third baseman Chris Johnson, catcher Brian McCann and outfielder Justin Upton - that the Braves rank fifth in the NL in runs per game.
Outfielder B.J. Upton, second baseman Dan Uggla and to a lesser extent shortstop Andrelton Simmons remain offensive liabilities.
B.J. Upton has started only one of five games since Jason Heyward's return from a broken jaw, increasing the likelihood that Upton - in the first year of a five-year, $75.25 million free-agent contract - will open the postseason on the bench.
It's not as if the team has much choice.
Upton, 29, is batting .186 with a .561 OPS in 443 plate appearances. His .108 batting average with runners in scoring position entering Tuesday night was the lowest in the NL, minimum 100 plate appearances.
An outfield of Heyward, Evan Gattis and Justin Upton is simply more potent than one that includes B.J. - even though Gattis' on-base percentage is only .283. B.J. would enhance the bench as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement. But for $75.25 million? Wow.
Uggla, meanwhile, entered Tuesday batting .140 with runners in scoring position, second lowest in the NL. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons was batting .188, seventh lowest, before hitting a walkoff single that night.
Incredible as it might sound, Uggla actually has hit worse since returning from Lasik eye surgery (.154 with a .545 OPS) than he did before (.186 with a .696 OPS).
WHAT TO DO WITH HAMILTON?
It seems so obvious for the Reds. Left fielder Ryan Ludwick is struggling offensively. Center fielder Shin-Soo Choo is below-average defensively. Why not play the electric Billy Hamilton in center and move Choo to left, potentially solving two problems at once?
Because Hamilton, after batting .256 with a .651 OPS at Triple A, probably is not prepared to assume such responsibility. Indeed, manager Dusty Baker is correct to pick his spots with Hamilton, even though the issues with Ludwick and Choo are quite real.
Ludwick, who has not hit a home run since Aug. 28, is batting .254 with a .600 OPS in September (though he is 7-for-17 - all singles - in his last four games).
Choo, meanwhile, is negative-18 in defensive runs saved, according to John Dewan's ratings on Bill James Online. Contrast that with Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez, who is plus-37 - an advantage of 55 runs over Choo.
In Choo's defense, he was primarily a right fielder until this season, and the Reds were willing to accept his below-average defense in exchange for his high on-base percentage out of the leadoff spot.
Choo, 31, will be a fascinating free agent. His other liability is that he doesn't hit left-handers - his OPS against them this season is .593, compared to 1.023 against righties.
ENNY THING YOU NEED
So, how did the Rays settle on lefty Enny Romero to make his major-league debut Sunday in a pivotal game against the Orioles?
It wasn't because Romero tweeted on Saturday, "I could come and pitch tomorrow" - though GM Andrew Friedman said he was impressed that Romero was paying such close attention at home in his native Dominican Republic.
No, the Rays knew they would need one pitcher when righty Jake Odorizzi entered Friday's game in the 11th and pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings - that is what led them to call lefty Jeff Beliveau at 1 a.m., reaching him at a friend's birthday party in Providence, R.I.
The use of righty Jeremy Hellickson for the final 2 1/3 innings of Friday's 18-inning marathon win created another need, given that Hellickson was scheduled to start Sunday. The Rays enlisted reliever Joel Peralta to try to call Romero in the Dominican at 3:30 a.m., but the team did not actually reach Romero until later Saturday.
Righty J.D. Martin joined the club along with Romero, creating additional depth. And Romero did not scare against the Orioles, pitching 4 2/3 scoreless innings (though walking four) in a game the Rays won, 3-1.
Odorizzi, another rookie, impressed club officials in a different way with his performance in the 18-inning game. He had thrown a bullpen session the previous day, yet responded on short rest and competed well in his first major-league appearance since Aug. 29.
CUBAN CONNECTION IN SAN FRANCISCO?
One rival executive expects the Giants to make a play for a Cuban free agent such as first baseman Jose Abreu or second baseman Alexander Guerrero.
The exec's rationale?
The Giants have seen the impact of Cuban players both in their division (Yasiel Puig with the Dodgers) and market (Yoenis Cespedes with the Athletics).
And of course, Bruce Bochy's team needs the offense.
Guerrero would appear a better fit, given Marco Scutaro's lingering physical issues at age 38. The Giants already have Brandon Belt at first, and eventually could give Buster Posey increased playing time at that spot.
Of course, they also could move Belt to left and worry about Posey's future later. The risk would be disrupting Belt, who has enjoyed a breakout season, batting .289 with a .836 OPS and 16 homers in 548 plate apperances.
A CY HOPEFUL ... IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE
Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish figures to show a keen interest in the American League Cy Young voting. If Darvish finishes fourth or higher, it could be the first step toward him opting out of his contract after the 2016 season.
Darvish, 27, is signed for $11 million in '17, but that guaranteed year will become a player option with no buyout if he wins the Cy between 2012 and '16 and finishes between second and fourth in another season during that span, or if he finishes second between 2012 and '16 and between second and fourth twice during that span.
Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer probably is the favorite for the Cy. Darvish, Mariners right-handers Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, White Sox lefty Chris Sale and Athletics righty Bartolo Colon also figure to receive strong consideration.
AROUND THE HORN
* Some of Ron Washington's recent bullpen decisions have backfired, increasing speculation that he would not survive a second straight September collapse. His dismissal under such circumstances would not be unreasonable, but the Rangers' struggling offense gives Washington, and the team's pitching staff, little margin for error.
* The Rockies announced on Tuesday night that hitting coach Dante Bichette would not return, and one executive says he anticipates coaching shakeups in Arizona, Houston, Minnesota and Milwaukee as well. Washington is another possibility, as is any other team that may end up looking for a manager.
* Take it from a coach whose team recently faced the Yankees: Alex Rodriguez is struggling to catch up to the high fastball.
What types of pitches does Rodriguez handle best now?
"Lower and slower," the coach said.