There aren’t too many national baseball writers whose work I’ll stop what I’m doing to read. One who always draws my eye, however, is Eno Sarris of The Athletic. He packs a great deal of intellectual information into his work without staring down his nose at the reader and he infuses his own personality without being heavy-handed. All of which is to say I enjoy reading him and I trust his opinions and analysis.
So when he put out his list of “the next wave of potentially great managers,” you know I had to check it out ($). There are eight names in all, only four of which I’m going to share out of respect for Sarris and his publication’s subscription model, but rest assured you’ve probably heard of all of them. Well, there might be a couple dark horses.
Among those with Cubs ties, the least obvious to those who’ve not been reading CI over the past few days is Sam Fuld. A former Cubs draft pick and daredevil outfielder, the scrappy Fuld moved into the Phillies front office the day after he retired as a player. Boasting a Stanford economics degree and a love of metrics that dates back to his playing days, Fuld has a passion for the new style of baseball and can relate to those in all areas of an organization.
In something of a surprise move, Fuld reportedly turned down an offer to interview for his former team’s managerial opening. That may have been out of respect for his friend and former coach, Gabe Kapler, or maybe because Fuld didn’t feel he was ready. It’s also possible that he knew the Cubs had already zeroed in on their top target(s) and didn’t want to serve as a research subject.
Next up is Will Venable, whose Princeton education is punctuated by varsity letters in baseball and basketball. After a solid career spent primarily with the Padres, during which time he got to know Jed Hoyer, Venable came to the Cubs last season as a special assistant. He’s since spent time as their first base coach and, like Fuld, has the intellect and street cred to process and communicate information effectively.
Now we get to the more obvious names, the first of which is Joe Espada. We’ve covered him here in pretty good detail already, but I suppose I can spare a nutshell version for those who’re just coming around. A veteran of several minor league seasons and three different MLB organizations as a coach, Espada has the practical experience and technical know-how to run a club.
According to one of David Kaplan’s sources in Houston, Espada “had a sensational interview” with the Cubs earlier this week and “gave Theo + Jed a lot to think about.” That’s not surprising, but the timing and nature of the report does make it seem like a bit of a spin job.
Houston source tells me Astros coach Joe Espada had a sensational interview w/Cubs front office. “He gave Theo + Jed a lot to think about. They really liked him + came away exceptionally impressed. Was it enough to overcome David Ross’s relationship w/Theo and Jed? We’ll see.”
— David Kaplan (@thekapman) October 17, 2019
By that I mean it sounds like something being used to better hype Espada for one of the other openings in the likely event that David Ross is the choice. The former catcher has long been viewed as the favorite for the opening and he’s Sarris’s final entrant.
This should counter some of the talk about how no other teams being publicly interested in Ross is a red flag. Maybe those teams have been told privately that he’s not interested or they already know where his heart lies. All I know is that we’re not talking about a uniform set of circumstances, so what is best for the Cubs is not what’s best for the Giants or Padres or [insert job opening here].
Jesse Rogers of ESPN has touted Ross and the like choice for a while now, and he put it out there in no uncertain terms in his recent piece about where things stand with the Cubs’ search.
Simply put — and with absolutely no disrespect to anyone involved — the Cubs aren’t replacing Joe Maddon with Kapler or first-base coach Will Venable. And probably not with bench coach Mark Loretta — or even Joe Girardi or Astros bench coach Joe Espada, who by all accounts has been very impressive in the interview process. Industry sources continue to indicate that this is David Ross’ job to lose.
Sarris highlights Grandpa Rossy’s leadership skills and his ability to engage with just about anyone, all of which the Cubs covet. And while some (mistakenly, in my opinion) view his existing relationships with current players as a detriment, Ross can leverage his familiarity for instant respect and rapport. Remember, he was the guy keeping teammates in line during his time with the Cubs.
“They will play for him,” one source told Rogers. “He has their respect already, so if he needs to get in someone’s face, they know exactly where it’s coming from.”
That’s the key right there. The Cubs have very publicly acknowledged the leadership void created when Ross retired and they’ve openly pined for him to take on a bigger role with the team in the time since. What some see as falling victim to the “winner’s trap” yet again, the Cubs likely see as adding the missing ingredient back into the mix.
The big question is whether said ingredient is beyond its expiry. Would Ross returning bring the luster back to a Cubs team that had produced diminishing returns since 2016 or is just a gimmicky reboot of a stagnant movie franchise? Like Hollywood, a front office in need of a big hit may see Ross as the quickest fix. And that’s not a bad thing.
With their interviews complete, expect an announcement to come sometime between the conclusion of the ALCS and the start of the World Series this coming Tuesday.