For a team coming off 95 victories and a fourth consecutive postseason appearance that will have its entire rotation returning, the Cubs look remarkably like a ballclub in transition.
After weeks of speculation, the Cubs announced Tuesday that pitching coach Jim Hickey has resigned after one season for “personal reasons.”
That assures they’ll open 2019 with a third hitting coach and third pitching coach in three seasons on a staff headed by a manager the club says will play out the last year of his contract before it will discuss an extension.
The Cubs fired hitting coach Chili Davis last month, replacing him with former Rangers hitting coach Anthony Iapoce. In addition, assistant hitting coach Andy Haines left to take the Brewers’ top hitting-coach job.
Despite optics that suggest a housecleaning of the staff, the coaching moves occurred independently and for different reasons.
None has anything to do with lame-duck manager Joe Maddon’s status, insiders insist privately and team executives have said publicly.
Repeated efforts to reach Hickey for comment were unsuccessful.
The Cubs have been prepared for Hickey’s departure for weeks and are expected to announce the hiring of a new pitching coach in the next week or two.
Hickey presided over a pitching staff that became the backbone of the Cubs’ playoff push, finishing third in the majors with a 3.65 ERA, despite free-agent whiffs on Tyler Chatwood and Yu Darvish.
Team president Theo Epstein said two weeks ago during the general managers meetings that job performance and quality of coaching were not issues with Davis or Hickey.
“With Chili, he’s an outstanding hitting coach; it just didn’t work with our guys,” Epstein said. “With Hick, we got off to a little shaky start with our starting pitching, but that became a strength of the club by the end of the year, and our bullpen was really solid all year.
“Our pitching wasn’t really the issue last year. It was our second-half offense more than anything.”
Hickey, 57, was Maddon’s longtime pitching coach with the Rays before Maddon took the Cubs’ managerial job just ahead of the 2015 season. Hickey replaced Chris Bosio on the Cubs’ staff three seasons later.
In a statement Tuesday, Epstein said Hickey’s departure was finalized Monday.
“We thank Jim for his season with the Cubs and his positive impact on our pitchers,” Epstein said. “Jim has our full support, and we all wish him well.”
As Tuesday night’s deadline for setting 40-man rosters ahead of the Rule 5 Draft approached, the Cubs traded for Padres right-hander Rowan Wick, claimed left-hander Ian Clarkin off waivers from the White Sox and protected coveted Class AA lefty Justin Steele by adding him to the 40-man roster.
The Cubs sent Class AAA infielder Jason Vosler to the Padres for Wick, 26, who made 10 relief appearances in a 2018 debut season and had a 6.48 ERA.
The Cubs also lost minor-league infielder Jack Reinheimer to the Rangers via waiver claim and outrighted outfielder Johnny Field and lefty Jerry Vasto off the 40-man roster.