Cubs hire Sveum; Astros to AL, playoffs expand

I’m a little disappointed former Red Sox coach Terry Francona won’t be Cubs manager in 2012. But I’m more confused how to say Dale Sveum’s last name, the Cubs new skipper.

I’m sure you Cubs fans are, too. Sv-em? Swem? Sv-aim?  Ah hell, whatever!

I think it’s Sv-aim.

Sveum, the former Brewers hitting coach, receives a 3-year deal from the Cubs with a club option for 2015. He’ll be introduced at a presser at 9 a.m. Friday.

WFLD’s Lou Canellis writes on Twitter that a Cub told him Mike Maddux was originally offered the job but Maddux, the current Rangers pitching coach, turned the offer down, allowing the Cubs to surge for Sveum.

Sveum, 47, succeeds Mike Quade as Cubs skipper. He’ll have the uncanny task of managing a team that lost 91 games in 2011.

There will be several issues with the hiring, and here’s what I think Cubs fans are thinking:

1) Sveum was Boston’s top-choice for their managerial position and this will undoubtedly prove to fans that Theo Epstein is indeed making Chicago “Boston-West” since Sveum is a one-time Red Sox third base coach.

Sveum also interview twice with the Cubs and Boston, so the Boston-Chicago connections lives on during this offseason.

Epstein’s notion of Boston-West is a good thing, though, since that model won Epstein two World Series. But he even wants to differ from the idea.

2) Sveum has major league experience. Along with being Boston’s third base coach from 2004 to 2005, Sveum’s been a coach in Milwaukee since 2006 and managed the Brewers as an interim replacement for Ned Yost, who quit 12 games before the playoffs in 2008.

Cubs fans might howl, “what was the problem with Ryno?” and find it hypocritical that Epstein hired someone with a tiny-bit more experience than Sandberg. Cubs fans wanted Sandberg more than anybody.

Former Cubs manager Mike Quade, who barely had any managing experience going into the 2011 season, now has more experience managing a club at the major league level then the two combined.

The counter however is that Sveum appears to know the game very well and have a good report with players.

3) So with Sveum’s Milwaukee ties, does it mean Prince Fiedler to the North Side?

With the vacancy at first, Fielder being a left-handed commodity at 28-years-old, the relationship between Sveum and Fielder and the kind of resources given to Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer, you might be hard-pressed to believe against it. Though the chances of the Cubs signing any player of Fielder’s magnitude are still miniscule.

It’s a wait and see due to the fact that Epstein’s giving Carlos Zambrano a chance to earn a spot back, Alfonso Soriano a free pass and both him and Hoyer aren’t really saying much on the free agents they either want or don’t want to pursue.

Houston’s new problem

After the Astros’ sale to businessman Jim Crane on Thursday, the ‘Stros will move to the AL West that realigns the league in 2013.

The move only seems correct in the sense that it evens up the teams in each league to 15, giving each division five teams a piece. The NL Central was the only division to feature six teams.

That last realignment in 1997 moved the Brewers to the National League. Arizona and Tampa Bay opened up as expansions teams in 1998 and the National League featured a 16/14 split.

Now they will be an interleague game everyday of the season.

And while the Astros switch puts them on the market for a DH after next season, they’ll compete with the likes of the Angels, A’s and Mariners – all on pacific time. If they thought playing day games at Wrigley was tough, picture playing division games with that time difference.

The Astros-Rangers rivalry gets a boost now that both teams will play on a regular basis.

Depending on how you view the move, it could be a downgrade from a much more prestigious division. Not having to face the Cardinals, Brewers and Cubs each year might be a benefit but  the Rangers and Angels are significantly better opponents. So too are the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and Tigers.

I’m not sure this was a good competitive move for the ‘Stros.

I’ll tell you one thing: if Minute Maid Park wasn’t a park suited for the American League, they’ll soon find out how enjoyable it is to play in Houston on a regular basis.

MLB also agreed to… 

Expanding the playoffs to 10 teams, with an additional wild card team in each league. It could take into effect next season. The two wild card teams would play in a one-game playoff.

The move puts more importance on winning your division and it creates a buzz at the beginning of the playoffs, much like the last day of the 2011 season.

I’m not favorable of a two-team wild card system. I find no continuity with a three-game series in relation to the length of a 162-game season, let alone two teams playing 162 to win one game.  It’s a horrible barometer, let alone the five games to define your season. Obviously the playoffs are shorter and quite a different animal but I’d be in favor to expanding the divisional series to seven games.

The better team wins in that series. MLB gains more revenue by guaranteeing a fourth game — in some cases, division series result in three-game sweeps — and I get what I want, which is that a more lengthy series gives more continuity to what you did during the season.

And be ready for more baseball talk, since the hot topic concerns the Cubs and the fact there’s no basketball coming for Chicago anytime soon.

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