Renteria, coaching staff key as Cubs look to improve from within

Renteria, coaching staff key as Cubs look to improve from within

It's been a quiet offseason and it seems that except for the possible addition of another pitcher, it's going to stay that way.  This has caused some angst about the 2014 season and understandably so.  The 2013 season, particularly the last two months, left a sour taste in all our mouths.

The Cubs seem uninterested in appeasing the call for cosmetic short term additions.  Rather, their focus has been on a less direct approach.  Improve at the margins with role players while solidifying the bullpen.  But not even the most optimistic of us have any illusions that that's the formula for a major turnaround this season.

Any significant improvement from the Cubs has to come from within.  It has to come from Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo,  Darwin Barney, Jeff Samardzija, and Edwin Jackson.

Young players like Ryan Sweeney, Junior Lake, Jake Arrieta, Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop, and Welington Castillo must continue to improve.

The Cubs are confident they have the talent to be better than they showed last year.  There were glimpses of what they could be but they were overshadowed by long stretches of poor fundamental play.

Their focus then, hasn't been on adding talent; it's been on better utilizing the talent they believe they already have.  Most of the players that will make the team out of spring training may not be around for the long haul, but the Cubs will certainly look to develop a core that they can build around.

Ideally that should have been the case last season, but there was immense disappointment in the development of core players.

There is no way to sugar coat this, so I'll just say it.  The biggest failure of the Cubs under this new front office to date has been continuing the development of young players at the major league level.  They underestimated how poor that development had been at the minor league level and thus the readiness of those players to contribute consistently at the MLB level.  They hired and trusted manager Dale Sveum and his hand-picked staff to continue that growth -- and in some cases, jump start it.  We were supposed to see a step forward from the core players in 2013.

But it didn't happen.  In fact, it was quite the opposite.  Their adjustments with starters Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, and Darwin Barney backfired.  Their attempt to prepare upper level prospects like Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters was an unqualified disaster.

Can it all be saved?

That's what we're about to find out.  To the front office's credit, they cut their losses and dumped Sveum as well as his hitting coach tandem of James Rowson and Rob Deer.

In their place comes Rick Renteria, Bill Mueller, and Mike Brumley.  The Cubs also added other coaches with some experience with coaching hitters, particularly QA coach Jose Castro.  1B coach Eric Hinske and 3B Gary Jones can also lend a hand when needed.

The Cubs have kept the coaches who had success such as pitching Chris Bosio, bullpen coach Lester Strode, and catching coach Mike Borzello who was instrumental in Castillo's defensive development.  They even seemed to think of the details, bringing in minor league veteran Chad Noble as their new bullpen catcher, perhaps preparing the popular backstop as early as last season.  In 2013, he played at 3 different levels and has a head start with all the Cubs upper level pitching prospects.

But it's not enough to have great coaches.  Perhaps Sveum's greatest single failure as manager was the inability to communicate a consistent, unified message.  Players got mixed signals and information sometimes reached the media before it was clarified with the players.

I don't want to tear down Sveum here.  He has his strengths and I think he'll be a good coach, but ultimately the lack of a strong voice at the top undermined his well-intentioned efforts to build a strong clubhouse.

With the core's development stalling and with more top talent such as Mike Olt, Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, and Kris Bryant knocking on the door, the Cubs want to make sure they don't make the same mistake.  Mueller has already started preparing the Cubs prospects,

"One of the topics was handling the moment," said Mueller."What are you going to do when it's your moment to the effect of this is going to be real for you guys? How are you going to prepare for that particular moment?"

It's no coincidence the Cubs brought in a strong, bilingual communicator in Renteria.  They also brought in an experienced leader in player development in Brandon Hyde to help as bench coach.  The Cubs have not only stocked up on good coaches who all add their unique strengths and perspectives, but they made sure they had the necessary leadership at the top to sort it all out and make sure the message stays consistent.

The key to the Cubs improvement then, is not in it's player additions but rather in the players that are already here.  Only this time the Cubs hope they have a better staff to guide and develop the talent they already believe they have -- and will have in the near future.

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  • fb_avatar

    Not to oversimplify, but the biggest failure I see of this regime to this point is not following through on the plan for the Cubs to grind out at bats. This, I feel, gives this year's team a big opportunity for improvement. But can it be taught?

    It goes far beyond simply taking pitches, as Castro found out last year. It's pitch recognition, fouling off pitches when you don't get the one you want, and knowing who's on the mound and what he might give you to hit.

  • In reply to Gregory Shriver:

    I think every player has a different style and needs a different approach at the plate. I think that a approach is great for Barney but as far as Castro goes. I thought they had him so confused at the plate. I truly believe he was trying to do what they wanted but that isn't his strength. It needs to be as simple as see ball hit ball.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    One of the encouraging thing is Mueller has talked about just that, simplifying things, working to a hitters strengths and not trying to overhaul them.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I certainly hope that Renteria is the right choice, excuse me if I am not 100 % on board with this selection. After Theo was so confident in his selection of Dale, and the fact they had worked together at Boston, I for one am going to take a wait and see with Rick. I am still shocked they were so wrong about Dale, I think the FO and Dale had a disconnect about his role with the team. Dale was under the impression they were going to win out of the shoot and I think the FO was all about building the farm system up thru higher draft picks. I believe Rick is another filler until the business side and baseball side all line up. I hope I am being cautious, but after such a failure, I can't blindly give them the benefit of the doubt this time around.

  • In reply to peoria cubfan:

    I was surprised because the FO was pretty transparent about the rebuilding. I think that was more on Sveum. It's a combination of things, I suspect, but the end result was that Sveum wound up in a situation that did not suit his strengths.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    As always John I hope you are right about this hire, and that at the least, we are on the right track heading towards success.

  • In reply to peoria cubfan:

    I think as a Cub fan we should give them the benefit of the doubt this time around and for several more times around. I have waited more than a long time for the Cubs to get to the world series. If I am going to be patient and understanding then Theo and Co. only should get several chances.

    This is what Cubs fans do. It is not fair to blame the coaches on the lack of development. Just as it is not to blame the people that picked the coaches or the Owners who selected the GM.

    What I am blaming is the reibune company for selling it to anowner who is trying to build the club without spending money along the way.

    As a Cub fan I think we should demand that the Cubs buy out the Tribunes 5% share. That wil shjow them not to ever sell to a poor owner again.

    Or I could just be honest and accept the reality of the situation.

    The coaching was not good , the players were even worse . They had to put up with a poor relief staff that blew games early and administration that traded away players making them feel like they had little chance to win, demoroalizing them. The player should have handeled it better.
    Wait that doesnt make sense. I as a Cub fan will have togive this some thought over the next few years.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    So, if you are agreeing with WaitTilNextYear that you can't turn the Cubs into a team that improves its selectiveness at the plate if many of the guy's in the lineup aren't wired that way, and if you are agreeing that the Cubs have to have one message from Theo on down, then are you saying that Epstein has changed his philosophy about the Cubs Way being developing a team that grinds out at bats?

    I've read Mueller's comments and haven't interpreted them as saying he will leave guys alone in this area if they need work on waiting for their pitch.

  • In reply to Gregory Shriver:

    I didn't say that, but i don't like the idea of overhauling a hitter at the MLB level. I do think you can teach hitters to be more selective and to look for certain pitches pr in a specific zone. Sometimes that eventually translates to walks but that usually doesn't change a lot at the MLB level/

    I also meant one message per player. An individualized but consistent plan for each player. Not 3 plans for the same player.

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    In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    Castro is not going to succeed if he just goes back to doing what he was doing before the Cubs "confused" him. Sure, you want to play to each guy's strengths, but it doesn't mean ignoring when guys lack selectiveness at the plate and get themselves out on pitcher's pitches.

    Forget about Castro. The Cubs in general need to address their overagressive approach at the plate before they will see the sustained success Theo talks about.

  • In reply to Gregory Shriver:

    I thought Castro looked pretty solid the first couple of years. Then last year he struggled. Yes he looked "confused" at the plate and I think a big part of that was him not trying to get that uncoachable tag and doing things the way they wanted even though that wasn't most natural for him. Yes he can learn the strike zone but to be so patient where Castro is always hitting with 2 strikes isn't a good thing for him. He needs to take advantage of a mistake early in the count. That is where he looks more natural and less "confused". Some hitters can be made to get pitch count up and hit with two strikes. Everyone is different.

  • In reply to Gregory Shriver:

    You can't say he is not going to succeed if he already had success with that. Every good hitter was not selective at the plate, as long as castro keeps spraying the ball to all fields he should be fine. You can't ask him to change his whole hitting style at the major league level and he struggles but tell him he can't succeed with the style that got him to the majors, to all star games and a contract.

  • In reply to Gregory Shriver:

    Maybe trading castro away instead of Barney makes sense. Or we could have an infield of Olt or Bryant at third, Baez at short, Alcantara at 2nd, Rizzo at first and Barney as a back up with Valbuena. We do not need Castro, if he doest develope.. Candelaria is also coming by 2016.

  • In reply to Gregory Shriver:

    Doesn't that go right back to the MLB coaches, though?

    They've done an excellent job addressing it in the minors -- which is where it needs to start. It's especially apparent with the improvement of Alcantara and Baez. In fact just about every player who has come through Daytona and/or Tennessee seems to show some improvement with their approach.

    The MLB coaching should be an extension of what's being taught in the minors.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree, I'm not the biggest sveum guy and I don't want to seem like I'm bashing him but When I hear the mixed messages through the media then there's a problem. Barney should not be swinging for the fences, as sveum would say ''looking to do damage''. It seemed like everyone was getting theo's message but the major league team.

  • In reply to seankl:

    Communication was the biggest issue with him but it was enough to undermine a good baseball man. I think he'll learn.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I totally agree. If my comments make it seem like I don't, then they were poorly written. :-)

    Theo & Co. deserve an A+ so far in player development. These are excellent examples. At the MLB level, I think it's just about making the Cubs a little tougher to pitch against by not giving in as a batter. I'll never fault a guy for jumping on a 3-1 fastball, or even fouling a pitch off it you guess wrong. But trying to pull a breaking ball out of the zone on 3-1 and grounding out is really letting the pitcher off the hook.

  • I am looking forward to spring training and seeing the young guys play. Hope games r on TV. I do have to say I will still watch cubs but not looking forward to regular season. I may make the trip to Iowa several times. One of the most important story lines for 2014 will be how the coaching staff works with the players and how they do teaching the game. Obviously if casto, rizzo, shark, Barney , and Jackson improve is important but so is the quality if this coaching staff.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    Agreed, those things go hand in hand.

  • Teach correctly and learn correctly. Sounds so simple

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    In the words of Nuke Laloosh, ""A good friend of mine used to say, 'This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.' Think about that for a while."

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Someone said "You win 1/3 of games no matter what you do
    You lose 1/3 of games no matter what you do
    The final 1/3 depend of you"

  • I am excited for this season !!! I know the popular thought is there is nothing to look foward to but I love the cubs and I am ecited to see castro,rizzo, and the rest of the young guys. That journey that theo talks about with watching the young players grow before your eyes is exciting to me. If they finally win the world series with these guys then I will look back and say I remember when things turned around.

  • In reply to seankl:

    Same here, seankl! The depth of this system is going to start producing SOMETHING and it could be ALOT. Last year, we may have lost slot of games, but we were in many of those losses. We weren't doormats, imo. If the core improves upon last year, we could be thorns in the sides of teams in the Central. We may lose 90+, but there will be progress, I believe!

  • I may be borderline delusional (Hey,... I am a lifetime Cubs fan after all),... but I actually think that this team has the potential to be better than last years,.... with one potential (and important) exception.

    I think that the offense will improve - with the addition of the new coaching and with a progression of Castro and Rizzo (in particular) toward growth. It'll still sputter regularly, and struggle to score consistently, but it will still be improved over that mess we saw at the end of 2013.

    I think the bullpen is going to be drastically improved over what we started out with last season. And it should be at least as good as we ended the season with.

    Defense should be sound, and generally NOT lose us games. It'll make most of the pitchers look better than they might - especially those who 'pitch to contact' like Wood and Rusin,.... maybe Hendricks, Beeler, or others.

    I'm not convinced that the starting pitching is going to be as good as we had last year though. I might be pleasantly surprised though IF Wood doesn't regress badly, IF Jackson can revert to closer to his career norms,.... and if Arietta can be what he appeared to be close to the end of the season. That's a lot of IFs though.

    I think what we are seeing is the development of a very watchable 70-75 win team.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    I can agree with that, maybe we're both delusional :) The pitching staff is a question but like the rest of the team, it's going to need improvement from within, namely Samardzija, Jackson, and Arrieta. I'd feel better if they added one veteran arm to the rotation.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I'm not sure we'll get the same productivity out of our starters; E-Jax will improve, IMO, but Wood is due for regression, Shark is Shark, and who knows what we get after those 3. No Garza, no Feldman, they both pitched well for us. Starting pitching was the only aspect of the 2013 team that was league average or better.

    On the other hand, bullpen is bound to be better. I feel better heading into the season. Veras, Strop, Parker, Russell, Marmol, no Camp. With Grimm, Vizcaino, Villanueva, much better depth; no trolling for Kevin Gregg (though that worked out), or some of the other lumps

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think the bullpen is going to be much improved this season. Veras is no Mo Rivera, but brings experience to the Closers role. We now have 2 LHP to share those duties and a handful of power arms that have had some success.

    Starting wise, expect Wood to take a step or two back, but I think we can expect EJax to take a step or two forward.

    Can Shark take a big step? Can Arrieta continue to show promise?

    I think the former is a possibility, the latter, I am not so sure.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    The bullpen really hurt the Cubs early last year so that would be a big boost if you are right. Agree with your questions on the rotation too.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think they WILL add a vet great rush I suppose and think maybe they continue to shop frugally but, I think they pick up another starter.

  • In reply to Hubbs16:

    Jason Hammel works for me.

  • In reply to TheRiot2:

    That'd work for me too.

  • In reply to Hubbs16:

    I think you're right. I'm hoping so. I don't know if it's essential, but I think it's tough to count on 2 rookies at the bottom of the rotation.

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    Based on BABIP, peripherals, player history, and just bad or good luck, I think we'll see some organic improvement, almost despite what the coaching staff does.

    Players who I think will progress based on stats, history:
    Edwin Jackson, Rizzo, Castro, Barney....I think all 4 will bounceback to an extent, especially the first 2

    Players that I think will regress:
    Wood, Valbuena/Murphy 3B combo, Junior Lake. If Olt emerges, it will help avoid the 3B backslide.

    I also think we'll get less production this year from LF and CF, due to the absence of Soriano and DeJesus......I think Sweeney/Lake may be able to replace DeJesus, but we won't get the same production this year out of LF for sure

    We will also get more out of our bullpen, for sure; just subtracting Marmol will add a couple wins

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I think it's going to have to be an improvement beyond statistical projection like we saw from Jeff Samardzija in 2012 or like Josh Reddick did from the A's that year. That was an increase than no model would have predicted. In other words, the Cubs are going to need some breakout seasons and re-set that base from which projections are made.

    If we are basing any hope on linear statistical projections than we don't have much reason to get excited about. There has to be some non-linear progress for Cubs to have significant improvement. That has to come from individualized improvement from within the player himself as it did with Samardzija. That is why this particular article focuses on the development/coaching aspect. They are a key factor for any non-linear progress from both individual and team.

  • I too am excited for the upcoming season. So much to look forward to. How will Castro and Rizzo rebound? I expect big things from both. Can Arrietta become a consistent hammer? Decent chance and fun to see. Will Shark take the next step toward TOR stud and earn the big contract? I say yes! Can Olt seize 3B by hitting over .250 and 25 HR? I don't know but I hope so and exciting to see. And I think Junior Lake is being overlooked by many. Not much buzz about him at all. Yet I think he can develop into something special. Why not? He's arrival and the excitement he generated were the highlight of he season and the main reason to tune in.

    Rebuilding and improving from within will make reaching the mountain top all that more special. Do it, not with rent-a-players or mercenaries, but with our kids who, hopefully, we will see grow and develop right before our eyes. They're our kids, damn it! Kinda like the Blackhawks. So following the daily MiLB progress of our top prospects will be the other joy of the summer. And if Baez gets here in June or July, well, oh boy . . .

  • In reply to Teddy P:

    Agreed, Teddy. Those are some key guys you mention. Arrieta is one guy in particular who could be a big factor if he breaks out. In fact, the Cubs are going to need more than their share of breakout and bounceback seasons to have any hope of significant improvement -- but I think more realistically they're hoping they just get those kinds of seasons from a few key guys to set them up nicely for next season.

  • I agree that the regression of Castro, Rizzo, and Barney can't be ignored and Sveum was a pathetic motivator, but I really believe there are serious problems with the skillset of Barney and Castro in particular and they'll need to be replaced for the Cubs to improve. If Rizzo can improve against lefties I think his defensive ability and power will prove to be valuable tools that will support his value in the future. But with the exception of perhaps Rizzo, Castillo, and Jr. Lake, the entire group of position players on this team needs to be replaced.

    Fact of the matter is that the Cubs have lacked impact talent from the get-go and without improvement by these young guys it's made Theo and his development plan look bad. How they thought Rob Deer would make an effective hitting coach is beyond me, but it appears they've retooled with Renteria and Co. and might be able to right the ship somewhat. But even with good years by the infield starters and EJax, this is no better than a 72-74 win team.

    But the FO seems adamant that the wave of minor league talent that will begin to arrive this year is the key to future success in Chicago and I have to agree with their assessment. I saw that had Almora ranked as the #8 prospect in all of baseball with a comp to Carlos Gomez and thought this was way out of line until I compared his minor league stats to Gomez and Jacoby Ellsbury. Theo looks at his combination of defensive ability and solid hit tool and it's no wonder they've looked at Almora as a future leader of the team... he projects as a 6-7 WAR player one day.

    And there's no way that Castro and Barney will be able to compete with Baez and Alcantara by the time they graduate from Iowa- the power, speed, and ability to get on base far outweigh any defensive advantage to be gained from having Barney on the field. Even when Castro was at his best his wOBA wasn't all that special. If Bryant can maintain the defense he displayed at Daytona, there's no reason he can't stay at 3rd and put up numbers like Evan Longoria.

    Those four minor leaguers have the potential to add 13-18 wins per year by themselves, and we haven't even counted other top 100 talents like Johnson, Edwards, Olt, Vizcaino, or Soler. Player development at the major league level is essential if these youngsters are to reach their potential and this year will be a good test of whether the Cubs have improved in that area.

  • In reply to Paulson:

    I disagree, castro is a better player than rizzo,castillo,and jr lake. All three of them are unproven, we don't know what those three or baez , alcantera will become. And I doubt theo and company share your view of castro or they wouldn't have gave him a contract.

  • Interesting. I hadn't heard that Sveum gave "mixed signals" to players. That sounds like a generic player complaint, unless they are saying the FO said one thing and then Sveum said something different (such as the gap on sabermetrics), or Sveum wasn't able to keep his coaching staff on a consistent message, but again, I hadn't heard that. But he certainly showed a rookie manager's mistake of communicating too frankly with the media as an easier alternative to direct communication, especially with Castro.

    Will Renteria be different? He'll be a rookie manager too. So far, he's shown me a surprisingly avuncular personality in public, which I haven't seen work with too many managers. (Quade had a fairly happy go lucky public persona who got chewed up pretty quickly, but I'd hate to use him as a strong example of anything as he was lame-duck from the start.) But without a few veterans to back him in the locker room, he'll need some quick scores to keep players, agents, media from thinking him a lightweight.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    And are you forgetting about Uncle Joe Maddon? Tito Francona had an easy going personality. This FO does a good job of evaluating personalities. Even Sveum's personality wasn't the problem, it was his ability to communicate effectively.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree with maddon and francona, but sveum seem to me to have a dry personality, face of stone look. Maybe renteria will loosen up the club house. I remember at the beginning of last year jackson said that this is the most uptight club house he had been in.

  • In reply to seankl:

    He was well-liked by his players. Media and fans were a different story.

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    In reply to seankl:

    Yes, even Sveum's interviews seemed uptight. He was monotone and even keeled, but seemed uncomfortable.

  • In reply to seankl:

    I thought Sveum had all the personality of a stone crab.
    And that ain't much.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Maddon comes the closest, but not quite. He possesses some gravitas that Renteria has yet to show (but perhaps will at some point). Francona had an easy manner with the media, but that never hid his sharp edges and tough as nails manner in games, especially with umpires.

    I disagree on Sveum's personality. One's communication style is a big part of one's personality. So if he was fired for his communication problems, then that reflects on his personality. He was a taciturn dude. Probably a cool guy to have as part of the gang hanging out at bar and listening to him tell (mumble) short war stories about his tatts, but not to get stuck with over a weekend during a Polar Vortex.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    You obviously didn't see Renteria manage in the WBC or hear stories about him as a coach with the Padres. He has no problems confronting umpires or his players when they screw up. The difference is when he does it with his players, he did it privately. The stories came out later. No need to show them up publicly.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    There was one story Theo talked about, however, where he got all over a star player for not running out a groundball in front of his teammates because he wanted to show the team that no player was above hustling. He then took that player aside privately and talked to him about why he did it that way. That is a good example of assertive leadership, yet still being a player's manager.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I very much applaud this type approach. It so much more difficult since "stars" make such big money but, still, I think it is the best way to develop "team" behavior.

  • In reply to Hubbs16:

    It lets everyone know that everybody is held equally accountable. I've worked in an environment in the past where that was not the case and it's never a good thing for morale.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    This will be interesting to watch. You are obviously a huge Renteria fan. I'll be rooting for him, but my initial impression from media interviews has unfortunately been possible light weight -- although in the honeymoon period everyone is saying "how refreshing upbeat and gregarious he is." But this impression may be neither here nor there as this team has all the makings of another 90-plus loss team, and what new manager has the right makeup to weather a season or two of that. It ground down Quade pretty fast and ate up Sveum after little more than one season. And like Renteria, both were longtime respected coaches with positive player relationship reps. And the fact that Theo/Jed compromised on their desire for previous major league managerial experience as a criteria either means he's the guy or he's a cheap good-enough-guy until the major league team gels more and you can attract someone with a Girardi or Francona resume.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Isn't anyone a possible lightweight. How much could you have reasoned about him from these short clips? I'm not saying that he is going to be a great manager, but there is no reason to try to connect dots between him, Quade, and Sveum right now. They are three different people in three different circumstances. Though, even if he is good for the short term, you might be right that they will need another guy for the final step.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree about keeping it private, but the players have to hold each other accountable too. It can't be all on the manager. He sets the tone, but the expectations the players have for themselves is the second component.

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    Great article as almost always, John. One quibble, though. I wouldn't call Sweeney a "young player". He'll be 29 when the season starts.

  • In reply to Ray:

    Almost? Ha, just kidding. Thanks Ray. I guess Sweeney isn't that young. I guess I view him as young in terms of his career, feels like he's got more ahead of him than behind him.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Here's hoping he does.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Knew you'd catch the "almost", John. Keep up the great work!

  • In reply to Ray:

    Ha! Thanks again, Ray!

  • My biggest criticism last year was the across the board disintegration of our hitting production. Early in the year it was reported the coaching staff wanted more power from our lineup. When Barney stroked an early HR in Cinncy, it confirmed the staff's intentions.

    It is my belief that the entire core of players was being fed the same message. We became pull happy. Every core player except Castillo regressed. That's totally unacceptable. The addition of Deer as hitting instructor was further evidence of the staff's game plan.

    I applaud the addition of Mueller. His lifetime OBP of .373 is a testimony to making contact and using the entire field as a hitter. I expect a big spike in the team's effectiveness this year. If that is the only improvement in 2014, I'll be pleased.

  • Love the thinking that's going on here. I agree that this year is a development year and an assessment year as we look forward to 2015 and beyond with the addition of so many of the new core that will becoming up. One thought that I had is that I don't think Theo and comp really think the Cubs have a legitimate shot of competing this year, which is why they didn't add more substantial pieces (besides the Tanaka attempt of course). I think we will see the mindset of the FO and their feelings about the team once they start adding more pieces. That will be a sign that they think the team can compete. Actually, last offseason was a season in which many more pieces were added than this year, perhaps that's because the young core was so far away.

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    Nick Cafardo with an article today rating the best coaches in MLB based on discussions with GM,'s, players, scouts, writers and other coaches. Sadly and disappointingly, no Cub employees among them, except for Dave McKay whom they allowed to leave.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    I've talked to scouts and a couple of front office people. You can get different opinions from everyone you ask. I think the fact that the Cubs have a lot of new names at coaches, so that's not unexpected.

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    a lot of commenters have talked about improvement based on the performances of individual players (jackson castro, rizzo etc). I have to add, at some point losing becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for a team. Everyone in baseball - including your own fan base - is telling you you suck, you're going to lose 100 games, it's time to look forward to next year, it's gotta be very very hard to come to work prepared to focus on your job and prepared to win. In fact coming to the park must have been a painful chore for some of these guys the past couple of years. Add to that the knowledge that your best players are going to be gone in august and you're going to be worse, I think it's asking a lot for a coaching staff to instill a winning attitude in a team in that position. Hopefully that changes this year - new coaching staff, exciting new kids knocking on the door, maybe some good media attention for the cubbies for a change, knowing that the days of devastating personel losses in July are probably over - maybe these guys can focus on how to win now, instead of focusing on how not to be embarrassed.

  • Your case for the Cubs right now is very well spoken, John, and I agree whole heartedly. They'll need to see improvement from the likes of Rizzo, Castro, Sweeney (mostly health-related), Jackson, and the rest. If they do this, they can compete in their division this year, that's what I say. I'm not saying dominate or be the frontrunners, but maybe be sneaky good like the A's.

    I do like the chances of the bullpen being much better this year, which should add wins over last year's group. The offense has nowhere to go but up, and will methinks, to at least be average.

    The key will be the starters, and who in our minor league system will emerge in Cubbie blue this year. To think that Olt, Baez, Alcantara, maybe even Czyczur might be doing their own Junior Lake impression this year. This makes for a potentially exciting year, so I still have hopes for the Cubs this year.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    Thanks. I hope they can be better. It's not going to come from the outside, so these guys have to get better. I think I'd at least like to see the young guys play well even if there isn't much improvement in their record -- but my guess is if the younger player than the kids will play well too.

  • John, I liked the article and agree improvement must come from within.

    Here's my take on optimism(or lack of it).

    Soriano, Garza,Rizzo, Castro, and Jackson,were our best players going into last season.

    First two above, now gone. next 3 disappointed. When your best don't step up, you are in big trouble.

    Also, the coach who received the highest praises, gone also. (McKay)

    Who have we added that you can call really good. Nada.

    I like your thought process, but, can you give me another dose of optimism??

    Also, what is YOUR true belief on why McKay is gone. Really???

  • In reply to rakmessiah:

    The front office wanted to keep McKay but wanted the Manager to have final say. Since the process took so long, McKay couldn't wait around and hope that he would be selected by the new manager, so he took a job that was offered him.

    Can't blame him for taking a for sure gig and you can't blame the FO for not offering a job to someone and sticking him with a new manager.

  • In reply to rakmessiah:

    Thanks. Here's how I see things: Open it up to a larger picture. It's not as big a loss as you might think. I think they can more than make up for that loss with internal improvement. I'll use the same players you named using last year's numbers vs. next year's Steamer projections to show you what I mean.

    Soriano 2013 wins: 1.1. Replacement Junior Lake's projection for 2014 0.6 Wins. Net loss = 1/2 win
    Garza 2013 wins: 0.9. Replacement Jake Arrieta's projection for 2014: 0.8 wins. That's essentially a wash.
    Rizzo 2013 wins: 1.6. Projection for 2014: 3.6 Wins. Net gain = 2 wins
    Castro's 2013 wins: -0.1: Projection for 2014: 2.6 Wins. Net gain = 2.7 wins. We'll call it 2 1/2 to simplify.
    EJax 2013 season and 2014 seasons are both at 2 wins. It's a wash.

    Add all those together and you have a net gain of 4 wins.

    That is strictly a linear statistical projection. The hope with this article is that the coaching staff can induce improvement beyond these expected projections.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Thanks John..,Arietta equal to Garza ..,only time will tell---just have a rough time getting my mind to buy it.

  • In reply to rakmessiah:

    I hear you, it's not intuitive, but Garza had better results than his peripherals. He had a bit of luck and he only contributed 11 starts with the Cubs, so his impact in 2013 isn't as great as it appears at first glance.

    Steamer only projects Arrieta for 13 starts and projects him to contribute about the same in terms of peripherals. Getting the same results will depend on some luck but he should pitch about the same. You also have to consider that Arrieta is much more likely to improve at his age.

    You're right, time will tell. But statistically at least it doesn't project to be a loss for the Cubs. We'll see what happens in real life. It could be worse -- but it could also turn out better.

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    "Sveum and his hitting coach tandem of James Rowson and Rob Deer"

    John, do you mind rehashing the reasons for the Cubs letting go Jaramillo? I wasn't a reader of the Cubs Den yet when he was let go. The above statement makes me wonder if jaramillo and Sveum didn't get along and it was an underlying reason for his dismissal. The statement gives the impression that Rowson and deer were "cronies" of Sveum. I am aware that deer and Sveum were once teammates. Thanks in advance for any information you can give John.

  • In reply to Cubsforlife:

    They had different philosophies. To me Jaramillo's style is more conducive to making contact while Sveum sacrifices some of that for more power and a more patient approach. I don't disagree with Sveum necessarily but I think he sacrificed too much on the contact side to get the results he wanted. Hopefully Mueller can combine the two a little better.

  • I get the feeling that Mueller doesn't buy the idea that there is no such thing as a clutch hitter.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    At the very least I think he believes in situational hitting and looking for certain pitches in certain situations.

  • John, my concern this year is with the new third base coach and eliminating the slower players getting thrown out at home to kill a rally or the inning. Rizzo was thrown out numerous times trying to score- you could plant behind his plow speed. Will they be held accountable by Renteria for not accounting for the situation?

  • In reply to edubbs:

    I think we'll see a less aggressive style. I think Sveum was very aggresssive as a 3B coach with Boston and the fact that his 3B coaches in Chicago were the same way may have been a reflection on him.

  • John, I agree with a lot of what you say but I think one of Sveum's greatest faults, besides his communication to players, was his inconsistent treatment of players. We are hoping for a turnaround but that turnaround won't happen if the players don't listen. At the end of the season Castro seemed to give up listening to Sveum and tried to go back to what he wanted to do. Pitchers had already discovered he had poor plate discipline and took advantage of it. Unless he realizes and other players recognize that there is a selective and situation approach to hitting and you can't always go for the fences I'm afraid most of the major league players on the roster will be gone. I'm anxious to see how this new staff works out. I hope they are better than the last staff.

  • In reply to pricewriter:

    I agree. He seemed to have the hardest time with younger players. He's probably better off on a veteran team.

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    You guys want a veteran, here you go (courtesy of Das Wunderkind): #Cubs inquired on Santana, I'm told that it's "not impossible" that he could go there. Wouldn't say it's likely at this time.

    If this is anything other than normal due diligence, I don't get it. Makes no sense at all to give up the draft pick for Santana.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I like Santana but that draft pick makes me hesitant. There are teams that are better off than the Cubs who are unwilling to give up draft picks (including the Red Sox), so it'd be strange if the Cubs did for a short term solution. I'll believe that one when I see it.

  • John,

    Great stuff. I really like the construction of the coaching staff. It looks like an ideal situation for the roster and the players who will be coming up in the next couple of seasons. There are no true veteran leaders in place now. I don't think of that as a bad thing this year. It lets the coaching staff treat everyone on equal footing. Sometimes, it is tough to call out a veteran who understands his mistake as soon as he makes it compared to a youngster who has to be taught a lesson.

    I listened to alot of WSCR's coverage of the White Sox convention. I'm encouraged that the Cubs, with Bosio's and Johnson's influence, can replicate what Don Cooper has done for the Sox.

  • In reply to Greggie Jackson:

    Thanks Greggie. I'm hoping this group can grow together the way they did in Boston or Tampa.

  • I would still prefer to see the team add a veteran hitter to play LF. If the FO really believes in Renteria, they at least have to give the guy a fighting chance to make a good first impression for the fans/media, and not give the impression this is (yet again) another throw away season. Considering we are now looking at basically the same team that tanked badly at the end of last season, this is looks to be a 65-70 win team. I'm really hoping they can do better, but....

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    In reply to VaCubFan:

    I wouldn't mind seeing more Major League hitters in the lineup either.

  • Awesome job, john! Hey, I had a question maybe only you can answer for me -- I had read some things weeks & weeks ago that had either hinted to or merely led me to believe the cubs might be working on fattening up (literally) CJ Edwards. Somebody had written the cubs sent him to Arizona fairly quickly after the season ended & had him settled there - in other words, it didn't sound like he was just there to work on something mechanical for few days, but maybe something more time consuming was going on. And it didn't sound like the cubs were saying WHAT he was doing there. Aaaanyway, my hope is that IS what's going on -- it seems that would be such a smart thing to focus on. If Edwards were to put on, say, a good 40 pounds, he'd have some much needed strength & stamina to REALLY advance his already trove of talent. Have you heard anything about this? Is it possible he's been putting on weight all offseason? I've been waiting to hear word of him being spotted somewhere weighing more than 90 pounds. :)
    Keep up the great work!!!

  • In reply to MikeyB:

    Thanks Mike. I've heard he has been trying to gain weight as well. I imagine he may also be working with Tim Buss to makethat what he adds is lean muscle weight.

  • BP 101 out, Baez at 4, Bryant 17

  • For me, the hardest part of the rebuid is the fact that he offense has been horrible for 3 consecutive years. Granted, only 2 belong to the new regime.

    Nonetheless, we all realize that 2014 will be, in all likelihood, another year where the Cubs are hard pressed to score runs with consistency, and I am franky tired of their ineptitude with the bat in their hands.

    We have come this far, and the wait in nearing its denouement, enen so, I am ready to press the fast forward button as there has been very little to be excited about at the major league level the past 3 years.

    To be blunt, if the run scoring side of this rebuild goes awry, it calls into question this regimes abilty to build a championship caliber team.

    That's not a reality, just a marker in my book to judge if the right team has been assembled to bring sustainable winning to this era of Cub baseball.

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    You know you all have left great comments, But one thing that I hope improves the most this year over last is there hitting with runners in scoring position! It seamed like every time someone got to second, we all just forgot how to play, and what to do??

  • One example of a disconnect between management and Sveum might have been the using of Gregg as the closer up until the end. The question of whether Pedro Strop could handle closer we just don't know the answer to. He should have been given the chance the last 6 weeks of the season so we'd at least have a clue. Very Mike Quadesque move, reminds me of the year he kept playing Pena rather than seeing what LaHair could do.

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