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Cubs general manager Jim Hendry will get his first crack at interviewing candidates for the club's manager's position this week when he brings fired Florida manager Joe Girardi to town. Lou Piniella and Bob Brenly also are believed to be on Hendry's short list , though no interviews had been scheduled as of Friday.
While Hendry makes his own list of questions for the candidates, here are seven questions the candidates may want to ask Hendry before deciding if the job is worth it:
Will Aramis Ramirez be my third baseman?
The Cubs are expected to make a decision on extending Ramirez's contract before he can exercise his opt-out clause and become a free agent two weeks after the World Series. Hendry has said he intends to keep Ramirez, and Ramirez has said he wants to stay a Cub. Ramirez undoubtedly will command more money for a long-term dealhere or elsewhere.
What are the budget parameters?
Interim club President John McDonough said last week he expected the 2007 payroll to be around the same as it was this year, about $100 million after Derrek Lee's extension in April. But with the stated urgency to turn things around as quickly as possible, and with no difference-making prospects on the immediate horizon, the free-agent market may be the only place the Cubs can fill their holes. Girardi performed magic with a $15 million budget in Florida, but there was no pressure to succeed. How would he do with a $115 million payroll?
What's up with Mark Prior, and is getting him back on track my responsibility?
No one knows whether Prior will return to form after his injury-plagued 2006 season, and his absence certainly would affect the off-season plans for the rotation. Brenly knows this firsthand and could be the one with the most influence in Prior's development.
Can fundamentals be taught to this group of Cubs?
All three candidates are solid on fundamentals, a recurring problem with the Cubs over the last 2½ seasons. They all probably have seen videos of Cubs outfielders making poor throws that allow runners to take extra bases. If the Cubs' plan is to have the same three starting outfielders in 2007, will any of the Big Three have the nerve to say, "Thanks, but I've already managed an expansion-type of team."
Is there a farm system in place, or will we have to rely on the Phil Nevins of the baseball world if someone goes down?
Brenly already may know the answer to this one. The Cubs' reliance on early-to-midseason pickups like Nevin, Tony Womack, Matt Lawton, Jody Gerut and other last-chance types over the last couple of years is a glaring indictment of the farm system's failure to produce serviceable position players in case of injuries or other predicaments. Recall that Marquis Grissom was invited to spring training this year before he opted to retire at the end of March. If top prospect Felix Pie isn't ready to come up, will the next manager have to play mix-and-match again?
Do I have any media commitments besides the pregame and postgame interviews?
The Cubs may have to come up with a new philosophy when it comes to availability of the manager after Dusty Baker was shielded from reporters for most of the last two seasons, and his office was usually off-limits. Girardi was not known to be media-friendly in Florida, though he maintained a good relationship with the press when he played for the Cubs. Piniella always has been one of the more open and available managers in the game, and Brenly also understands the importance of creating a working relationship with the conduits to the fans.
Do you have my back?
This is the most important question any managerial aspirant has to ask his potential boss, and he has to know if he takes the job if the GM is being totally honest with him. Girardi's squabble with Florida owner Jeffrey Loria might have been resolved if GM Larry Beinfest had been in his corner. Hendry sprang to Baker's defense when he felt announcer Steve Stone was too harsh in his criticism at the end of the '04 season, and the man he picks as Baker's successor must know he will get the same kind of support from beginning to end.