MILWAUKEE -- Cubs President Theo Epstein praised Dale Sveum for providing a "calming effect" during two dismal seasons but stopped short of announcing the manager will return in 2014.
This shouldn't raise red flags yet, as Epstein is in the midst of evaluations with the entire baseball operations department that will include Sveum, who is signed through 2014 with an option for 2015.
"That's something that gets addressed after the season," Epstein said Tuesday night. "No alarm bells to ring. That's a subject that gets addressed as a matter of process and is routine after the season, after a period of evaluation that we're in the midst of right now."
Epstein spoke before the Cubs and Brewers met at Miller Park.
Epstein stressed that Sveum isn't being evaluated on wins and losses. Instead management is looking at areas such as the development of young players -- a major category since the Cubs are in a mass rebuilding process -- as well as in-game decision making, use of his 25-man roster, the ability to "create a culture of accountability, hard work and preparation," and the ability to develop a strong trust with his players.
"We've been very upfront about the fact we're not evaluating Dale on wins and losses," Epstein said. "Our record is more a reflection of the roster we've put on the field as the baseball operations department and where we are in the building process."
Epstein was pleased with the manner in which Sveum handled his conflict Monday night with pitcher Edwin Jackson, as the two sides quickly made their peace.
"That really was the first such incident in two very difficult seasons, which I think is a feather in Dale's cap," Epstein said. "He has a very even keel, calm demeanor and that rubs off on the clubhouse atmosphere in general.
"So considering there's a big market and some brush fires in the past here, you have to give Dale a lot of credit for that."
In fact, Epstein said he had a 'long talk" with Sveum and the coaching staff about ways to improve the Cubs.
The biggest priority for the Cubs is to improve an offense that ranks 14th in on-base percentage, although Epstein said he doesn't want to short-change other areas. He also will take a "multi-dimensional" approach to upgrading rather than exploit free agency.
"We want to lead the league on getting on base," Epstein said. "You can still hit for power while doing it. We want to play good defense at every position on the field. We want to have pitchers who throw strikes and still get swings and misses.
"It's hard to do all those things. That's the standard. Right now we're clearly nowhere close to where we want to be offensively. And getting on base is going to be a hallmark of this organization. And we're not good at it yet."
The subpar seasons of shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo wouldn't appear to help Sveum's case, although Epstein provided a lengthy analysis of their struggles and attempts to rebound.
"We made an effort to introduce (Castro) to the concept of getting a pitch he can really drive, because in the long run, that can benefit him," Epstein said. "But if that can't be accomplished without him being himself as a hitter, you have to let time play its course, and he'll naturally evolve that way."
Epstein admitted the Cubs, at times, might have thrown too much information at him in an effort to help him be a more patient hitter.
"He hasn't been a more disciplined, patient hitter the way we would want this year," Epstein said. "That's fine. At a time this year, he lost his base, who he was as a hitter.
He's in the process of re-establishing that. Over the next 1,000 at-bats or so, you can see him swing at more pitches he can drive."
As for Rizzo, Epstein didn't think that he was an "all-or-nothing" hitter and mentioned that he was fourth in the National League in walks (74) and seventh in extra-base hits (60) despite a .229 batting average.
"I think he'll be better off for this," Sveum said.
Epstein believed the bullpen was upgraded significantly since the start of the season and believes the Cubs have internal candidates to fill their closer role next season.
But the bigger challenge will be developing batters who can reach base more frequently.
"A lot of the most talented young hitters we have coming tend to be aggressive, not naturally on the patient side," Epstein said. "They're going to hit for a lot of power, but we are challenging ourselves every day to change that over the course of the long haul.
"How do we create patience? We don't have a real example of that at the big league level. We're going to get there. Can we make that an immediate priority for 2014? I hope so, but we're not going to sell out to do it."
(c)2013 Chicago Tribune
Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services