Can we at least concede up front that it’s a little weird?
It’s a little weird to have a coaching staff gutted after a third straight 90+ win season and a third straight trip to the NLCS. It’s a little weird to have a manager all but say he wanted his full staff back, to have a front office say the manager will get what he wants, and then to have so many guys sent out the very next week.
It’s weird. It’s OK to cock an eyebrow, and wonder what exactly is up with all of this.
But let’s be clear that just because it’s all weird doesn’t mean that it’s bad.
In fact, in isolation, it becomes pretty easy to understand all the changes on the coaching staff, particularly when you consider that very attractive replacements for the outgoing pitching and hitting coaches were immediately lined up and targeted. Even without hearing from the manager or the front office, it would be plausible to say that the coaching staff *was* mostly fine, and it was only the availability of these other guys that drove the move.
Chili Davis sounds like a very attractive hitting coach. Jim Hickey sounds like a very attractive pitching coach. Were these guys players, we wouldn’t think twice about the Cubs going out and targeting theoretical upgrades. So why is it different on the coaching side?
OK, that’s a bit too simple. Because it is a little different on the coaching side, given the relationships you expect the staff to develop with the players. Further, time and institutional knowledge are important, so you don’t want to be turning over the staff every single year.
Three years into Joe Maddon’s tenure with the Cubs, though, perhaps that was long enough for him and the front office to develop a better appreciation for the things they’ll need on the coaching staff, especially as it relates to where the Cubs are right now – they are not developing into a competitive window, they are smack dab in the middle of trying to extend one as long as possible.
So, then. There’s my preamble on the moves. I admit that it’s all weird. I admit there are things going on behind the scenes that we don’t know about, and that could shape our opinions in one direction or the other. But from the outside, I can see the rationale for making changes to the voices in the room, and I can see how the new hitting and pitching (expected) coaches were very attractive targets.
Some notes on the coaching staff changes …
- Maddon offered an explanation as to why there were mixed messages about what was going to happen on the coaching staff when he was originally asked during the NLCS (NBC). The short version? He worried if he said anything other than he wanted all the coaches back when the team was playing in the postseason, it could have led to problems in the clubhouse when the Cubs least needed them. Perhaps he could have deflected better, but it is admittedly a tough spot in that moment.
- Maddon went on to say that the decisions were made collectively by Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Maddon.
- As for the “why” and the timing, Maddon did say that Davis (and third base coach Brian Butterfield) becoming available had a lot to do with the decision. But Hickey becoming available was not the primary factor in the pitching coach decision. (Cubs.com)
- So, then, it sounds like there was an organizational decision not to retain Chris Bosio, made before Jim Hickey became available (Sun-Times). Then you had Eric Hinske getting the Angels hitting coach job, Davis and Butterfield becoming available after John Farrell was fired in Boston, and the decision was made to go after them – not so much because the Cubs wanted to move on from John Mallee and Gary Jones no matter what, but because they wanted these guys.
- As for Maddon himself, Theo Epstein apparently wanted to make sure folks know he’s about as secure as it gets:
Theo Epstein, jefe de #Cubs sobre tiempo de seguridad en el puesto para manager Joe Maddon: “Un millón de años”. Eso es largo plazo.
— Enrique Rojas/ESPN (@Enrique_Rojas1) October 27, 2017
- For the non-Spanish speakers among you, that’s Theo Epstein saying that Maddon’s job security is like having a million year term. He’s secure.
- Still, Patrick Mooney wonders if the coaching staff shakeup does put more pressure on Maddon, if he set this new chain in motion and there are no old coaches to blame for any failings (not that Maddon would put any blame on his coaches in any case). Maddon doesn’t see things that way, though, saying, “It’s about the team. We’re all a spoke in the wheel, whatever you want to call it. I think we’ve done pretty well over the last three years, actually. First World Series in 108 years, I’ll take it. Three times to the Championship Series in the last three years, I’ll take it. And if we start looking past that as not being successful, then we have to reevaluate how we look at the world in general. So, no, this is not just about me. It’s never just about me. It’s about all of us. This is about the Cubs moving forward, and we think that these new coaches can absolutely help take us to another level and get us back to the World Series again. But by no means am I denigrating the coaches that are leaving.”
- Meanwhile, the Cubs will have another coach to replace if bench coach Dave Martinez gets the Nationals managerial job (or becomes a candidate for the Yankees job and gets that one). If that happens, I kind of hope the bench coach role – Maddon’s lieutenant – comes via someone already on staff (Brandon Hyde?) so that there’s continuity.