Pitching Coach Search
I promised to provide further thoughts on the Cubs Pitching Coach search after the team announced Jim Hickey was stepping away due to personal reasons just before the Thanksgiving break and so here we go.
It appears that the early front runner for the gig is an internal option. According to Sahadev Sharma Run Prevention Coordinator Tommy Hottovy is being strongly considered for the big job. The former big league hurler (and Boston draft pick under Epstein) has been with the Cubs since 2014 when he was still trying to make it as a pitcher before injuries forced him to retire. The front office moved quickly to keep him in the organization and assigned him to his current post in 2015.
If Hottovy does earn the job, it is a move that would make sense on a number of levels.
First, Hottovy has already worked closely with the staff over the past couple years as well as with the club's highly respected Catching Coach Mike Borzello. The two have actually become a bit of working pair:
“Tommy and I work together, but we’re doing the same job separately,” Borzello once said. “We kind of give ourselves some time and then we match up and see if we agree on a lot of things. He may see something I didn’t or vice versa where you’re like: ‘God, if we had him, we could do this, we could do that.’"
It’s a process that helped unearth the full potential of Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta and a handful of other pitchers over the past half decade in Chicago. Whether it’s getting Hendricks to throw his curveball more often, helping José Quintana gain more trust in his changeup or get a veteran to buy into how the Cubs may be shifting (Hottovy also plays a role in how the Cubs defense shifts), Hottovy is there with information. Having gained the pitchers’ trust over the years, it takes less convincing for them to buy into what Hottovy presents than it may with someone with a similar message but who hasn’t been able to build the type of bond Hottovy has with this staff.
The second reason is other top options available may be weary of the current situation in Chicago. Manager Joe Maddon is in the final year of his contract, so there may not be the long term certainty that would attract a Bryan Price type (unless the coach sees getting their foot in the door as a good way to become a candidate as a successor to Maddon). But also the presence of Borzello/Hottovy may be unsettling as well. The team clearly loves Hottovy and sees a big future for him within the team structure, and could be viewed as a threat to job security for the pitching coach should the team hit a rough stretch.
Finally, the one proven candidate that would make the most sense at face value does not seem to be interested. Former Red Sox Manager (and Boston Pitching Coach from 2007-10) John Farrell has numerous connections to the Cubs beyond his relationship with Epstein. His son Shane is an area scout for the organization, his son Jeremy is the Minor League Infield Coordinator. His third son, Luke, spent most of last season on the Des Moines shuttle while pitching for the Cubs in Chicago and Iowa, before being claimed on waivers by the Angels late in the season.
But it is those connections that appear to make him hesitant. He apparently wants his children to be able to carve their own path with the organization outside of his shadow. He is also reticent of the appearance that he would be angling to become Maddon's replacement. According to Ken Rosenthal, Farrell only agreed to work for the Reds as a scout last season because they agreed to not consider him as a potential replacement for Price.
More Coaching Turnover
The Pirates hired the Cubs Minor League Hitting Coordinator Jacob Cruz to be their Assistant Hitting Coach at the Major League level. Cruz was appointed to the coordinator post last offseason. Remember, the Cubs also have yet to fill their Assistant Hitting Coach post after hiring Anthony Iapoce to replace Chili Davis last month.
Decision Time Approaching on Addison Russell
Of the Cubs eight arbitration eligible players the only difficult decision on whether to tender a contract will be with Addison Russell. The deadline to do so is Friday.
I've stated on a couple of occasions this offseason that I do not believe the Cubs should tender Russell a contract and should instead just walk away and allow him to become a free agent. They have said the right things about standing by him and it being their duty to help him grow but I believe that has all been in an effort to preserve what little trade value still remains with the young shortstop. Whether they offer him a contract on Friday or not, I do not believe Russell will ever suit up for the team again.
Clarkin Re-claimed by White Sox
Like Cory Mazzoni last offseason, and David Rollins in 2016-17, Ian Clarkin is being subjected to a bit of waiver wire whiplash courtesy of the Cubs. If the White Sox try to get Clarkin through waivers again, don't be shocked if the Cubs put in another claim if they have roster space at the time. This is a game they've played before.
As a reminder: pic.twitter.com/ssmJxBWHiY
— Michael Ernst (@mj_ernst) November 26, 2018
Additional Veteran Backup Catcher Options Off the Market
Usually it is the reliever market that is the quickest to move during free agency, but this year it is the catchers that appear to be the hottest commodity. With a shortage of quality backstops across baseball teams are jumping on the available options. In addition to the Mike Zunino trade, Kurt Suzuki and Jeff Mathis already secured free agent deals with new clubs. Now, Brian McCann has inked a one year deal to return to Atlanta.
The Cubs have the option to stick with Victor Caratini as their backup, and considering how few catchers in the league are capable at the plate, it wouldn't be a terrible choice. But if they feel the need to add a veteran there is still enough names available that they can probably wait out the market and come away with a player on a favorable deal later in the offseason.
Remaining Free Agent options:
Drew Butera (35)
Robinson Chirinos (35)
A.J. Ellis (38)
Chris Gimenez (36)
Yasmani Grandal (30)
Nick Hundley (35)
Jose Lobaton (34)
Jonathan Lucroy (33)
Martin Maldonado (32)
Devin Mesoraco (31)
Wilson Ramos (31)
Rene Rivera (35)
Stephen Vogt (34)
Matt Wieters (33)
Bobby Wilson (36)
Braves Also Add Donaldson on 1-Year Deal
Former Cubs prospect and AL MVP Josh Donaldson also agreed to a one year deal with the Braves. His $23M salary is slightly larger than the $2M guaranteed to McCann though. It is a prove-it deal after injuries hampered Donaldson in 2018, limiting him to 8 home runs over 52 games. If the 33-year old Donaldson can return to his 30+ HR levels from 2013-16 he could secure himself a two or three year deal next offseason.
Minor League Reserve Lists Set
You can check out the full AAA and AA reserve lists over on the Cub Reporter. There isn't many names on the AA reserve list that I am concerned about losing in the AAA phase of the Rule 5 draft. The Cubs lost three players (C/1B Albert Mineo, UT Andrew Ely, LHP Chris Dunn) last year. The guys that may draw some interest are RHP Jose Rosario (if a team wants to take a chance on a post-TJS recovery), RHP David Garner (if a team is willing to take a chance on a multiple offender of the league's substance abuse policy), LHP Ryan Kellogg and Cs Erick Castillo/Will Remillard.
Coaching Staff Update (11/27 12:56 PM)
According to Jesse Rogers the Cubs could be finalizing deals to fill out their coaching staff.
Cubs should be finalizing their coaching staff soon. I mentioned Chris Denorfia and Tommy Hottovoy on radio recently. Add former player Terrmel Sledge to the mix. All 3 could round out the staff. Sledge was with the Cubs (minors) in '15.
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) November 27, 2018
Hottovy would replace Hickey as Pitching Coach. Denorfia would slide into the Assistant Hitting Coach position alongside Iapoce. Sledge would presumably replace Henry Blanco as the Quality Assurance Coach.