Chicago Cubs send a clear message with latest coaching staff shake-ups
By Jake Misener
With a near-complete coaching staff overhaul, the Chicago Cubs sent a clear message: losing, in any form, is unacceptable in this organization.
Last week, the Chicago Cubs parted way with longtime pitching coach Chris Bosio. At first, the move caught many, including myself, off-guard. But when you dug into the collective step backwards the team took on the mound in 2017, it made a lot of sense.
That vacancy remains unfilled – with former Tampa Bay pitching coach looming as the front-runner for the role in 2018. Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon continued an already-busy offseason Thursday, choosing not to bring back hitting coach John Mallee and third-base coach Gary Jones.
In their stead, Chicago brought in Chili Davis as the team’s new hitting coach and Brian Butterfield – both of whom spent last season on the coaching staff of the Boston Red Sox in those same roles.
Butterfield, known as a tremendous infield coach, will lend a hand to the Cubs’ infield defense that features plenty of talent, but comes up short at times. With the double play combo of Javier Baez and Addison Russell up the middle and Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo at the corners, it’s an enviable group to inherit, for sure.
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Keep in mind Mallee got a lot of the credit for Russell’s big 2016 season – and the overall team offense in their World Series championship season. But, after the offense batted a collective .168 with a .530 OPS in the postseason – you knew change was coming.
The biggest issue facing Davis? Strikeouts.
Chicago struck out at the tenth-highest rate in Major League Baseball in 2017. Meanwhile, Boston came in as the eighth-lowest under Davis’ tutelage. It’s not a flash-in-the-pan instance, either. The Red Sox struck out fewer times than any team in baseball during the 2016 season.
If you need evidence of what that can do for an offense, look no further than the American League pennant-winning Houston Astros. That club led the league in home runs – while striking out less than any other big-league club in 2017.
Postseason appearances aren’t enough anymore
So what does all this mean for the Chicago Cubs?
It means, after three-straight NLCS appearances, the front office believes the best is yet to come. That simply making it to the postseason is no longer considered a successful season. With several years of this young core remaining, Epstein expects a top-tier on-field product day-in and day-out. And, simply put, we didn’t see that during the 2017 regular season – and definitely not in the postseason.
Davis and Butterfield, two of the best at their respective crafts, know what it takes to win. They come from a big-market club in Boston and a roster ripe with young talent – very similar to the Cubs.
These changes have only increased the attention on Maddon, who will enter his fourth season in Chicago next spring. On Thursday, he was asked specifically about the dismissal of Bosio, who had served as the Cubs’ pitching coach the last six years.
"“We just thought it was time for a different voice,” Maddon said. “This is on all of us. It’s not unilateral.”"
Different voices – same end goal
Davis has several projects on his hands. Jason Heyward has struggled mightily in his first two seasons on the North Side. Russell and Baez each have a lot of growing to do at the dish, as well. Getting any of these three guys going will be a major boost to the offense and the depth of the lineup.
But the biggest takeaway is simple: the days where a .500 season, 90 wins or a postseason appearance were considered a successful season are long-gone. Each and every season, this organization has a mindset: World Series or bust.
Next: Giving Cubs' Maddon a grade for his 2017 performance
League Championship Series appearances are nice. They make you feel good looking at a season. But the brutal truth is this. The Chicago Cubs looked overmatched and played sloppy baseball against the Los Angeles Dodgers this month.
Theo is intent on making sure that doesn’t happen again.