Cubs' best shot at big free agent - Joe Girardi - was smokescreen

Written By Sun-Times Wire Posted: 11/14/2013, 06:21pm

Maybe the Cubs off-season will get off the ground at some point and provide optimism or even buzz before pitchers and catchers report for spring training.

But that’s a tough sell after five weeks of anti-climactic manager searching and three days of general managers meetings this week that produced little more than a message of low-level spending and an expectation that Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija will be shopped in trade talks.

If anything, the Cubs’ best shot at a marquee signing this off-season came in the first few days of October and may have set the tone for the winter.

And that one was doomed from the start.

In fact, the Joe Girardi pursuit in the aftermath of manager Dale Sveum’s firing may have underscored an ongoing disconnect between the Cubs’ baseball and business sides of the operation.

In a conversation with two Chicago media outlets, including the Sun-Times, New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said he knew almost from the start that free agent Joe Girardi would stay in New York – even though he saw the Joe-to-Chicago rumors coming.

“It was expected,” Cashman said of the third time in seven years his guy was linked to a Cubs managerial change. “It was expected after Dale got fired. One that hit, I was like, ‘Oh, boy, here we go.’

“I went to Joe and said, `If this is something you want, let me know. And we’ll let you go.’ But he said he wanted to stay, so we were able to work it out.”

According to multiple sources, back-channel communication between Girardi’s camp and the upper levels of Cubs management led some high-ranking officials to believe that Girardi was interested in a return to his and his wife’s Chicago-area roots, even as he and the Yankees were spending time on details of his new contract in New York.

All the while, top baseball officials in the Cubs’ organization were skeptical of Girardi’s Chicago intentions and immediately started lining up other candidates for the job.

“I never felt he was leaving us,” said Cashman, who indirectly acknowledged some of the perceptions within the Cubs’ organization. “Well, he has an agent. And he does a good job.”

That and a Northshore country club where sources say some of the mutual interest was expressed.

“Maybe he’s not going to go there anymore,” Cashman joked.

Despite the willingness to let Girardi make the Chicago-or-New York call, Cashman wasn’t going to let Girardi shop offers while he was still bound to his old contract through October.

“If he wasn’t on board by then, then we would have cut him loose and let him talk to anybody,” said Cashman, who never needed to consider that, given his longstanding, strong relationship with his seventh-year manager.

“He played for me. He was a coach for me. He managed for me. I’ve known Joe and [wife] Kim for a long time,” Cashman said. “He’s just good people. But at the same time, if it was something that he wanted to pursue and really wanted to pursue and that’s where he wanted to [go and] make a change, A, he had a right to do it, and B, we weren’t going to stand in his way. I just wanted to know.”