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
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.”
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
The Cubs coaching staff will remain intact for 2015 with the exception of assistant hitting coach Mike Brumley, who will likely be re-assigned in the organization, possibly as a scout. Theo Epstein made the announcement Tuesday at Wrigley Field. That means manager Rick Renteria’s staff will include bench coach Brandon Hyde, pitching coach Chris Bosio, hitting coach Bill Mueller, first base coach Eric Hinske, third base coach Gary Jones, bullpen coach Lester Strode, catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello, quality assurance coach Jose Castro and assistant Franklin Font. This was Brumley’s first season on the Cubs coaching staff.
Anthony Rizzo hit his 32nd home run, a two-run blast in the first, and scored on Arismendy Alcantara’s tie-breaking two-run double in the sixth to lift the Cubs to a 4-2 victory over the Brewers in the season finale Sunday in front of 33,837 at Miller Park.
Under new manager Rick Renteria, the Cubs finished 73-89, and below .500 for the fifth straight season, but they did top last year’s 66-win total and head into 2015 encouraged by the play of some of the top prospects, including Alcantara and Jorge Soler. It’s the first time the Cubs have won 73 games since a 75-87 season in 2010.
The Brewers, on the other hand, have to be wondering what happened after leading the division for 150 days and not making the playoffs.
Jacob Turner picked up the win, starting in place of Kyle Hendricks, who was scratched after the Cubs decided the rookie right-hander had reached his innings limit. Turner improved to 3-1 in six career games (five starts) against the Brewers, which included a win at Wrigley Field on Sept. 1.
Chris Coghlan walked to lead off the game against Brewers starter Mike Fiers, stole second and one out later, tallied on Rizzo’s 32nd home run. Rizzo is the first Cubs left-handed batter to hit 32 homers in a single season since Rick Monday did so in 1976.
— Carrie Muskat
It’s been a frustrating final month of the season for Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, who will head home to the Dominican Republic after Sunday but plans to continue his rehab at the team’s facility in Mesa, Ariz. Castro, who injured his left ankle on Sept. 2 when he slid awkwardly into home plate, was examined Saturday by team orthopedic specialist Dr. Stephen Gryzlo at Miller Park. All the shortstop has been able to do is rehab and watch.
“It’s big time frustrating,” Castro said Saturday. “It’s tough for me because I worked really hard to come back for one game or two. It’s not going to happen but I’m not going to get frustrated. It’s a really important season next year and I’m going to be healthy.”
If there was some way he could get on the field for one more play, he would, but Castro is still wearing a supportive boot on his left foot.
The 2014 season was Castro’s fifth in the big leagues, and he finished as the top hitting shortstop in the National League (.290) ahead of the Dodgers’ Hanley Ramirez. This is the first time in the last four seasons that Castro will not lead the NL in errors. He made 15 in 133 games for a .973 fielding percentage, the highest in his young career.
“I think he’s grown up,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “I think he took a lot upon himself. As the season progressed, he was more accountable to himself and to his teammates. I think he worked very, very hard to overcome a lot of real and or perceived deficits in this game. He also became, as far as I could tell, a much better teammate. I think everybody started to gravitate to him. I think it’s been a positive season for him.”
Castro will spend time this offseason with Cubs strength coach Tim Buss to prepare for the season.
“I’ll just try to be healthy,” Castro said. “That’s a really important goal for me. I’ll try to do my full Spring Training without injuries. I’m prepared for that. When that happens, it’ll be better season.”
He sees a bright future for the Cubs. Castro has had plenty of time to watch young players like Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara.
“We see a lot of good things here,” Castro said. “Those kids, those young guys, we have good communication. We’ll show next year that we can fight, we can fight with whatever. We can play baseball to win. I think we’re pretty close.”
— Carrie Muskat
Wednesday was the Cubs last home game at Wrigley Field, and manager Rick Renteria was already looking ahead to next year.
“This was certainly a great experience for me in my first year,” Renteria said. “More than anything, it’s been awesome to see a lot of those young guys show up here in the big leagues and everybody gets to see them.
“Being with them the whole year has given me an advantage because we have a basis now to establish how we’re going to continue to move forward and things we need to work on to become a better ballclub. We’ve been thinking about that for two or three weeks already.”
The Cubs will finish with a sub .500 record and Renteria knows that won’t be acceptable in years to come.
“We all know what this is about — it’s about ultimately winning,” he said. “There’s nobody who takes this [job] who thinks otherwise. I just happened to be in a unique position this year where I had a lot of young players and new players for me, and got to know them and their personalities and tried to help them in any way we could through the coaching staff and communication we’ve had throughout the season to help them become better big league baseball players.”
Can the Cubs win?
“My expectation is that we can,” Renteria said. “I’m not going to shy away from that. Do I expect we’ll be better next year? Absolutely.”
— Carrie Muskat
* Jorge Soler did not start Sunday, but that was part of the Cubs’ plan to help the rookie outfielder stay healthy in his return from leg injuries. Soler was pulled from Saturday’s game after five innings because rain had made the playing field slippery and the Cubs didn’t want to risk injury.
“The guys were talking about how it was getting a little softer,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said Sunday about the outfield. “For us, it was the right thing to do at that time [to pull Soler]. We have three [games] more against St. Louis, then a day off Thursday, and three more in Milwaukee, and he’ll finish off playing.”
Soler has played four, five days in a row, then gotten a breather in his comeback. He began the season with Double-A Tennessee, but suffered a leg injury after his first hit in his first game April 3. He went on the disabled list and returned in May, but needed to go on the DL again. After rehabbing in Mesa, he rejoined the Smokies in July, and batted .463 in 15 games before he was promoted to Triple-A.
* Renteria and GM Jed Hoyer are conducting exit interviews with players, and the discussion has turned to what the Cubs need for 2015. What’s on Renteria’s wish list?
“What we’d really like is to have a bunch of really good baserunners,” Renteria said Sunday. “One of the things we’re talking about is going into Spring Training and get some skill work done and a better of sense what we need to add.”
Isn’t base running instinctual?
“I’ve always thought that instincts are learned,” Renteria said. “If you take advantage of experiences, it teaches you something.”
* The Cubs have yet to finalize the rotation for the last series of the regular season next weekend in Milwaukee. Kyle Hendricks will start the season finale on Sept. 28. One of the options is to have Eric Jokisch start a game. He was 9-10 with a 3.58 ERA in 26 starts at Triple-A Iowa this season.
Looking ahead, the rotation for the three-game series against the Cardinals will be:
Monday: Travis Wood vs Adam Wainwright
Tuesday: Kyle Hendricks vs Shelby Miller
Wednesday: Jake Arrieta vs John Lackey
Wood and Arrieta will be making their final starts of the season.
— Carrie Muskat
Matt Szczur hit the ball hard at the wrong time for the Cubs Sunday. Szczur, one of the fastest players on the Cubs, hit into a triple play in the fourth inning sparked by Josh Harrison, who also drove in two runs to lead the Pirates to a 7-3 come from behind victory. The Cubs lost for the eighth time in their last nine games and ended their road trip 1-5. Chicago struggled to generate any offense without Anthony Rizzo (back), Jorge Soler (paternity leave) and Starlin Castro (ankle). It didn’t help when the Pirates thwarted a rally with their web gem.
Chicago led 3-0 when Chris Valaika doubled to lead off the fourth against Edinson Volquez, who then walked Mike Olt. But Szczur smacked the ball to Harrison at third base to start the first triple play at PNC Park and the first the Cubs have hit into since May 14, 2000, at Montreal.
“It was a heck of a play,” Szczur said. “I was looking for a good pitch to hit and something to hit hard, and it was probably the wrong time I hit the ball hard.”
Szczur remembers he and Logan Watkins were on the bases once for a triple play while at Class A Daytona. That was the last one he could recall.
“I thought I was going to [beat the throw],” Szczur said. “It was close. I put a good swing on it and tried to get out of the box as fast as I could. Wrong time to hit it hard, that’s for sure.”
Cubs manager Rick Renteria felt Szczur had a chance.
“He hit it right on the nose, and Harrison made a really nice play because he ended up catching it going away from him — he didn’t even back hand it, he stayed with it — and it took him right to the bag,” Renteria said.
Renteria didn’t feel that play turned the momentum in the game.
“I don’t allow our guys to put their heads down,” Renteria said. “That’s just a play that happened. We were still in the lead. That’s baseball.”
The Pirates would respectfully disagree.
“Anytime you pull a triple play, I think you’re going to feel an instant boost of energy,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “It’s an exciting play, it was crisp, it was fun.”
Said Neil Walker: “It was huge. You don’t see that too many times, and we were in spot in the game where we were just playing flat for the first several innings, [Volquez] was having a tough time getting his rhythm, and we were having a tough time putting together some at-bats. All of a sudden, that kind of momentum carried us into the offensive side of things. Really cool to be a part of that. ”
— Carrie Muskat
Rick Renteria is wrapping up his first season as manager, and was eager to build on what the Cubs did this season. Last week, Theo Epstein complimented Renteria, saying the challenge for the rookie manager was to “provide an environment for the young players to develop and thrive at the big league level.” Renteria did just that.
Is Renteria comfortable in his job?
“Fortunately for me, the players, [the media], the front office, everybody has made it an easier transition than I would have imagined,” Renteria said. “I think everybody’s been very supportive. Everybody has a sense of what the organization is trying to do, so maybe that’s made it easier for me in my transition to manager as opposed to being a coach.”
He admitted that sometimes he’s done things that may seem a little odd, such as batting Javier Baez second — he’s more of a middle of the order hitter — and carrying an extra reliever in the ‘pen.
“There are things you do to make sure guys are gaining experience and knowledge in key situations that they need to develop those roles that they’ve fallen into,” he said.
But the Cubs development phase may be ending soon. Does Renteria expect more pressure next year?
“I don’t think it’s pressure,” he said Saturday. “It’s what you expect to do. Any club at any Major League sport is expected to win. I’ve been the first one to say it and I won’t be the last, I place expectations on myself to lead men and hopefully not get in the way and allow them to perform and win ballgames. The results are truly their process of how they play the game and giving yourself a chance. In the end if I don’t do what I was brought here to do, change is inevitable. My hope is I’m able to do a good enough job and our staff is able to do a good enough job to continue to move us forward and ultimately win.”
He isn’t losing sleep over the season.
“I’ve always said I’ll do my job and in the end, I’m always hopeful that what I do is good enough to take care of me and where I’m supposed to be,” he said. “I don’t worry about my job, never have. I’ve never done it as a Minor League coach, big league coach. I focus on my job. I think there are a lot of good things in place here. I think the organization is moving in the right direction here. I sincerely believe that. I sincerely believed that when I first interviewed for this job. It’s legitimate.”
Look at Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. Both have bounced back from disappointing 2013 seasons.
“We’re all individuals and we all do what we think is best and we all have to feel comfortable in our own skins, and I think at the end of the day, when I look in the mirror, good day or bad day, I want to make sure I did everything I could,” Renteria said. “If it didn’t work out, I have to put it to rest. If it did, I put it to rest, and then I go to bed. That’s the way it is, that’s the way I live my life. It’s not going to change.”
— Carrie Muskat