Chicago Cubs: David Ross faces a tough task in his first season

(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images) /

Just a few short months ago, all of the focus was on the hiring of new Chicago Cubs manager David Ross. Now, you have to wonder what year one will look like.

The Chicago Cubs named former backstop and fan favorite David Ross as the successor to Joe Maddon – arguably the most successful manager in modern Cubs history – in a move that elicited a wide range of reactions.

Will Ross, who does not have any managerial experience, successfully navigate in-game issues like lineup construction and bullpen management? Are his relationships with the players really a positive element of his role or will they only be cause for more confusion? Whether you liked the hire or not, these are valid questions for any first-year manager.

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Yet just a couple months later, it hardly seems like Ross’ performance will be measurable in 2020.

This is not to say Ross will not endure his share of criticisms and skeptics, but rather that it will be hard to measure his effectiveness as manager given the current state of the club this offseason.

For starters, the Cubs have yet to sign any single player to a big league contract in free agency. While certain moves, like re-signing Brandon Morrow on an extremely cheap deal, figure to have upside, it is very clear that the front office is strapped for cash.

So, how is Ross going to be judged if this front office cannot even pursue stop-gap additions like a Shogo Akiyama in center field, or even spend a few extra dollars on a Will Harris in the bullpen?

Last year, Epstein and co. (and Maddon himself) consistently put forth the idea of “internal improvements.” The Cubs were supposed to have enough talent with the roster as constructed. Clearly, those “internal improvements” were not sufficient.

Consider that Yu Darvish was a Cy Young-caliber arm after the All-Star break. Kris Bryant returned to form after an injury-riddled 2018. Kyle Schwarber put together arguably his best year as a Cub and Nicholas Castellanos (pretty much the lone move of significance) gave Chicago a vital spark over the course of the last few months.

One might expect, considering some of those “internal improvements,” that the Cubs would be able to build on their 2018 campaign. Instead, they lost 11 wins and missed the playoffs.

This team still faces the same challenges this winter: an aging starting rotation, numerous bullpen needs and a more reliable threat at the top of the lineup, to name a few.

But the inability to move money is real. Sure, the Cubs could make an impact trade should they elect to part ways with the likes of Bryant or Willson Contreras, but either move would almost certainly lead to a step back in 2020.

All of this is to say that it might be hard to find anything tangible as a barometer of “success” with respect to Ross’ performance as manager. Would it really be his fault if the Cubs did not make the postseason in 2020 given the current state of the franchise? What is a “successful” season for this team, at this point in time?

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Those are tough questions to answer, which might also explain why it will be hard to judge Ross’ managerial credibility in 2020.