— by Mark Ross
Even though the baseball season on the field ended for both Chicago teams yesterday, it figures to be an active and interesting offseason for both Windy City clubs. For starters, the Cubs are looking for a new general manager and earlier this week Ozzie Guillen decided to take his managerial talents to South Beach, which means the White Sox will need a new skipper.
In fact, there's a very strong chance that the Cubs will be looking for a new manager as well. Consider that the current one, Mike Quade, was hired by the former general manager, Jim Hendry, who was relieved of his duties in August. In other words, Quade may have a contract, but his job security is tenuous at best since the new GM may decide to hire his own man rather than stick with the one he inherits.
So for the sake of argument and to have some fun, let's compare these two managerial jobs and offer an opinion of which one — Cubs or White Sox — is more appealing.
Let's start at the top. The Ricketts family bought the Cubs, Wrigley Field and a share of Chicago SportsNet in 2009 from the Tribune Company. Tom Ricketts serves as chairman of the Cubs and is in charge of day-to-day operations. Jerry Reinsdorf has owned the White Sox since 1981 and the Chicago Bulls since 1985.
Obviously Reinsdorf has far more experience as an owner compared to Ricketts and both of his teams have won championships. The White Sox won the World Series in 2005, while the Bulls won six NBA championships in the '90s. Reinsdorf has a reputation of being one of the most influential owners in all of baseball and certainly has the respect of his peers.
Ricketts, who is ending his second full season of running the Cubs, has admitted publicly that his tenure to this far can be best described as on-the-job training. A life-long Cub fan himself, Ricketts also has stated that his and his family's top priority regarding their ownership is to win the World Series and they are willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish this goal.
Setting aside past history for the moment, the Ricketts have already demonstrated their commitment to this goal through organizational changes and have announced their desires to spend a significant amount of money on improving Wrigley Field and the amenities and entertainment options surrounding the ballpark.
Advantage: Push. Reinsdorf is more experienced and certainly has the championship pedigree as evidence he knows what he's doing, but there's a certain appeal to working with the new kid on the block, if you will, especially when it's an owner who is passionate about his franchise and wants to win.
Kenny Williams has been the White Sox GM for 11 years. Williams has become known for his willingness to make moves or do whatever he thinks is necessary to make his club better. Look no further than 2004 when he completely overhauled the roster, moves that were instrumental to bringing about the 2005 championship season.
Williams also is not shy when it comes to expressing his opinions regarding the team's performance or specific players, both current and former. He also has a history of volatile relationships within his own organization, most notably his relationship with Guillen, whom he hired in 2003. Many published reports suggest that outside of the lack of a contract extension, the main reason behind the White Sox and Guillen parting ways was the state of his relationship with Williams.
The Cubs GM is to be determined. A decision on who most likely won't be made until after the World Series, but given the names that have already been suggested — including New York Yankees' GM Brian Cashman, Boston Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, Oakland A's GM Billy Beane and Tampa Bay Rays GM Andrew Friedman — it appears that Ricketts will have no lack of quality choices. And even if Ricketts decides to go with someone who's not a current GM, whoever it is will want a manager they know they can get along and work with.
Advantage: Cubs. Williams has an impressive resume during his tenure as the White Sox GM, but also has a history of volatile working relationships and somewhat of an itchy trigger-finger when it comes to roster moves. On the other hand, the open Cubs' GM position, even if it's filled by a current incumbent who works for another team, presents an opportunity for both GM and manager to start, and potentially make, their own history together.
(Shape of roster, salary obligations for 2012, state of minor league organizations)
The White Sox finished the season 79-83, in third place in the AL Central. This is a team that failed to live up to preseason expectations that had it competing for the division title. Much of the blame can be attributed to the offense as Adam Dunn finished with more strikeouts (177) than points on his batting average (.159), while Alex Rios (.227, 13 HR, 44 RBI) didn't fare much better. The starting rotation didn't match its production from the 2010 season and an early-season bullpen meltdown put the Sox in a hole they were never able to climb out of.
Looking ahead, there will be some roster turnover for the Sox in 2012, but unless Williams gets creative and/or goes the fire-sale route again, the team will look pretty much like it did this year. The Sox had an opening-day payroll of $128 million this season and thanks to the large and lengthy contracts of Dunn, Paul Konerko, Jake Peavy and Rios, already have nearly $90 million in payroll commitments for next year. And that doesn't count the expected raises for arbitration-eligible players like John Danks and Carlos Quentin.
Considering this season's payroll was the highest-ever for the Sox, Williams Williams will have about $40 million to sign the arbitration-eligible players and fill other holes on the roster, provided payroll stays around this season's level. With the expected departures of free agents Mark Buehrle and Juan Pierre, the Sox figure to be in the market for a corner outfielder and at least one starting pitcher, but that could change depending on whatever moves Williams make.
The White Sox's minor league system is widely considered to be among the worst in baseball, so the outlook for home-grown help in the coming years doesn't appear to be too promising.
There's no debate that the White Sox had a better season on the field than the Cubs, who finished 71-91, good for fourth in an NL Central that included an Astros team that lost 106 games. A slow start by the big hitters and early injuries in the starting rotation exacerbated the organization's lack of major-league-ready pitching depth and taxed a relatively inexperienced bullpen.
To make matters worse, another Carlos Zambrano meltdown took all the focus from the product on the field and preceded the dismissal of the GM and ushered in the talk, from both fans, pundits and players alike about what changes need to be made.
How drastic these changes will be is up to the next GM and ownership, but there will be changes made. For one, the 2012 payroll, which was about $10 million less to start this season compared to 2010, figures to stay flat, or it could be pared down some more.
That doesn't mean there won't be any money for the new GM to spend mind you. Thanks to expiring contracts, the Cubs have about $73 million committed for next season. That number could either rise or drop further depending upon what happens with three key players — Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano and Zambrano.
Ramirez has a $16 million mutual option for 2012 with a $2 million buyout. Earlier this season he expressed a desire to stay with the Cubs and sign a contract extension, but more recently he has said he wants to go play for a contender. He said he is even willing to waive the buyout so he can become a free agent.
Likewise Soriano, who still has three years and $57 million left on his infamous contract, has also stated publicly that a change of scenery may be best for both parties. What remains to be seen is how much of his contract would the Cubs be willing to pay to appease any potential trade partners, if there are any.
And then there's Zambrano. Anyone who doesn't think he and the Cubs need a divorce is kidding themselves, but besides his volatile temperament and decline in production, he comes with a $18 million price tag for next season. Even if the Cubs are able to find someone who will take Big Z off of their hands, he's still going to leave his mark on the team payroll next year.
Still, even with these questions and the expected raises for arbitration-eligible players like Matt Garza and Geovany Soto, the new GM figures to have anywhere between $40-$50 million to spend to round out his team, if payroll stays around 2011 levels. Whether or not the new GM and ownership wants to spend it all this offseason on the likes of a Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols or a starting pitcher or two, is up to them, but at the very least, it appears they can. And that's got to be music to the manager's ears.
The Cubs' minor league system took a hit with the players sent to the Rays in the Garza deal, but it is still recognized as being fairly deep, especially in the lower levels. So while there may not be many Starlin Castro-types on the horizon, it figures to produce enough quality major league players that will be able to contribute in the coming years.
Advantage: Cubs. The North Siders have more resources from top to bottom and depending on what happens this offseason could present the new manager with an opportunity to drastically overhaul the big-league roster.
Let's get this out of the way first. Yes, the Cubs haven't won the World Series since 1908, while the White Sox have won one this century. In fact, the White Sox have more World Series titles (three) than the Cubs (two) in their respective histories. The White Sox also have been the better team than the Cubs in recent history, as the South Siders have more wins than their counterparts from the north side since 2000. However, both clubs have been to the playoffs three times apiece in that span.
But regardless of the Cubs' century-plus championship-drought, Chicago is, and forever will be, a Cubs town. For starters, the White Sox have U.S. Cellular Field, aka The Cell, while the Cubs have Wrigley Field. Really, does anything else need to be said here? OK, then how about this: even though the Cubs finished with a worse record, they still drew three million in attendance at Wrigley Field, reaching that mark for the eighth straight season. The White Sox barely cracked the two million mark and were at 61 percent capacity at The Cell on the season.
And while the city was certainly captivated by the White Sox's 2005 championship season, it would pale into comparison to what would happen should the Cubs win the World Series.
There's no disputing that Guillen will forever be remembered and cherished for bringing a championship to the South Side, despite the fact that next season he will be managing the Marlins and not the White Sox.
But on both the local and national stage, his celebrity status won't come anywhere close to that of the manager who ends the Curse of the Billy Goat and all that by leading the Cubs to a World Series title.
In fact, that manager may even rival, if not eclipse, the celebrity status of another famous Chicago coach, one who is so famous and revered he goes by one name — Ditka. Ask any true Chicago sports fan and that's saying something.
Advantage: Cubs. And it's not even close. Chicago is certainly no stranger to championship teams — the Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls and White Sox have each won at least one title in the past 25 years — but if the Cubs were to win a World Series there would be a city-wide celebration the world has never seen. And what manager wouldn't want to be a part of that ticker-tape parade?
Conclusion: Cubs. Chicago is a great baseball city with more than enough passionate fans for both teams. However, when it comes to the whole package — ownership, front office, organizational outlook and tradition — there's just no debate which managerial job is better. One presents a chance to make a name for yourself and possibly become famous; the other presents a chance to make history and most likely become an icon.