The Cubs appear to be in fundamentally better shape than they were before the Theo Epstein administration took over two years ago. But they have a long road still to be traveled.
The Cubs on Thursday made Renteria their new manager. He is a respected figure within baseball circles, one who has paid his dues, managing in the Minors, coaching in the big leagues, most recently serving as the Padres' bench coach.
But the truth is, this job, managing the Cubs, has been a cemetery for managerial careers. Men seemingly with promise take this job and never manage in the big leagues again. Men who have already had considerable success in their managerial careers take this job and eventually leave the premises with a combination of bitterness and disappointment.
"I knew when I took the job that it was one of the most difficult managing jobs in the big leagues," one former Cubs manager said. "What I didn't realize was that it was the most difficult managing job in the big leagues."
That skipper was talking about the weight-of-history stuff that permeates the place, whether anybody likes it or not. You take this job and you don't have anything to do with the 105 years without a World Series championship. But you inherit all of that, anyway -- the questions, the jokes, the nagging reminders, the painful episodes of past futility.
Dale Sveum, the most recent manager, may have been doomed the day he took the job. Even people who respect and admire Sveum could see it that way. The Cubs were in for a long-haul rebuilding job. The manager who takes over a club at the beginning of that process rarely gets to stick around for the revival, if there is one. There are too many defeats to be absorbed, too much blame to be assigned.
Was it Sveum's fault that the Cubs lost 197 games in the two years that he was manager? No. All those defeats were a reflection of where the Cubs had been as an organization.
And yet, Sveum took the blame because some of the young Cubs talent did not progress as hoped or expected. In fact, shortstop Starlin Castro notably regressed.
Castro is 23. He had been an All-Star in the previous two seasons. Playing for a different manager, maybe Castro will be a cornerstone of a successful North Side ballclub for the next decade. It is certainly more enjoyable from the Cubs' perspective to make the assumption that the shortcoming in this situation belonged to Sveum, rather than to Castro.
But the Cubs are assembling considerable talent in their organization now, at least at the everyday positions. They should have a wider, deeper, more competitive base of talent upon which to draw for the foreseeable future.
In that sense, they have moved forward as an organization. That progress should translate, sooner or later, into improvement at the Major League level. Renteria, as a bicultural manager, should be well-positioned to manage an influx of young and talented Latin American players.
There will be easier tasks, however, than competing in the National League Central, when three of the four clubs that finished ahead of the Cubs in 2013 -- St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati -- have plenty of pitching. This division was home to the NL champion and the two NL Wild Card teams, and none of those three clubs appear to be in danger of falling off the face of the planet.
Nevertheless, the Cubs have genuine reasons to believe better days are on the horizon. If Renteria is the manager the Cubs hope he will be, perhaps he will be the man to be in the skipper's office when the team's transformation comes to full fruition.
Then again, a lot of good men have entered the manager's office at Wrigley Field with the same dream. They don't work there anymore. Maybe Rick Renteria is the one capable of managing the storybook ending.