Cubs

Cubs: Joe Maddon thinks Dave Martinez is ready to manage

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Cubs: Joe Maddon thinks Dave Martinez is ready to manage

PITTSBURGH — Dave Martinez wants to run his own team someday, but he also wants to win big in Chicago, and those forces could push the Cubs bench coach into a difficult decision.

As the Cubs matured into a potential National League powerhouse, Theo Epstein didn’t expect his front office to get raided during this hiring cycle. But Joe Maddon’s right-hand man should draw interest as a high-energy leader with a broad range of experience.

Martinez spent seven years as Maddon’s bench coach with the Tampa Bay Rays before returning to the organization that originally drafted him in 1983, helping the Cubs accelerate their rebuilding program with a 97-win season.

“He’s definitely ready to manage,” Maddon said before Wednesday night’s wild-card game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.

[MORE CUBS: How Joe Maddon chose his wild-card lineup]

The Washington Nationals had identified Martinez as a managerial candidate two years ago but ultimately chose Matt Williams, who got fired this week after a massively disappointing finish for a preseason World Series favorite. The San Diego Padres and Miami Marlins are also searching for new managers now.

Martinez is 51 years old but looks much younger and has the instant credibility that comes from playing 16 seasons in the big leagues. Maddon compared this situation to his time as Mike Scioscia’s bench coach with the Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels.

“He gave me a lot of latitude regarding just do my job,” Maddon said. “His advice to me on a daily basis was to walk in the door and go about my business as though I was going to manage that particular day. That was the primary premise of me being a bench coach, and I want Davey to be the same way.

“When he comes to the ballpark every day, he walks in the door as though he’s going to manage the game.”

[MORE CUBS: Giordano's knows Cubs fans are hungry for a 'W' vs. Pirates]

Martinez interviewed with the Cubs after the 2013 season, losing out on the job that went to Rick Renteria for a bridge year. Speculation had linked Martinez as a possible replacement for Ozzie Guillen after the 2011 season, but that didn’t gain any traction, as the White Sox made a surprise pick in Robin Ventura.

Martinez has been exposed to two data-driven organizations that emphasize developing young talent. He can relate to players, helping organize Anthony Rizzo’s postgame celebrations/dance parties. He also runs interference for Maddon and helps police the clubhouse.

“He understands all the numbers that are out there,” Maddon said. “He understands people. He’s really good at tough conversations. He’s very straight up, straightforward and upfront.

“That’s really vital. You have to have those ‘Godfather’ days, man. Sometimes you just got be very blunt and honest with somebody in order to get your point across. He’s got all that.

“He’s absolutely ready. Some team’s going to get lucky.”

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

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USA TODAY

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: