The Chicago Cubs are not without hope of ending their 105-year championship drought someday soon. They have a smart front office and more than enough young talent.
All the Cubs really need is the right guy to bring it all together. They're hoping their new manager is the right guy, and their hopes are not misplaced.
According to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, the Cubs have tabbed Rick Renteria to replace recently fired manager Dale Sveum:
This isn't an out-of-left-field hiring. Heyman had reported on Tuesday that Renteria, formerly the San Diego Padres' bench coach and the manager of Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, was looking like a "strong favorite" for the job.
And here's why:
Renteria is said to most closely match what they are looking for as a teacher of young players, as the Cubs look to get the most out of a stash of high-end young players and prospects, including big-leaguers Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo and minor leaguers Jorge Soler, Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and others.
Chiming in with an additional thought is MLB analyst Peter Gammons, who believes Renteria's leadership will be particularly appealing to the organization's young Latin players:
Positive reviews at this stage of the game don't exactly mean much, sure, but one does get a sense that the Cubs have the right idea. They're bringing in a manager who can connect with their youth, which is exactly what they needed to do.
As it is, Renteria shouldn't have a nightmare experience ahead of him in getting the young players already on the Cubs to live up to their talent. A couple of guys just need to keep doing what they do.
Left-hander Travis Wood's age-26 season saw him post a 3.11 ERA and pitch 200 innings. Welington Castillo, the club's 26-year-old catcher, quietly posted a better WAR than Brian McCann and Matt Wieters, according to FanGraphs. After hitting .284 with a .760 OPS in 64 games, 23-year-old Junior Lake is at least a good stopgap in center field.
And yes, it's even safe to feel optimistic about Anthony Rizzo.
The 24-year-old first baseman's 2013 season was a disappointment on the surface, as he batted just .233/.323/.419 with 23 home runs after hitting .285/.342/.463 with 15 homers in 87 games in 2012. But Rizzo also had one of the lowest BABIPs in baseball, a not-unusual hallmark of an unlucky season. His rebound in 2014 could be extreme enough to make him an All-Star.
But Starlin Castro, on the other hand...Now he's a real project for Renteria.
After hitting .297 over his first three seasons, Castro hit just .245 with a measly .284 on-base percentage in 2013. He was never really right, as he hit .244 in the second half of the season after hitting .245 in the first half. The advanced metrics say he was a liability in the field as well.
But heck, surely we all remember all the bad noise sent in Castro's direction from Sveum's corner. It's hard to forget it.
There was that time that Sveum didn't hold back in ripping Castro to the press after he made a mental mistake last June. There was that time Sveum threatened to bench Castro last August. There was that time earlier this year that Sveum hinted that Castro (along with Rizzo) was a candidate to be sent down. Just to name a few.
Unfounded? Not really. Castro's shortcomings have absolutely been worth getting frustrated over.
But poorly handled? You can definitely say so. Sveum had a habit of throwing Castro under the bus, which is not a commendable habit.
And it doesn't end there. In addition to the controversies, Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com pointed out during the summer that Sveum and his coaching staff were looking to change Castro by trying to tweak his mechanics and convince him to work longer at-bats.
The latter wasn't the worst idea in the world. But if a guy's swing mechanics resulted in a .297 average in his early 20s, there's the big question: Why change them?
After what he went through in Sveum's regime, making Castro feel at home in the new regime will be one of Renteria's top priorities. It's not hard to imagine him being successful doing so. He had a hand in getting the most out of some young players in San Diego, including a talented shortstop.
Just ask former Padre Jake Peavy. Or, if you're not near him, hear what he had to say about Renteria to Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune regarding Renteria's relationship with San Diego shortstop Everth Cabrera:
...there was that whole attitude and demeanor with Everth Cabrera. But Ricky having a Spanish side of things there, (hitting) the ground balls to Cabrera every day, the work he did with him, and (telling him), 'You can be one of the best in the game if you want to be.'
Cabrera, 26, came into his own in 2013 with a .355 on-base percentage and 37 steals in 95 games before he was suspended for his ties to Biogenesis. Say what you will about that, but it sounds like Renteria was a factor in his development.
Peavy also credited Renteria for the way he handled Chase Headley and Nick Hundley. Other young players Renteria got to work with in San Diego include Jedd Gyorko, Cameron Maybin and Yonder Alonso.
If Renteria's experience with San Diego's young players helps him turn Castro around while Wood, Castillo, Lake and Rizzo keep doing what they do, he'll have the key young talent that the Cubs already have at the major league level taken care of.
Then all he'll have to do is sit back and wait for more youngsters to arrive. There will be plenty of those coming in the next few years.
B/R's Mike Rosenbaum ranked the Cubs' farm system as the second-best in MLB following the trade deadline, and the top prospects are plentiful. Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant and Arismendy Alcantara all have the look of impact players. Baez and Bryant are two guys who could be ready for the big club shortly.
Sveum might have been out of his comfort zone in having to deal with an influx of young players. In addition to his questionable handling of Castro, there is the reality that Sveum's minor league coaching experience lasted only three years from 2001 to 2003. He spent the majority of his career coaching in the majors and, thus, dealing primarily with experienced players.
Renteria is in a different boat. He coached in the minor leagues from the late 1990s to 2007 before the Padres promoted him to a big league job in 2008. He's not that far removed from dealing with young, up-and-comers on a daily, heck, hourly basis, and he's been dealing with young teams at the major league level ever since.
More so than most other teams in the big leagues—if not every other team in the big leagues—the Cubs' future depends on their youth coming together and taking off. By all accounts, Renteria is the perfect guy to facilitate the "taking off" part.
If it all comes together, the sky's the limit. It's not like it's unheard of for teams to do great things on the back of young talent, after all.
The Tampa Bay Rays rose from the depths of the AL East thanks to young talent. The Philadelphia Phillies' homegrown talent was key in them becoming a World Series-caliber team. The Washington Nationals rode a youth movement to a successful season in 2012. The St. Louis Cardinals' run to the World Series this year was largely fueled by young talent.
With Renteria at the controls, the Cubs may soon follow in these footsteps and see about ending this whole "Curse of the Billy Goat" thing.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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