October 2014

10/31 Can Maddon make “magic” with Cubs?

Joe Maddon will definitely be a different manager than any the Cubs have had in the past. The two-time AL Manager of the Year has invited a pair of South African penguins from the Florida Aquarium; a cockatoo; a four-piece merengue band; a 20-foot long python; and a Seminole medicine man. The Rays players wore camouflage outfits on a May 2013 trip to Baltimore, team letterman jackets in April 2013 to Boston, all-white in June 2012 to Miami, and hockey jerseys in June 2010 to Toronto.

Cubs fans may need to learn some new phrases, such as “hitterish,” “woof,” “poisontry,” and “over-boogie,” which are all Maddon-isms. In 2008 when Maddon and the Rays won the American League East, the manager often said, “nine equals eight,” which translates to nine players playing nine innings each game to become one of eight playoff teams.

“Joe Maddon was very successful in Tampa in a smaller market, and most baseball pundits would tell you that’s easier than having more of a major market team like the Cubs,” catcher John Baker said. “I think it’s an appropriate time in Joe Maddon’s career to move to one of these historic franchises and see if he can do something magical. He made some magic happen in Tampa Bay, and if this is the one opportunity the Cubs have to acquire a manager like that, it seems to make sense. If I have the opportunity to play for him, it’s somebody I’d try to learn from, just like I did with Ricky [Renteria] as well.”

Maddon’s free spirit attitude does have a purpose.

“He seems to know how to keep a clubhouse light and be able to focus on the important things, which is the game,” Baker said. “Sometimes when you add extra distractions it becomes easier to focus on baseball. That’s a philosophy I subscribe to. They all come from a similar background — Bud Black, Maddon and [Mike] Scioscia and those coaches who came from those early Angels team — they have some things I’ve noticed that help them be successful. They keep it light, keep it positive, always focusing on the goal and moving forward.

“Obviously, Joe Maddon has a track record of being a very successful manager in a very tough division in baseball,” Baker said. “It’ll be very exciting.”

— Carrie Muskat

10/31 Cubs players commend Renteria

Catcher John Baker played in San Diego when Rick Renteria was on the coaching staff, and the two were reunited in Chicago this past season. Baker, well aware of the business side of the game, was saddened at the news that Renteria was dismissed Friday as Cubs manager.

“Obviously, when you play for somebody — and I’ve known Ricky for a few years, so it’s sad to see that side of it in baseball — but I think everybody going into every new season knows this is a business,” Baker said Friday. “Sometimes business decisions are tough on people who are personable. It was fun to play for Ricky. I enjoyed having him as a manager and a coach. I look forward to seeing what happens next season.”

What will happen next season is the beginning of the Joe Maddon era in Chicago. The Cubs will introduce Maddon as their 54th manager in franchise history on Monday.

Renteria leaves after one season on the job.

“I believe he did a wonderful job with the circumstances he was presented with this past season,” pitcher Carlos Villanueva said Friday. “It is very hard to be evaluated after only one season managing, especially when your two best starters are traded away mid season.

“I said it then, and I’ll say it again, most of us with experience in this business knew what we signed up for when we came to Chicago during this period of rebuilding,” Villanueva said. “And we also understood that whatever Theo [Epstein] and Jed [Hoyer] thought was best for the future of the organization, they were going to do, putting the organization first over anyone and anything else.”

Maddon will be the Cubs third manager in the last four years.

“It is obviously a business driven decision that not all are going to like,” Villanueva said of dismissing Renteria, “but at the end of the day if that is what they thought was going to help bring a championship to the Cubs organization, that’s what they need to do. We’ll know if it works with time. Hopefully, it works out for all parties.”

Villanueva credited Renteria for getting Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro back on track after tough seasons in 2013.

“He helped make them All-Stars along the way and did all that was asked of him and more,” Villanueva said. “There are things that happen that only the people who are in the clubhouse at times know of, but with all the challenges [Renteria] faced, he did great. Whoever gets him will have an outstanding baseball man.”

— Carrie Muskat

10/31 Cubs to introduce Maddon Monday

The Cubs will introduce Joe Maddon as the 54th manager on Monday. Because of the construction at Wrigley Field, the news conference will be held at the Cubby Bear at 2 p.m. CT.

10/31 Statement from Epstein re: Renteria

The Cubs Friday announced that the club has fired manager Rick Renteria after one season. Here is a statement from president of baseball operations Theo Epstein:

“Today we made the difficult decision to replace Rick Renteria as manager of the Chicago Cubs. On behalf of Tom Ricketts and Jed Hoyer, I thank Rick for his dedication and commitment, and for making the Cubs a better organization.

“Rick’s sterling reputation should only be enhanced by his season as Cubs manager. We challenged Rick to create an environment in which our young players could develop and thrive at the big league level, and he succeeded. Working with the youngest team in the league and an imperfect roster, Rick had the club playing hard and improving throughout the season. His passion, character, optimism and work ethic showed up every single day.

“Rick deserved to come back for another season as Cubs manager, and we said as much when we announced that he would be returning in 2015. We met with Rick two weeks ago for a long end-of-season evaluation and discussed plans for next season. We praised Rick to the media and to our season ticket holders. These actions were made in good faith.

“Last Thursday, we learned that Joe Maddon – who may be as well suited as anyone in the industry to manage the challenges that lie ahead of us – had become a free agent. We confirmed the news with Major League Baseball, and it became public knowledge the next day. We saw it as a unique opportunity and faced a clear dilemma: be loyal to Rick or be loyal to the organization. In this business of trying to win a world championship for the first time in 107 years, the organization has priority over any one individual. We decided to pursue Joe.

“While there was no clear playbook for how to handle this type of situation, we knew we had to be transparent with Rick before engaging with Joe. Jed flew to San Diego last Friday and told Rick in person of our intention to talk to Joe about the managerial job. Subsequently, Jed and I provided updates to Rick via telephone and today informed him that we will indeed make a change.

“We offered Rick a choice of other positions with the Cubs, but he is of course free to leave the organization and pursue opportunities elsewhere. Armed with the experience of a successful season and all the qualities that made him our choice a year ago, Rick will no doubt make an excellent major league manager when given his next chance.

“Rick often said he was the beneficiary of the hard work of others who came before him. Now, in the young players he helped, we reap the benefits of his hard work as we move forward. He deserved better and we wish him nothing but the best.

“We have clung to two important ideals during our three years in Chicago. The first is to always be loyal to our mission of building the Cubs into a championship organization that can sustain success. The second is to be transparent with our fans. As painful as the last week was at times, we believe we stayed true to these two ideals in handling a sensitive situation. To our fans: we hope you understand, and we appreciate your continued support of the Cubs.”

10/31 Cubs fire Renteria

The Cubs announced Friday they have fired Rick Renteria as manager, opening the way for Joe Maddon to take over.

More to come.

— Carrie Muskat

10/31 Updating Cubs roster

Just to get up to date, the Cubs have made the following roster moves this week:

* Assigned outright to Triple-A Iowa:

OF Ryan Kalish
IF Chris Valaika
IF Josh Vitters

* Elected free agency:

RHP James McDonald

* The Cubs declined the 2015 option for RHP Kyuji Fujikawa, and he is now a free agent.

* RHP Carlos Villanueva filed for free agency.

With the moves, the Cubs’ 40-man roster is now at 35.

— Carrie Muskat

10/31 Hoyer meets with Renteria

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer met with manager Rick Renteria in San Diego, which could be one of the last steps in the team’s transition to Joe Maddon. The Cubs have been quiet re: reports that Maddon will be named the team’s 54th manager. However, an official did say Hoyer met face to face with Renteria, who is coming off his first season at the helm, posting a 73-89 record. Renteria, 52, has two years remaining on his contract with the team. No details on the meeting were available.

Earlier this month, Theo Epstein praised Renteria, saying the rookie manager met many of the criteria laid out for him, such as developing a positive attitude, setting a good tone for the players, and getting them to play hard. Epstein admitted Renteria had some limitations with the roster, such as relievers who were restricted because of past injuries and youngsters without much experience.

But Maddon unexpectedly became available last week after he opted out of his contract with the Rays. In 11 seasons as manager, Maddon has compiled a 781-729 record, including a trip to the World Series in 2008 with Tampa Bay when he won American League Manager of the Year honors.

Maddon, 60, left the Rays after GM Andrew Friedman’s departure to the Dodgers, taking advantage of an opt-out clause to leave with one year and a $1.85 million salary left on his contract. According to a source, he considered taking a year off from managing and moving to the broadcast booth.

The Cubs could offer Maddon a mega deal and the chance to be the one to guide the team to a World Series championship for the first time in more than 100 years. The Cubs have a much improved roster since Epstein took over in October 2011, including All-Stars Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and highly regarded prospects Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and Kyle Hendricks.

If hired, Maddon would be Epstein’s third manager in four years, following Dale Sveum (2012-13) and Renteria, and first with extensive big league experience.

— Carrie Muskat

10/19 AFL update – Saturday’s game

Bijan Rademacher had two hits, including a RBI single in the second inning, while Addison Russell and Dan Vogelbach scored two runs each in the Mesa Solar Sox’s 8-4 win Saturday over Salt River Rafters. There are no games Sunday. Arizona Fall League play resumes Monday with the Solar Sox facing the Scottsdale Scorpions at Scottsdale Stadium. You can follow the AFL on their website.

10/18 Littlefield to Tigers

Dave Littlefield, who has been with the Cubs since 2007, most recently as a Major League scout, was expected to join the Tigers, according to sources. Littlefield, the former Pirates general manager, was hired by former Cubs GM Jim Hendry in 2007 to be a scout.

— Carrie Muskat

10/18 AFL update – Friday’s game

Dan Vogelbach walked and scored a run in Mesa Solar Sox’s 5-3 loss to Surprise Saguaros on Friday in Arizona Fall League play. Jacob Hannemann was 0-for-4 for Mesa. Gerardo Concepcion walked one in one inning of relief. On Saturday, the Solar Sox play host to the Salt River Rafters at Cubs Park in Mesa. First pitch is scheduled for 6:35 p.m. MT. Sunday is a day off. Check the Arizona Fall League website for more information.