Jim Hickey, Chili Davis in as Cubs shake up staff into daunting winter
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It’s about the timing of available people and upgrading, not about the timing of a disappointing playoff performance against the Dodgers and roster uncertainty into next season, the Cubs say.
Either way, the Cubs have turned over most of their major-league coaching staff heading into what could amount to a bridge season during their competitive window – depending how creative they can get acquiring pitching this winter.
The one change that was months in the making came to a conclusion Thursday night when Chicago native Jim Hickey accepted the Cubs’ multiyear offer to reunite with his former Rays manager Joe Maddon as the Cubs’ pitching coach.
Hickey, who turned down at least two other offers, replaces Chris Bosio, who was fired Friday after six successful seasons under three different managers.
Along with Thursday’s announcements that hitting coach John Mallee and third base coach Gary Jones were replaced by Chili Davis and Brian Butterfield, respectively, that’s at least four – and possibly five – gone from a staff that was intact through three consecutive trips to the National League Championship Series.
Minor-league hitting coordinator Andy Haines, 40, was promoted to fill the vacancy created when assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske left to take the head hitting coach job with the Angels.
“A lot of it’s just based on availability,” Maddon said of Davis and Butterfield during a media conference call. “These guys are fabulous. They’re force multipliers.”
The staff upheaval raised speculation about Maddon’s own status going forward, if only because of a sequence of comments made last week by him and team president Theo Epstein – including what Maddon admitted Thursday was a lie to media when he said he expected all his coaches back next season and lauded their performances.
But the moves were made neither as unilateral decisions by Maddon, nor did they relate in any way to the status of the only manager since 1908 to win a World Series with the Cubs, sources said.
“We’re all a spoke in the wheel,” said Maddon, whose teams averaged 97 wins per season and won six of eight playoff rounds in his three seasons. “This is not just about me. It’s never just about me. It’s about all of us.
“This is about the Cubs moving forward, and we think these new coaches can absolutely help take us to another level, get us back to the World Series again.”
Maddon explained the comments last week before Game 4 of the NLCS (with the Cubs trailing in the series 3-0) as a response to “an awkward question at a tough time.”
“I thought that was the only way I could respond to it because I didn’t want it to negatively impact the [coaches] room. … Could I have answered it differently? I don’t think so, based on that explanation.”
Just ahead of meeting with Bosio on Friday, Epstein was more vague about the coaching staff but said, “Rest assured, every coach that [Joe] wants back he will have back.”
The only certainty when Maddon spoke, according to insiders, was that an organizational decision had been made on Bosio – who is expected to be named Detroit pitching coach under new Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire.
That decision came before Hickey became available when he was fired by the Rays after 11 seasons there – the first eight alongside Maddon.
When the Red Sox fired their manager, John Farrell, and his staff – including Davis and Butterfield – the Cubs brass quickly discussed it and pounced.
“Chili has the ability to really be heard,” Maddon said of the coach credited with helping guide big offensive jumps from Boston’s young hitters the last three seasons (after three seasons with Oakland). “I like his technicality during the games. He has a great message and he’s great at sending that message.”
Maddon has known Davis, 57, since the switch-hitting, three-time All-Star’s playing days with the Angels.
Butterfield, 59, is regarded within the game as one of the better base-running coaches in baseball, in addition to his experience coaching third and work with infielders.
Whether the Cubs have a fifth vacancy to fill depends on whether bench coach Dave Martinez lands the Nationals managing job – a hiring process that could get complicated if Yankees free agent Joe Girardi joins that process.
Maddon continued to praise the departing coaches from his staff, including the “outstanding” Mallee, who helped develop the Cubs’ young hitting core the last three years.
Mallee, a Chicago-area native who also was credited with helping develop MVP candidate Jose Altuve, was hired away from the Astros after the 2014 season.
“I left a great Houston Astros organization to be closer to home with my family and to help my hometown team win a World Series,” Mallee said in a text exchange Thursday. “We did that.
“I have no regrets. I stand by my work. I wish nothing but the best for the Cubs’ organization and all the amazing people I met along the way, especially my hitters.”
Note: Infield prospect Jacob Hannemann, a former third-round pick of the Cubs who was claimed off waivers by Seattle this summer, was claimed back by the Cubs on waivers this week. To make room on the 40-man roster, infielder Mike Freeman was designated for assignment.
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