Returning to dugout in 2019 ‘ignited a real passion,’ says Cubs manager candidate Mark Loretta

The Cubs bench coach is one of three in-house candidates to replace Joe Maddon, the team confirmed Tuesday, joining front office special assistant David Ross and first base coach Will Venable.

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Milwaukee Brewers v Chicago Cubs

Cubs bench coach Mark Loretta (right) during a game in August, with then-manager Joe Maddon (left) and third baseman Kris Bryant.

Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

After conducting end-of-season exit interviews with their coaches Tuesday, the Cubs confirmed bench coach Mark Loretta will interview for the manager vacancy, along with first-base coach Will Venable.

A third in-house candidate, front-office special assistant David Ross, was confirmed Monday and widely believed to be a favorite for the job.

If there’s an early co-favorite, it would seem to be Loretta, who was hired in January after nine years as a special assistant in the Padres’ front office — and about eight weeks after team president Theo Epstein tabled talk of an extension for Joe Maddon until the end of the season.

“I think we’re aligned quite a bit philosophically, but I think I’ll know more Thursday,” Loretta said.

“I’m sure we’ll get more in-depth then [in the interview]. I’m looking forward to it. I think it’ll be a good experience.”

None of the three in-house candidates is thought to have interviewed for other managing jobs, although Loretta was part of a hiring process with the Padres when they hired Andy Green before the 2016 season.

Venable, 36, joined the Cubs as a special assistant in the front office in 2017, the year after his nine-year big-league playing career was done, then joined the coaching staff in 2018. He said his interview has not been scheduled yet.

Loretta, 48, was a two-time All-Star during a 15-year playing career after being drafted by the Brewers out of Northwestern.

“I think having a year with these guys certainly helps in terms of the relationships I’ve forged and some of the things we’ve been through this year — ups and downs, certainly,” Loretta said. “But it sounds like, just listening to Theo [on Monday with reporters], I think there’s going to be some changes, absolutely — and rightfully so.

“I don’t think it’s a drastic overhaul like some teams do, but I think some tweaking of the roster probably is in order.”

Loretta and Venable have strong ties to the Padres and, consequently, a connection to Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, a former Padres GM. Hoyer hired Loretta for the Padres’ front office in 2010.

Loretta, whose playing career included playoff appearances with the Padres (2005) and Dodgers (2009), was viewed from the outside as a candidate to replace Maddon as soon as he was hired.

“I never had any kind of conversation with Theo or Jed or anybody in the front office about the manager’s job, honestly, until this morning,” Loretta said Tuesday. “A lot of the reason for me taking this [coaching] job in the first place was the chance to work with a guy like Joe and find out how I would take to coaching and how I would like it. And it ignited a real passion to get back in the game on a daily basis and certainly a desire to manage, as well. But that didn’t come in the beginning and kind of evolved during the season. But we never had any conversation about it, even after Joe was let go, until today.”

Despite having months to explore plans for a new manager and the known quantities of in-house candidates, Epstein said Monday he’s keeping an open mind during a process that might take much of the month to complete.

Outside candidates could include Cardinals pitching coach Mike Maddux or Astros bench coach Joe Espada, both of whom are in the playoffs. Former Cubs Mark DeRosa and Joe Girardi also have been at least loosely linked, though Girardi in particular is a long shot.

“Manager of the Cubs is such an esteemed position, you should have access to just about anybody in the industry you want to talk to,” Epstein said. “Through the managerial interview process, I think you learn a lot about what you’re looking for, too, because the right candidates can open your eyes to things you never even thought about in the first place.

“That said, we have a pretty good feel for what we’re looking for and what lies ahead for this group.”

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