Report: Theo Epstein Wanted to Keep Chili Davis, ‘Caved’ to Wishes of Star Hitters

Given the lack of player movement this winter, most of the Cubs’ activity has come in the coaching staff and front office. Most notably, they replaced both their hitting and pitching coaches for the second time in as many seasons. Chili Davis’s highly-publicized ouster was followed by reports that he had struggled to relate to players, something Davis himself openly admitted.

Theo Epstein addressed issues with the team’s hitting approach during his postmortem press conference, indicating that some changes were likely coming.

“[T]he bottom line is we stopped walking and stopped hitting the ball out of the ballpark, especially in the second half,” Epstein said. “We hit the ball on the ground a ton, I think that was exacerbated down the end probably by a little of the stuff the guys had to deal with, the schedule and the fatigue. But it started long before that, so it’s not an excuse.”

But those are really just general statements. More damning were comments that could easily be viewed as direct criticism of Davis’s coaching philosophy. And by that, I mean the methods that led to a column in the New York Post titled: Chili Davis pushing Mets to old-school, controversial hitting approach.

“The goal…was never to sacrifice power or, in my opinion, launch angle,” Epstein said. “It’s not a fad. The bottom line is line drives and balls in the air are way more productive than ground balls.”

Based on everything we’d heard, not to mention a little deductive reasoning, it seemed as though the decision to part ways with Davis was a simple one. Maybe not a consensus vote, certainly not contentious. But according to SNY’s John Harper, Epstein felt his hand was forced when it came to firing the hitting coach.

Cubs president Theo Epstein didn’t really want to fire Davis, according to multiple sources, yet felt he had no choice but to give in to the wishes of at least a few of his star hitters, most notably Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.

“He caved,” was the way one person close to the situation put it. “He’s not happy about it. He thinks it’s BS that the players complained about Chili, but he wasn’t going to stick with his hitting coach just to make a point.”

Harper presents Epstein’s decision as being between his fondness for Davis and a desire to avoid a “war with the star players.” I don’t know about you, but that strikes me as a highly dramatized view of the situation. It’s also nothing new when you get down to it.

Even if team president and hitting coach hated one another, the simple fact of the matter is that you’d rather maintain continuity in the staff if things are working well. If there’s significant friction between coach and players, however, it’s pretty obvious who’s going to have to go. And we had heard back in early October that criticism of Davis, ostensibly from multiple players, was “too strong to ignore.”

So of course Epstein didn’t want to fire Davis. At the same time, it feels a little disingenuous that “he thinks it’s BS that the players complained.” Maybe this source was speaking about Epstein’s obvious frustration right after the season, when he was wound tighter than one of Rob Manfred’s juiced baseballs. And maybe *gasp* there was a little hyperbole involved.

I don’t doubt a bit that some players may have complained, but it seems more likely that several simply didn’t connect with Davis or his methods. That could certainly be true for Bryant, a known practitioner of launch angle who’s probably too much of a nice guy to toss a coach under the bus.

There’s also the possibility that this report, like an earlier one from SNY regarding the Cubs’ desire to have Troy Tulowitzki as their starting shortstop, is spurred by an agenda. Who benefits from information like this being out there? Not Epstein or the Cubs. The only real beneficiaries are Chili Davis and the Mets, who gain a measure of goodwill and maybe additional benefit of the doubt.

Only those on the inside know for sure, but Davis’s ouster didn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who’d been following the matter closely throughout the season. Guess it’s just par for the course this winter.

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