Yesterday, the Chicago Cubs finally made a couple of high-profile coaching changes official: naming Jim Hickey as the new pitching coach, Brandon Hyde as the new bench coach, and Will Venable as the new first base coach.
But in the actual announcement, the team included one other move we weren’t already expecting: “The Cubs have hired Jim Benedict as Special Assistant to Baseball Operations.”
Now, normally, we don’t do the whole “getting to know so-and-so” about special assistants because, among other reasons, their particular contributions, while definitely non-zero, are sometimes difficult to discern from the outside of an organization.
But Benedict is different. He’s a big-timer in the baseball industry, and the Cubs are lucky to have him in the organization (especially now that they’ve lost Minor League Pitching Coordinator Jim Brower to the Mariners). He needs a special discussion here.
Benedict was most recently working in a similar capacity with the Marlins and worked with the Pirates before that (remember how they kept revamping pitchers’ careers (A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Vance Worley, J.A. Happ, etc.)? That was Benedict).
And how did the Marlins pry Benedict away from the Pirates? They had to send their 2013 second-round pick, Trevor Williams, to the Pirates in order to secure the right to hire Benedict.
Now, we’ve certainly seen this sort of non-player-for-player trade before (the Cubs sent the Red Sox a couple prospects for Theo Epstein), but it’s usually on the manager, GM, or Presidential level of personnel, and even then, it’s extremely rare. So, basically, it’s more evidence that Benedict is a big, unique deal.
How did the Cubs end up with him, then? Well, when the new Marlins ownership group came into town, Benedict and three other employees were fired from the organization. Why? My best guess is that Benedict was simply getting too expensive for their taste and they decided to move on. The Cubs, on the other hand, have proven time and again that they’re willing to pay whatever it takes to get the best non-player personnel into the organization; remember, both Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon have record-setting contracts. So, at least in part, you can probably thank Tom Ricketts for that.
So what does Benedict bring to the table? From what I can tell, he offers a very broad, but important big-picture plan he calls the “Five Levels of Why.”
“It’s going to a place where others haven’t gone,” Benedict said. “I call it the five levels of, ‘Why?’ Keep digging to find out why. Why does this happen? Why do you get Tommy John? The Clayton Richards, the Volquezes, those guys. Why are you in Pittsburgh? Why aren’t you making $150 million like a lot of other guys who are less talented than you? Let’s figure out why.
Benedict went on to explain that he uses all sorts of tools – analytics, video, people/scouts, the pitchers themselves, anything – to get to the bottom of the question. And in a later article at MBL.com, he really drove home something we’ve heard before: “Everybody is different. There is no one way. Every guy has a different avenue and a different way of getting to that [moment of recognition].”
There is no way to be more “Cub-like” than recognizing the benefits of a multi-tiered process (analytics/scouts/video/history), and admitting that there’s no one-size fit all approach. Chili Davis, the Cubs new hitting coach, said something very similar about his coaching philosophy, too.
So, again, while a “special assistant” will rarely get the attention we’re giving Benedict today, he’s very much worthy of your time. The Cubs just got an excellent baseball mind into the organization, and that shouldn’t go unnoticed.