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Assessing the Manager Candidates for the 2020 Chicago Cubs

Although David Ross is creating the most buzz to be the next Cubs manager, he may not be the best option.
Photo: Jim McIsaac

Photo: Jim McIsaac

With how much sustained success the Cubs have experienced since 2015 under Joe Maddon, it’s hard to envision anybody else putting together the lineup card for the 2020 Chicago Cubs. But nonetheless, it will happen. A lot of fans disagree with the decision, but a change was most certainly needed. Theo Epstein actually has a quote in the book The Cubs Way that applies perfectly with his decision to part ways with Maddon. “It benefits not only the individual but also the institution to seek change every 10 years…the same message or the same voice tends to get tuned out a little bit just by human nature.” In the book, he is referencing why he left Boston for Chicago, but it directly applies to his rationale to not retain Maddon. Although Maddon was only the manager for the Cubs for five years, it was clear his voice was starting to grow old sooner than that ten-year threshold. Maddon’s departure was less about his ability to manage and more about a change of environment and culture, as stated in Theo’s presser last Monday. With all this said, let’s dive into which of the candidates will best help the 2020 Cubs achieve the goal of a revamped culture.

Mark Loretta: Current bench coach Mark Loretta was the first person to interview for the job and seems like a legitimate candidate at this point. However, I have some serious hesitancies as to whether or not he is the best man for the job. If the goal is to promote a change of culture within the clubhouse, how does hiring internally make any sense? It seems like an external voice is the best avenue to induce change. I understand Loretta made public comments last week that the team needs more structure and accountability after a disappointing 2019. While these were all weaknesses under the leadership of Maddon and I absolutely agree with these comments, this was public knowledge. Loretta saying he will do the exact opposite of the manager who was just let go is something anybody would say, but in practice much more difficult to implement. I have my doubts.

David Ross: Ross seems like the betting and fan favorite at the moment, which makes sense considering he’s outwardly spoken that he is interested in managing someday. I do believe that the Cubs miss both Ross's and Jake Arrieta’s leadership voices from those 2015-2017 teams, but I am hesitant to say Ross would be the best fit to manage this team. He’s won a World Series with, is friends with, and has partied with half this roster. I strongly feel that he is not far enough removed from the clubhouse to manage it. What happens when Kris Bryant or Anthony Rizzo jogs down the line and doesn’t run out a groundball? Do you really think Ross will get on either of them in the dugout? What if Rizzo jaws back at him because he does not view Ross as an authoritarian voice? I know Ross was a leader in his playing days on the Cubs, but there’s not a chance his voice traveled further than Rizzo’s did. The Cubs need a manager who the players do not consider their friend. David Ross is not the answer.

Replacing the ultimate player-first manager in Joe  Maddon with a guy who's friends with half the roster would not generate a change of culture within the clubhouse, a stated goal for this offseason.

Replacing the ultimate player-first manager in Joe Maddon with a guy who's friends with half the roster would not generate a change of culture within the clubhouse, a stated goal for this offseason.

Joe Girardi: While Loretta says he will add more structure and accountability to the culture of the Cubs, Girardi has actually implemented these tactics in practice when managing past ball clubs. Yes, he’s more of an old school manager and a complete 180 from what this team experienced with Joe Maddon. But isn’t that kind of the point? Theo said these exact following words in his press conference last Monday: “Work is going to be really important. We need to find a way to create a culture and environment that compels every player to push themselves to become the very best version of themselves. We want that culture where that’s expected.” In order to have this type of culture, it requires a disciplined manager. And if Joe Girardi is anything, he’s a manager who does not tolerate laziness and instills pervasive discipline in the clubhouse. Right now, there are too many, for lack of a better word, ‘nice guys’ in that clubhouse. They need somebody who will get on them for the lackadaisical play that led the NL in both outs on the basepaths and defensive errors. Girardi will do that. If Theo truly wants to eliminate complacency and bring about a cultural overhaul, Girardi is the answer.

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Joe Espada: Although Espada is not a big name and hasn’t generated as much buzz from the fans, he may actually be the best fit of anybody on this list. While he does not have managerial experience, in the past he has been a special assistant to NY Yankees Brian Cashman, one of the better GM’s in baseball. More importantly, he is the current bench coach of the Houston Astros, one of the best-run organizations in baseball. Analytically, Houston is doing something that no one else in baseball is mirroring. Potential Cy Young pitcher Justin Verlander even publicly stated that the amount of data that he was given on how to attack opposing hitters once he was traded there was something he has never seen before. This innovative analytical approach is a large reason why Verlander revamped his career once he was dealt from Detroit. Furthermore, I truly believe the Cubs are behind baseball from an analytical standpoint, which is why Theo mentioned having a director of hitting and pitching in his presser last Monday. While Espada’s managerial techniques are unknown, he’s learned from the best over his short career. He also has the benefit of being an external voice that is not too close to the players yet is young enough to be able to relate to them. The added benefit of being able to steal intel from an organization that has won 100 games each of the past three years doesn’t hurt, either.

Will Venable: Venable has been the first base coach for the Cubs the past two seasons and is being interviewed this week for the job. However, there’s no reason to dive too deep here. For the same reasons as Loretta, he’s not the answer.

Girardi is the type of personality to come into the clubhouse, ruffle some feathers, and instill newfound discipline, which is exactly what the 2020 Cubs need.

Girardi is the type of personality to come into the clubhouse, ruffle some feathers, and instill newfound discipline, which is exactly what the 2020 Cubs need.

Craig Counsell: Although this has not been highly rumored, Theo said verbatim in his press conference on Monday that at least one manager in the playoffs is on their short list. I believe Counsell is that guy. What he’s done with the Brewers the past two years is miraculous. They were one game away from the World Series last year and went on a 19-2 run down the stretch to steal a Wild Card spot this year. They had no business being in the playoffs this season with the talent on that roster, especially with Yelich’s season-ending injury in September. Counsell is masterful with his bullpen usage, evident by their 27-18 record in one-run games and winning 89 games with their league average (+3) run differential. At 19-27 in one-run games, the Cubs were as bad as anyone in utilizing the bullpen in high-leverage situations. While this is a longshot, as I do not believe he would want to leave Milwaukee, a team he played six seasons for, the Cubs should go after him.

I think either of Girardi, Espada, or Counsell would be great managers to lead this team. Girardi provides exactly what Joe Maddon did not offer, which is a step in the right direction. However, he is a bit of a risk with his lack of communication skills, which is the main reason why he was fired from New York. On the other hand, Joe Espada is younger and has intel from the best-run organization in baseball, but he has no experience. Counsell is probably the best manager in baseball right now, but he’s more of a pipe dream than a realistic hire. There are pros and cons to each, but I believe Theo has the wherewithal to hire one of the three. He let the fans dictate the Craig Kimbrel signing in June. That won’t happen this offseason with David Ross. Joe Espada or Joe Girardi will manage the Cubs in 2020.

Featured Photo: Jim McIsaac