It shouldn’t be a surprise of how things turned out in the Windy City.
Finishing 84-78 in 2019, this past season doesn’t come down to what the Cubs did or didn’t do — it comes down to their imminent end of an era.
Former manager Joe Maddon’s departure was not nearly as shocking as the Cubs’ willingness to wither away quietly amid a disappointing finish. However, Maddon’s leave comes at the cost of a constantly repetitive and overall unenthusiastic 2019.
New hire — manager David Ross is set to be the Cubs’ manager for the 2020 season.
Grandpa Rossy? Anyone else, Theo?
When Ross was hired as a special assistant to the Cubs’ President of Baseball operations Theo Epstein in 2017, fans (myself included) saw this coming, but couldn’t bear to look. Ross’ initial offer favoring both Cubs fans and former teammates surely was to keep him around for something bigger in the future.
Looking back to the past, I see how this happens now.
Only three seasons after he hit his history-defying home run in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, Ross is at the helm of a team searching for an identity that was seemingly lost in translation this season.
It was an identity that even Maddon had a hard time grasping, with his odd in-game antics starting to turn sour on the back end of his time in Chicago.
With all that talent and no postseason appearance, the Cubs were second-place victims to National League Central champions Cardinals, a team who basically rose from the dead after the All-Star Break.
Maddon's where he belongs, and has always belonged, in Los Angeles. He deserves nothing but the best after bringing home a miracle.
The Cubs, on the other hand, beat themselves internally this season — battling star power injury early-on, poor pitching and overall laziness when it came to the simple things.
Storylines to take with you after 2019: The Milwaukee Brewers are now the team to beat in the Central. The Cardinals reign as Central champions. And the Cubs? A snug footnote atop the toilet bowl contenders of Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
Managerial candidates in Cubs bench coach Mark Loretta, Astros bench coach Joe Espada and maybe even Joe Girardi would’ve seemed a better fit for the job.
But Ross is Chicago royalty. I understand why the organization did what they did, despite any sight of managerial experience under his belt.
The term “player’s coach” got tossed around quite a bit during Maddon’s tenure, and I have no doubt that Ross will receive the same praise.
And it’s not all bad when you look at it on paper: include a two-time World Series winner with championship-level experience in the environment he's going to manage in, with players he's played with. It doesn’t sound awful.
Here’s where I draw the line.
Returning after three seasons to the same clubhouse you were in as a player with no managerial experience is a risky die to roll — especially if you’re a team planning on staying competitive in the skin-tight NL Central.
Looking back on managerial replacements after Rick Renteria in 2014, before Maddon’s turnaround, Cubs legend Ryne Sandberg topped that list of candidates. Former Yankees skipper Girardi was a finalist himself.
No other offer? No conversation or a mention to their managerial ability this time around? Sandberg’s been a minor league manager and manned the Phillies for two seasons. Northwestern grad and former Cub Girardi served the Yankees up a World Series ring.
I’d rather have someone with years of experience instead of a special assistant, ESPN analyst.
Who wouldn’t? I mean experience is the name of the game more so than ever as now not-so-young returners in Rizzo and Baez are considered veterans. This formerly ‘young’ team is shaped into the players they are supposed to be, and Grandpa Rossy may not be the guy to get the best out of his guys.
I can see it now, like little league baseball, Baez asking to play first base while Rizzo wants to come in to pitch. A circus in Chicago — a stage of hollow champions clinging to the ring that happened three years ago.
Maybe I'm a bit pessimistic, but it doesn't feel right.
As far as KB’s free agency rumors — Ross is boss now. Theo dodged a bullet off the shot of Bryant testing those waters this offseason. A Bryant-less team would’ve really set them back, and Ross might’ve just saved that.
Epstein seems to think that this is how the team is moving forward, according to ESPN’s Jesse Rogers.
“We're looking forward," Epstein said at his end-of-year press conference last month. "We're not looking backward. In some ways there's been too much emphasis on 2016 and looking back. His [Ross] connection to that team, or to some of our existing players, will not be a significant part of the evaluation."
I hope they aren’t kicking themselves for shipping Gleyber Torres or downgrading Ian Happ. This doesn’t seem like progression, but more like a punch to the gut.
Regardless of the failed personnel changes, Ross is a puzzling addition to a Cubs team that was unrecognizable in the big moments. Ross’ ability as a manager is untested on paper. But as a clubhouse leader in tune with the culture, can you really trust him with the lineup card?
Filling the shoes of a guy like Maddon is a tall order in itself. In a proverbial sense, Maddon wears size 13s while Ross rocks 10s.
Back to being okay with just being okay.