Lou Piniella hasn't had his best year, but it's impossible to blame him for the Cubs' mediocrity.
It has been a long, difficult season for Lou Piniella.
Almost nothing has gone right. Players have been injured. Free agent signings (ahem, Milton Bradley) have produced just about zilch. Acquired closers (ahem, Kevin Gregg) have been shaky as it gets. And even some of the team's best players (ahem, Alfonso Soriano) have failed to approximate anything resembling their normal ability. It's just been bad all around.
Notice that none of these things are Lou Piniella's fault.
But that won't stop some from blaming Lou Piniella for the Cubs' woes this season, because when people get angry they want someone to blame, and usually that blame heads straight to the manager. But it's blame like this, from Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey, that so completely invalidates its own position that it might actually help Piniella keep his job indefinitely. From Morrissey's column:
Soriano is not a leadoff hitter, and he's not a left fielder. What is he? A $136 million backpack full of rocks for the Cubs to wear. Piniella and general manager Jim Hendry should have admitted the obvious a long time ago: The guy isn't producing, and they have hernia-like symptoms.
How many times over the last three years has Piniella stood by players who didn't deserve his trust? It was like pulling impacted wisdom teeth to get him to take the closer role away from Kevin Gregg. How many times did Gregg get lit up before Piniella realized what everybody else realized?
These are both horrible examples. In the case of Alfonso Soriano -- Morrissey's main subject of ire -- Piniella has literally no say over when he can and can't play Soriano. He's one of the highest paid players on the team. He's a home run threat at any time (though he has been admittedly less so this year). He's not a player you can bench; doing so is tantamount to throwing $136 million down the tube. Piniella might want to bench Soriano all season, but if there's anyone to blame for his constant presence in the lineup, it's Jim Hendry.
Same goes for the closer role. Who else was Piniella supposed to use? Carlos Marmol had been just as bad as Gregg, if not worse, until the switch.
Piniella's traditional managerial strategy has involved lots of rotating pieces, lots of trial and error, and lots of instability. That he hasn't managed this way in 2009 has less to do with him and more to do with the paucity of options the Cubs have given him to work with. And no matter what he does, Piniella can't force his players to hit.
Blaming the manager for baseball woes is always suspect. Blaming Lou Piniella for the 2009 Cubs' is borderline insane.