Renovation of roster to switch into high gear
Above: Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen (24) shoots over Rockets forward PJ Tucker in the first half of Saturday’s game at the United Center.
The reckoning Cubs President Theo Epstein threatened last winter if the team underachieved in 2019 is well underway, with new manager David Ross in place and his coaching staff under construction.
As the general managers meetings begin Monday in Scottsdale, Ariz., Epstein will begin to focus more on the reconstruction of the Cubs roster. Rumors of big-name departures have begun with an ESPN report that the Cubs are shopping catcher Willson Contreras.
Contreras won’t be alone. It’s just the beginning of what figures to be a wild offseason filled with speculation, an expected byproduct of the Cubs’ failure to make the postseason despite having the second-highest payroll in baseball.
But first things first. Epstein reportedly reached an agreement with former Padres manager Andy Green to serve as Ross’ bench coach, replacing Mark Loretta. Epstein was unavailable for comment, but he said after Ross’ introductory news conference Oct. 28 that the Cubs were seeking someone with managerial experience.
“It’s important, given David’s lack of experience managing, to have someone who has either managed or been a bench coach to help him, as he said, to stay a step ahead early on in the course of the game as he grows into the job,” Epstein said. “That would make a lot of sense.”
The Cubs have completely overhauled the coaching staff since the end of 2018, when they fired hitting coach Chili Davis and pitching coach Jim Hickey after one season and bench coach Brandon Hyde left to manage the Orioles.
Already this offseason they’ve waved goodbye to manager Joe Maddon, Loretta, third base coach Brian Butterfield, bullpen coach Lester Strode and strength and conditioning coach Tim Buss. Butterfield and Buss have joined Maddon on the Angels coaching staff.
Green is the second straight Cubs bench coach who last worked for the Padres. Loretta was a special assistant in the Padres baseball operations department the previous nine seasons. Incoming bullpen coach Chris Young also started out as a scout with the Padres when Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer was the GM in San Diego.
Rick Renteria was the Padres bench coach when Epstein hired him to manage the Cubs after the 2013 season. Renteria lasted one year before Maddon replaced him.
The Padres fired Green near the end of the 2019 season during the team’s secondhalf free-fall. Originally signed to a threeyear deal in 2016 to steer a rebuild, he received an extension through 2021 during the 2017 season, meaning the Padres still will be paying him the next two seasons.
The Cubs still were paying Renteria in 2016 when he served as White Sox bench coach under manager Robin Ventura.
Green had a reputation as a smart and analytically savvy manager, and the Cubs apparently think he’s a nice fit with Ross, who is returning to the dugout after three years in the ESPN booth.
Cubs fans may remember Green best for an incident in 2017 at Wrigley Field in which Anthony Rizzo knocked Padres catcher Austin Hedges out of the game in a home-plate collision the Padres deemed dirty. Major League Baseball ruled that Rizzo violated the home-plate collision rule designed to protect catchers from injury but opted not to suspend Rizzo, angering some of the Padres brass.
The day after the collision, Green and the Padres were criticized on social media for being “soft” when Padres pitchers didn’t retaliate against Rizzo, who homered on the second pitch he saw.
“The group of guys out here, they’re not soft,” Green said. “They’ll give you everything they’ve got on the field every single day. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion, but I know this group of guys would be out fighting in a heartbeat if they were asked to do so. But just don’t think it’s the prudent thing at this point in time.”
Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler told the San Diego Union-Tribune that Rizzo’s collision was “probably the most egregious violation since the rule went in, and to do that with no repercussions, I think, is pure BS.” Fowler also defended Green’s decision not to retaliate.
“Anyone who’s calling Andy Green soft is crazy,” he said. “I think he’s very bright, but he’s also very competitive. He’s anything but soft. Andy knows our team, Andy knows what needs to be done, and I’m hoping he’s going to be our manager for a long time.”
After losing 96 games in 2018, the Padres were supposed to turn a corner in their rebuild this year with the signing of free agent Manny Machado to a 10-year, $300 million deal. They were six games over .500 in mid-April and .500 at the All-Star break when things started going south. They went 25-47 in the second half, including 7-20 in September, prompting Green’s firing with eight games remaining.
The Cubs have deferred comment on all coaching moves until the staff is complete.