Astros Bench Coach Joe Espada Another Name to Watch in Cubs’ Managerial Search

We’ve heard about the various internal options, plus Raúl Ibañez and Joe Girardi, But Theo Epstein said Monday that the Cubs have also identified a candidate from a current playoff team. He could have been referring to Ibañez, who is with the Dodgers in a front-office capacity, but it’s more like Epstein was referring to someone on a coaching staff.

And that could be Astros bench coach Joe Espada, a man whose profile has been getting a serious bump lately. That tends to happen when you’re serving as the right hand AJ Hinch, the manager who has led one of baseball’s most powerful forces over the last few years. And when you think about how the Astros were constructed from the ruins of a cellar dweller with young talent and big pitching acquisitions, you can see how the Cubs might want to cull someone from their ranks.

Former White Sox World Series hero and current Astros analyst Geoff Blum offered a good deal of praise for Espada when he joined 670 The Score’s Joe Ostrowski Wednesday night (convo starts at 28:55 in player below, Cubs talk at 33:36). Blum touted Espada’s diverse experience from time spent working up through the Marlins organization, noting that he’s familiar with all organizational aspects in addition to being bilingual.

“That’s a good one to be thinking about because he’s already had a couple of interviews in the past and he’s sat on the bench a couple of times with AJ Hinch,” Blum said when asked if Espada would fit well with the Cubs. “So he’s got a real good idea of how the Astros work internally, and I think hanging around AJ Hinch is a benefit, just because AJ is a guy who came from a front office, managed, then went back to the front office, and is now in a manager’s seat where he really has humbled himself within the game.”

While the Cubs haven’t released their full checklist of managerial must-haves to the public, you can bet they’re prioritizing communication above all else. MLB insider Jon Heyman recently told 670 The Score that Joe Maddon had essentially stopped listening to the front office, which is the same reason Girardi was not renewed in New York two years ago.

The Cubs need someone new to “help foster a new identity” as they look to recreate a perpetual motion machine that doesn’t rely upon constant injections of energy from the outside. It was evident that complacency had set in over the last few seasons, which is an unacceptable situation for any organization, let alone one that is expected to compete for a title. Getting back to 2015 and ’16 levels of vigor will be the responsibility of a new manager.

“And you know, what you don’t hear about a lot in a lot of major league clubhouses is the bench coach is really the enforcer, really the guy that tries to motivate some of these guys because managers have so much on their plate,” Blum said.

“So Joe Espada has done a very good job in being delegated some of the jobs that AJ Hinch is unable to do, and he’s gained the respect of all 25 guys in that clubhouse.”

Before joining Houston, Espada played in the minors with eight different organizations over roughly a decade. He then joined the Marlins as an A-ball hitting instructor in 2006, eventually working his way up to Miami in 2010 as the third base coach. Rather than accept an assignment to manage Triple-A Jupiter in 2014, Espada took a role as special assistant to Yankees GM Brian Cashman.

After serving as the Yankees’ third base and infield coach during the 2015 season, Espada was hired by Houston to serve as bench coach. He has also coached and managed the Puerto Rican national team and has worked with Gigantes de Carolina in winter ball. If the Cubs are looking for a guy with experience, Espada has it.

Apropos of nothing beyond coincidence, he was in both Miami and New York during Girardi’s tenure with each organization.

More than just being experienced in a general sense, which really means nothing, it’s the ability to communicate across different levels that makes Espada stand out. He’s familiar with front office dynamics from his time in New York, has served as something of a clubhouse enforcer with Houston, and is bilingual. But does he provide a powerful enough new voice to foster the cultural change Epstein has called for?

We may never know the answer to that question, though it does seem like Espada is a long shot. Maybe it’s because the Cubs want to avoid going with another guy named Joe, or maybe it’s because they seem to have a top choice already picked out.

There’s a pretty overwhelming sense among baseball people, including but not limited to beat and national writers, that David Ross has the inside track on the gig. He can obviously communicate well and has great rapport with both the front office and the core members of the roster, most of whom he played with in Chicago a few years ago. And despite what many people saw outwardly as a teddy bear persona, he was something of a clubhouse enforcer behind the scenes.

Even if they’re more intent on one candidate over another, though, this process will give the Cubs the opportunity to pick the brains of several individuals and could get them moving in a different direction. Maybe they get a little more honest input on the way they’ve been doing things and what they can change moving forward.

If they do end up deciding to go outside the organization for someone with a different voice, they could do a lot worse than Joe Espada.

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