As talks continue with Yankees, does Joe Girardi want Cubs job?

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The Cubs are searching for their 53rd manager in franchise history. It only seems like Joe Girardi has been mentioned for the job every time. The Girardi-to-Chicago rumors heated up when the Cubs were looking to replace Dusty Baker (2006) and Lou Piniella (2010). It started all over again in the run-up to Theo Epstein firing Dale Sveum this week.

Maybe this is a now-or-never moment for Girardi, who turns 49 this month and could try to carve out a Monument Park legacy at Yankee Stadium. But multiple sources say that while Girardi’s viewed as a great fit for business and baseball operations at Clark and Addison, it’s still going to take the Yankees manager pushing hard to make it happen.

As Girardi Watch continued, there was uncertainty about where he falls on the scale from homecoming/dream job to Chicago Way negotiating leverage. His Chicago-based agent, Steve Mandell, reportedly continued talks on Thursday with Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

A major-league executive estimated it would take something like a five-year offer from the Cubs worth somewhere between $20-$25 million – and that wouldn’t even guarantee Girardi’s name on the Wrigley Field marquee because there are many personal and professional reasons to stay in New York.

Internally, the Cubs haven’t approached it as outspending the Yankees and winning a bidding war. It would be a Peoria guy and a Northwestern University graduate feeling the pull home, taking a fair market offer and accepting the challenge that could make him a Hall of Famer and a legend forever in Chicago.

Either way, Girardi will be one of the highest-paid managers in the game. His three-year, $9 million contract expires on Oct. 31, leaving the Cubs in wait-and-see mode.

The back page of Thursday’s New York Daily News sent this message to the Cubs hoping for permission to interview Girardi: “KEEP YOUR PAWS OFF.”

Girardi would be the kind of home-run hire Tom Ricketts made two years ago when the chairman gave Epstein the keys to the kingdom as president of baseball operations. But it’s not a mirror situation or a reflection of the way Epstein left the Boston Red Sox.

Girardi is said to enjoy working with Cashman and the Steinbrenners. His family is settled in Westchester County. He wears No. 28 as a reminder of the World Series title the Yankees are chasing now.

Epstein is said to have a lot of respect for Girardi. It’s not only those epic Yankees-Red Sox battles. Girardi showed he could push the right buttons with young players as the National League’s Manager of the Year in 2006 with the Florida Marlins.

There’s a feeling in the front office that Girardi could be the right manager at the right time – for reasons that have nothing to do with winning a press conference or selling tickets or creating a buzz this winter.

Of course, Ricketts and president of business operations Crane Kenney also noticed all those empty seats this season at Wrigley Field. That attendance figure – 2,642,682 – marked a 15-year low. For perspective, back in 1998 Girardi and Sveum were part of the Yankees team that won 114 games, captured a World Series title and laid the foundation for a dynasty.

Image isn’t everything. But at least Ricketts could point to Girardi’s crew cut and clean-shaven look the next time an old fan at the Cubs Convention complains about the players’ long hair and beards and a manager who looks like he “sleeps on a park bench.”

Even if Girardi moves the needle, he still couldn’t fundamentally change the economics at Wrigley Field or move up the rebuilding timeline. At Monday’s news conference, Epstein made it clear the guy in the dugout can’t cut TV deals or speed up the stadium renovations.

“The new manager will be a really important leader,” Epstein said, “and will play a huge part in establishing the culture (and) the environment that we want for young players to thrive and (getting) the most out of the team that we give him. But it won’t change our long-term plan.

“And it won’t change the payroll. We’re going to spend as much as we possibly can, as prudently as we possibly can, in accordance with the baseball and business plans that we have available to us.”

By now, there have been enough messages sent through back channels. This story has gotten so much play in the tabloids and across cyberspace. If Girardi really wants the Cubs job this time, then come and get it.

- Patrick Mooney, CSN Chicago

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