Cubs Have Begun to Identify Potential Maddon Successors
Kyle Schwarber’s name and picture led Jon Heyman’s latest Inside Baseball Notes, but it was a buried bullet that bore at least as much weight as the left fielder lost this offseason. Though no one believed Joe Maddon’s Cubs tenure would last forever, it was interesting to see that the team has been actively seeking to groom potential replacements.
The Cubs identified three potential future managers to try to convince to come as coaches (one of whom now has a managing job), but Mark DeRosa, Raul Ibanez and Aaron Boone wound up not coming. Theo Epstein, upon seeing Boone was going to be named Yankees manager, jokingly told him that “it must have been a tough choice — Yankees manager or Cubs quality assurance coach.”
I’d like to climb into this brief bit of news and take it for a little test drive, particularly in light of what we heard from Jed Hoyer earlier in the week. The Cubs GM joined Spiegel and Parkins on 670 The Score to talk about spring training and the coming season, but he shared some great information about the team’s “flat hierarchy” as well.
“I think that’s the way it should be,” Hoyer said. “You should always hire people that can take your job and this game is ever-evolving and I think it’s important to remember that. Our job is to bring in the best of the best of the next generation and someday those people will be running teams, and the Cubs, and there’s no point in fighting that. I think you have to embrace that.”
While there are some obvious differences in building and running a team from the front office and managing it from the dugout, it’s clear that a shared leadership philosophy permeates the entire organization. Maintaining or, better yet, further developing the culture they’ve established at the corner of Clark and Addison isn’t a matter of luck or finding someone to come into the mix cold.
Nor is it about singling out a designated manager-in-waiting, even if said individual checks all the boxes. If there’s one thing that has remained static about the Epstoyer regime, it’s that nothing has remained static with the way they think. Perhaps a better way to put that is to say that they aren’t stupid enough to believe they’re as smart as everyone thinks they are.
Redundancy isn’t just good for the roster, it’s important for the coaching staff and the front office as well. And because you can never have too many talented baseball minds, the Cubs will continue to seek out more people to bring aboard. That might mean hiring a guy whose only post-baseball gig was in the broadcast booth, or one who recently retired from his playing career.
Many, present company included, were surprised when Boone was pulled from the ESPN booth to succeed Joe Girardi in New York, but the Cubs’ interest in him is evidence that Brian Cashman isn’t completely crazy. Ibañez has served as special assistant to Andrew Friedman with the Dodgers and was among the candidates for the Yankees gig. He had even been in the running to replace Maddon in Tampa three years ago.
DeRosa quickly became a beloved figure during his brief Cubs tenure and has remained close to the game via his MLB Network gig. He also bears the distinction of bringing Chris Archer to the Cubs in the trade that sent the incredibly versatile infielder to Cleveland. Unfortunately, the trades DeRo proposes on air don’t make quite as much sense as those he’s actually been involved in.
What we see in all three of these men, aside from being former players, is that they were and are held in high regard by teammates and coworkers. They were adept on the field and in the clubhouse, after which they transitioned to new iterations of the game. It takes more than likability and a solid playing career to make a go of it as a manager, but those factors certainly help.
To that end, I have no doubt the Cubs are looking to develop another former player who wasn’t listed in Heyman’s column. I’m speaking of Will Venable, the Princeton-educated former Padre who played for Jed Hoyer in San Diego and joined the Cubs last year as a special assistant. He was then named first base coach when the staff was shaken up in November.
Given his pedigree — education, playing experience, familiarity with Hoyer, etc — I really think he’s a legit option to take over for Maddon or even to move back into the front office in the future. And I’m sure there are a number of other potential candidates, both in-house and otherwise, that are being monitored. That’s how this whole things works, or at least how I imagine it does.
Make no mistake, this has nothing to do with a lack of faith in Maddon and it isn’t a sign that he won’t be offered an extension to carry him beyond the 2019 season. But whether it’s two years from now or five or whatever, Maddon will inevitably vacate his current post. Well, unless his darkening hair is evidence that there’s some kind of Benjamin Button action going on.
No, this is all about being prepared and making sure that the Cubs maintain continuity when the time comes for Maddon to pass the torch. Which should probably come after his third World Series title in Chicago