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Cubs new bench coach deflects manager-in-waiting talk as Theo praises Joe Maddon

Mark Loretta has been around the game long enough to know how this works.

Manager goes into the season without a contract extension. Club hires a new bench coach with managerial potential and a strong relationship with the front office. And a line of succession is born?

“You can read things into it,” said Loretta, who was hired this month to replace new Orioles manager Brandon Hyde as the Cubs’ bench coach. “But as far as I’m concerned, that was not on my radar, and nothing obviously we talked to Jed [Hoyer] and Theo [Epstein] about.”

The guessing and predicting game about who might be the Cubs’ next manager began even before team president Epstein said in November that the Cubs would let Joe Maddon’s final contract year play out before -deciding whether to ask him back.

Mark Loretta was a two-time All-Star during a 15-year big-league career.

“I understand the speculation when you start adding things together and things like that, but Joe is a huge reason I’m interested in taking this job,” said Loretta, who acknowledged he might want to manage someday. “He’s one of the best managers in the game, for sure. I really look forward to learning from him this year.”

Loretta, 47, also is a former Northwestern player whose wife is from Chicago, adding to the attraction of leaving the Padres’ front office to return to a job in uniform for the first time since retiring after a 15-year big-league playing career. Cubs general manager Hoyer hired Loretta for that front-office job when they were in San Diego together. And Loretta played for the Red Sox when Hoyer and Epstein ran that front office.

If anything, job security after a second consecutive year of major turnover on the coaching staff was closer to the front of Loretta’s mind when he was offered the Cubs’ job.

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“That certainly came up in the interview process,” said Loretta, who signed a two-year contract. “Theo and Jed and I, we talked a lot about that. And they satisfied my concerns about that. I don’t see this as being a one-and-done scenario.”

The Cubs’ last two bench coaches left to become first-time managers, including Dave Martinez with the Nationals after 2017.

As for Maddon’s job security, Epstein sang the manager’s praises when a young fan asked him Saturday whether he planned to bring him back in 2020?

“I sure hope so,” Epstein said. “Joe’s been an instrumental, fundamental, essential part of the success that’s happened here. But for Joe and the way he handled our young players in 2015 and 2016, there’s no way we would have won a World Series.

“Now we’re at a point where we’re at a different phase as an organization. We’re all making adjustments. … My bet is that it goes extraordinarily well with Joe, and with the whole group, and that he’s here for a long time to come.”

“Joe got here just at the exact perfect moment in time. He’s so special at getting players to relax, to be themselves, to have fun, to prioritize winning and to allow their true personalities and true talents to take over.”