Mark Loretta, who served as Joe Maddon’s bench coach last season, recently completed his interview for the Cubs’ vacant managerial position. When asked about areas of improvement during an appearance on 670 The Score Saturday morning, Loretta readily admitted that the team lacked structure and needs a stricter schedule with more mandatory activities going forward.
“We certainly had trouble in the bullpen early and late in the season. The defense, for sure, I think it could have been much better. On the offensive side, we struck out way too much. So those three areas for me are big concerns. I don’t think it’s an edge or concentration issue.
“I don’t think it’s an edge or concentration issue. I think we should look at how we practiced, check what our game planning was and things like that. We maybe need to make adjustments in those areas.”
His plan for addressing those issues should please the old-school crowd, but Loretta offered some sound rationale for his beliefs.
“I think coaching in this day and age is a lot like parenting. I think kids and millennials need a certain amount of structure,” Loretta explained. “They need a schedule. They are so used to that. Driven around here, travel ball games, showcase events over here, all this stuff.
“They crave a schedule. There may be some initial push-back, but they like to have it. If you give them too much free time, that can go haywire.”
Loretta’s constrictive criticism paralleled that expressed by Theo Epstein during his recent end-of-season press conference. One of Epstein’s main points was that the Cubs lacked team-centrism. That is, many players had individual routines that appeared disjointed from the rest of the team.
“You do need your infielders out there as a group,” Loretta emphasized. “Not every day, but maybe a few times a week with four or five guys working together as a unit. We have had a lot of optional hitting practice and fielding practice.”
If hired, Loretta will be tasked with reinvigorating a clubhouse culture that seems to have faded over the last few seasons. That was central to the Cubs’ desire to make a change, the idea that they needed to have more internal energy rather than relying on acquisitions to provide it.
“We need to create a culture in the clubhouse with guys in uniform that they push themselves to be the very best version of themselves,” Epstein said. “We have a great culture and we’re going to try to take it to the next level.”
Can Loretta foster an environment in which accountability is prioritized as highly as individuality and fun? What’s more, can he do it in the face of immense pressure? For what it’s worth, and with the knowledge that he’s probably trying to say what people want to hear, it did sound like he understands the delicate balance between fun and structure.
“We are not saying [structure] should be a military-style. I don’t think that’s the way to go. I do believe that structure and accountability mixed with relationships, love and fun. We want to have fun in this game. Our trainer Tim Buss is just fantastic in team-building and getting guys together to work and have a good time.
“We are still professionals, and the bottom line is we have to execute. The team that executes the most usually comes out on top.”
Perhaps no candidate understands Maddon’s shortcomings better than Loretta. While David Ross was part of Maddon’s group for two years, the beloved backstop hasn’t been as intricately connected with this recent team as the bench coach. That could be a distinct advantage for Loretta, though his role in possible enabling what some view as a culture of complacency may work against him at the same time.
Hearing about more structure and a greater degree of accountability is a bit different because rarely did we hear such words from Maddon over the last five years. But get used to that semantic shift moving forward. Epstein made it clear that the next manager will bring a different attitude in an effort to get the best out of young players while preventing the defensive and baserunning miscues that plagued the past season.