Mike Quade is having fun. The Cubs’ skipper has his work cut out for him—the squad he inherited from Lou Piniella finished in fifth place in the NL Central—but the 53-year-old Evanston, Illinois native loves his new job. The long-time minor-league manager and big-league coach took over when Piniella stepped down in late August, leading the team to a 24-13 record and subsequently had the word “interim” stripped from his title. Quade talked about his managerial approach, including his reliance on data, during this week’s Winter Meetings.
David Laurila: Do you consider yourself an old-school manager?
Mike Quade: I would like to think that I have old-school traits, but maybe somewhat of a new-school approach, just as far as being involved with the players and maybe being more involved than old-school managers would be. That’s whether it’s daily stuff in spring training or daily communication during the season. But everybody is different and it’s tough to pigeonhole anybody into a group of guys who do it this way or do it that way. I’d like to think I’m a good communicator. I’m passionate and energetic in what I do. I’m also flexible and I listen.
If you combine those things… I don’t know what kind of club we’re going to have. I mean I don’t know how it’s going to shake out. We feel pretty good about a lot of the positions, but they’re still up there wheeling and dealing and so you’d better remain flexible and say “Look, I’ve got to get the most out of this club. Period.” Okay? Whatever this 25-man roster looks like when we leave, that’s my job—all of the stuff, all of the clichés, putting guys in the right place to be successful and everything else.
Getting the most out of your club is the deal, and if you’re set in your ways… to me it’s like, if you’re going to approach and handle every player the same way, it’s not going to work. If all the years of managing in the minor leagues has taught me anything, and if coaching in the big leagues has taught me anything, it’s that I’m a demanding guy and passionate about what I do, but I better listen and I better be flexible.
DL: What changed when you took over the team?
MQ: We pitched it better, and I was a huge benefactor of that. Z [Carlos Zambrano] came back off some downtime and threw the ball great. All of the starters pitched good. But the kids, more than anything, filled that gap in the bullpen to get the ball to our two guys at the end. Whether it was [Andrew] Cashner, [Scott] Maine, Russ [James Russell]… all those kids. They pitched better the last six weeks.
When I came in there, we had talked about how they’re young, how they’re learning… well, it was time not to be young anymore. It was time for them to take the end of that season and to put themselves on a path to make money and do well the rest of their careers. I watched too many young players over the years when I was with Oakland or Montreal that got to the big leagues and yeah, there’s an adjustment, but it’s time for the adjustment to be over and it’s time for guys to start getting better. And do you know what? They worked like heck and they got better. We lived on that pitching the last six weeks, and those kids were a big part of getting the ball to our veterans who we knew were going to do a good job.
DL: Pat Listach is your bench coach. Why?
MQ: Pat was with me and he was my hitting guy, and when you’re in the minor leagues your hitting guy is your bench coach and he’s everything else. He’s right there next to you day in and day out. He managed for a long time, and coached third over in Washington. He was a Rookie of the Year guy. He’s got great experience in a variety of different things in the game.
He’s got a new challenge, but his knowledge of the game, and his personality… that’s the biggest thing with me. I know we’ve got bright people that know the game, but how I interact with them and how our personalities match up is huge. In a long season, you’ve got enough issues dealing with 25 guys let alone having any staff issues. Pat and I got along great, and we’ll continue to get along great. He’ll do a nice job.
DL: How do you approach lineup construction?
MQ: I pay close attention to numbers and I think anybody that saw my lineups last year… it’s great to have a Marlon Byrd set in this spot, and a Rammy [Aramis Ramirez] in this spot, but we did a lot of juggling. If I’ve got somebody that’s not comfortable hitting second today and seventh tomorrow, then that’s something that we need to talk about, and I mean myself and the player, because there are reasons that you do that. And they’re not my reasons, they’re usually on a sheet. It’s “somebody is a better fit against a certain match-up” and so on and so forth.
I look [at the match-ups] and normally work my lineups two or three days in advance. I try to prepare well in advance to let a guy know “Hey, you’ve got Friday off,” if it’s Tuesday, and stay ahead of the curve that way as far as working ahead. Injuries are injuries, and things happen, but I think that guys respond when you’re able to give them a heads up on what you’re thinking days in advance.
DL: What are your thoughts on platooning and platoon splits?
MQ: If it was warranted, that’s what we did. We mixed and matched with our outfield last year. Fuk [Kosuke Fukudome] finished up well, we had [Tyler] Colvin out there, and obviously Marlon and Sori [Alfonso Soriano]. We rested Sori more than he’s ever been rested, and he’s not always happy about that, but I think he needs it. That’s not necessarily a platoon situation, but that’s mixing and matching versus match-ups and rest and everything else.
Blake DeWitt is a left-handed hitting second baseman, and a nice-looking young player. He will get some time off and will compete with guys for the job there; we’ve got a couple of right-handed guys. I just think that if it’s warranted, and if the situation is called for… straight platooning, we’ll wait and see. I’d just as soon go to Spring Training with an open mind and let these guys compete and see where we wind up when April comes.
DL: What about back-end bullpen usage, including using your closer for more than three outs?
MQ: Everybody’s got a different philosophy on that, but again, understanding who your guy is and what he can handle is more important. You’re certainly not going to criticize Joe Torre for having a guy like Mariano [Rivera] that can give him two innings at the end of the year, or [Joe] Girardi now. I mean, that’s an incredible… when I was with Oakland, the game was shortened because Mariano was pitching the eighth and the ninth when we were in the playoffs against the Yankees.
People say you shouldn’t do this or you shouldn’t do that, and I’m like, “Wait a minute, I’ve watched this guy do this.“ Now, there are some guys that don’t respond to getting up in the eighth and getting you an out in the eighth. I prefer to have Marm [Carlos Marmol], for instance, pitch just the ninth, but he can handle a five-out save or a four-out save. I like to think that it won’t be a regular occurrence, and I know he would prefer, like most guys, to get up and come in and do his thing in the ninth, but you’re open with these guys and you tell them what you’re thinking. If you don’t give them many surprises they’ll usually respond, however you’re going to use them.
DL: How willing are you to go against convention? Is there much of a fear factor where you think, “No, it’s safer if I just do this?”
MQ: You know that’s funny, I can’t remember ever making a decision with that on my mind: It’s safer to do it this way. I pretty much have done it the way I’ve done it my entire life and I’d like to think that it’s not going to change here. The element of surprise is great in the game, but through a 162-game series too many hunch plays, my sense would be, would get you into trouble. So, again you try and give people an opportunity to do a job that they’re capable of doing. Asking [Geovany] Soto to try and steal a base in a tie game in the eighth… well, maybe he can make it. But do you go against the book? Yeah, once in a while. I’m not a huge bunt guy, but doing things totally off the wall would not be me at all.
DL: Do you feel a responsibility to explain your moves after a game, particularly the ones that don’t go well?
MQ: If the question is asked, you explain it. Between baseball people, I probably have a more in-depth conversation with my bench coach, my pitching coach, or my hitting guy, after a game when I’ve had tough decisions. Sometimes I have them with the media. You go into something doing it for a reason. You weigh the consequences and you make the decision, and bang, you stand by it. When those reasons are non-existent, or shaky, that’s when you get in trouble. So, you’re going to make a decision on “Here’s all the data, okay, I’m making this pitching change,” or “I’m going to pinch-hit this guy.” “This is sound reasoning to me, this is why I’m doing it, and okay, if it doesn’t work, all right, it didn’t work.”
I have no problem facing the music and saying, “This is why I did this.” I’ve been doing this for a while, and like I tell the kids, “I don’t know everything, but I know a little.” I’d like to think that the bulk of my decisions are based on sound [reasoning].
DL: Players sometimes have butterflies. Do managers?
MQ: I didn’t on that first day in Washington, so I guess that means no. I mean, I think you’re always a little bit nervous before a game, whether you’re playing or managing. Opening Day is always big deal; you’re on the line and there’s time to reflect, but as a general rule I don’t think I have a lot of butterflies. I think part of that stems from the fact that “OK, I have decisions to make, I’m managing the club, but those guys have got to play.” And that’s tough, so what the hell am I nervous for, when these guys are responsible for how things are going to go, for the most part? You make a decision—do we do this or do we do that?—sure. You impact the game, but those guys are the guys that have to get it done. The more relaxed I am, the better.
DL: Is managing fun?
MQ: Yeah. I love it. The challenge is unreal; it’s like solving a puzzle every night. No two games are the same. The daily interaction between a manager and a coach or the players… I mean, I’d rather be playing, but I wasn’t good enough. But, yeah it’s a lot of fun. I enjoy it. It’s like any other job. I’d like to think that most of us are happy with what we’re doing, but it has its bad days. Don’t get me wrong, it’s like a good marriage. No, I love it, and I’m real happy to be given the opportunity to do it.