Update: The Cubs have officially named Anthony Iapoce their new hitting coach; you can read more about him here.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) October 15, 2018
It’s been said that coaches are hired to be fired, and that’s certainly been the case when it comes to Cubs hitting instructors. Thursday’s announcement that Chili Davis had been relieved of his duties means Joe Maddon will be working with his third hitting coach in three seasons in 2019. So much for maintaining continuity with a core group of young hitters looking to take the next steps in their respective development.
Theo Epstein talked during his end-of-season presser about having their hitters be “selectively aggressive” while trying to hit the ball hard in the air. He said that just having talented players isn’t enough, that the Cubs must “unearth that talent and have it manifest on the field.” Their shortcomings in that area may have come from failing to create the proper environment in which their hitters could really thrive.
That’s where hiring Davis really backfired, perhaps even more than in the regressing offensive stats. Growing pains are understandable when dealing with what might be described as an evolving offensive philosophy, and no one wants the coaching staff to be a revolving door. But it became clear to Cubs execs during their exit interviews with players that moving forward with Davis “would have been counterproductive.”
So what do the Cubs do now? Maddon is essentially managing for his future in this, the final year of a five-year contract that pays him $6 million annually. His continued employment isn’t just about the Cubs averaging 97 wins per season and capturing a World Series title under his watch, it’s about them lacking a sense of urgency throughout the season.
Maddon’s a master when it comes to balancing workloads and keeping his players loose, but there comes a point at which some of his methods may not be quite as effective. And as fun as it is to bring in petting zoos and magicians, a repeat of the offensive disappearing acts of the last two seasons will put the Cubs in a hairy situation.
Who they bring in as the next hitting coach could well impact whether and how long Maddon remains in Chicago. Not that a single coach can be some sort of magic bullet or anything. Many have pointed to Davis’s departure from Boston as the reason for the Red Sox’ resurgence, but JD Martinez may have factored a little there. Even so, any kind of bounceback in Chicago will surely be attributed to the new coach and the old manager, perhaps earning the latter an extension.
The Cubs moved on from the mechanically-inclined John Mallee when they felt their hitters needed more work on approach. They moved on from Davis after his approach-based teachings saw them struggle to slug. Now they may look to find a coach who’s somewhere in between, if not more in the Mallee mold, and who can perhaps bring a little of that spark Epstein said the team lacked.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at five names mentioned recently in connection to the vacant position to see how the might fit.
In his piece about the Davis move, the Tribune’s Mark Gonzales named Magadan as a potential replacement. The former Met wasn’t much of a power hitter in his playing career, though he did belt three dingers while batting .254 with the Cubs in 1996. Magadan is also a former Epstein employee, having served as the hitting coach in Boston from their 2007 World Series season through 2012.
He then went to the Rangers for four seasons before joining the Diamondbacks in the same capacity for the last three seasons. The two sides mutually agreed to part ways after Arizona suffered through an abysmal offensive campaign and now plans on blowing things up to rebuild.
Magadan gets a bold check mark in the box labeled “Former Epstoyer Employee,” since we know how much this front office loves to retread their old tires. He did experience quite a bit of success with his old bosses, though it’s since been muted by recent results.
Currently employed as the Rangers’ hitting coach, Iapoce (pronounced “eye-uh-poh-see”) could be looking for work once a new manager is hired. He’s familiar with the Cubs from his time as special assistant to the GM with emphasis on player development from 2013-15, a role similar to that held by first base coach Will Venable last season.
Iapoce took the Rangers gig after leaving the Cubs and has been in Arlington for three seasons, though this last one was pretty rough. Like Magadan, there are pretty significant ties to both the team and the front office, not to mention his knowledge of several players who were coming through the system during his time in Chicago.
As a roving minor-league hitting instructor with the Cubs last season, Haines first showed up on the radar when he worked with Kyle Schwarber during the slugger’s demotion to Iowa. He frequently crossed paths with John Mallee in 2017 and was promoted to assistant hitting instructor this season, which means he was alongside Davis in Chicago.
It might seem a little strange to elevate a guy who was working so closely with Davis, but you have to consider that Haines didn’t really have free rein in that regard. He obviously knows the Cubs hitters and is used to working with developing talent, both from his current role and several seasons in the Marlins organization.
The Greek God of Walks has been in the Cubs organization for a while as a baseball ops assistant, an amorphous title that really just means he can hang around at spring training when he’s not running his brewery. And Loma Brewing Company was named the 2017 California Commercial Beer Brewery of the Year, so we’re not talking about some dude mashing in his garage.
Still just 39, Youkilis might be too busy with his family and his beer — I mean, can you blame him? — to be able to devote the necessary time to a full-time gig in baseball. If he did want to come back, though, his grindy approach and solid pedigree (career .281/.382/.478 slash) would garner instant respect. Then again, that’s what some folks thought about Davis.
“I think Eric Hinske may have been fired by the Angels, is that public or not?” Jesse Rogers asked rhetorically when discussing the topic on ESPN 1000’s Kap & Company Friday morning. Well, the cat may be out of the bag now, Jesse. But with Mike Scioscia gone as manger, it’s entirely possible the rest of the staff will be shaken up as well.
In any case, Hinske was Mallee’s assistant before departing to become the Angels’ hitting coach at the end of last season. He had spent three seasons as an assistant instructor after initially joining the Cubs as their first base coach in 2014, during which time he convinced Anthony Rizzo to start crowding the plate.
Hinske would bring instant credibility and would be able to pick up right where he left off given his relatively brief absence. In many regards, he seems like the perfect candidate. Then again, he just went through a situation in which his skipper was gone after one season and he might not be too keen on the possibility of going through that again.
Unless, you know, he has a tacit agreement with Maddon that they’ll both just head back to Anaheim in 2020. Calm down, I’m just kidding. Or am I?
Well, well, look who we’ve got here. This is super unlikely because it doesn’t really seem like Grandpa Rossy’s bag, but it does make sense from a certain perspective. And by that, I mean the fans clamoring for him to be brought back are going to rationalize it a certain way. I can see it too, though.
We’ve heard Ross mentioned in connection with the Twins’ managerial vacancy and there was even a rumor that the Cubs could look at him as Maddon’s replacement. Even if they do end up extending Maddon, the Cubs are certainly going to be looking to groom successors, so adding Ross to the staff would allow him to learn on the job.
But as Rogers mentioned on the air, the role of hitting coach doesn’t necessarily offer the best path to becoming a manager. He cited Craig Counsell, who said working in the Brewers’ front office prior to moving to the dugout was invaluable to his resultant success. Then again, there’s nothing stopping Ross from learning about the analytical side of the game just because he’s a coach.
As for knowing the players and staff, Ross is pretty well set. And he’s a guy who wouldn’t be afraid of getting in a player’s grill or lighting fires when necessary. Still, he seems more suited to being a bench coach, which could still be a possibility if Brandon Hyde ends up elsewhere (he interviewed for the Rangers manager job).
For my money, it’s Hinske or Haines on this one, which means it’ll probably be some cat I didn’t even mention. Who would you prefer from this list? Any others you’d add?