How Theo Epstein sees Chili Davis making a difference for Cubs

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USA TODAY

How Theo Epstein sees Chili Davis making a difference for Cubs

The Cubs can’t send Chili Davis out to face Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw, but team president Theo Epstein believes his presence will help the franchise’s young hitters next October.

Those pronounced playoff struggles against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers — on top of the way the New York Mets power pitchers overwhelmed the Cubs during that 2015 National League Championship Series sweep — led to a major shakeup of Joe Maddon’s coaching staff.

Firing hitting coach John Mallee isn’t really about what he didn’t do, because he worked nonstop across the last three years, overseeing an offense that actually scored more runs this season than the 2016 World Series team.

It’s more the instant credibility that Davis brings as a switch-hitter who made three All-Star teams and earned World Series rings with the 1991 Minnesota Twins and the last New York Yankees dynasty (1998-99).

Epstein initially brought Davis into the Boston Red Sox organization, hiring him as an overqualified hitting coach for Triple-A Pawtucket in 2011, the last season before sweeping changes would hit Fenway Park.

Davis spent the next six years as the big-league hitting coach for the Oakland A’s and Red Sox, working with players like Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi.

“Chili’s well-established as one of the very best hitting coaches in the game,” Epstein said after Thursday’s staff announcements. “His philosophy and approach happened to fit with what we hope will be the next step for many of our hitters. We talked after the season about hoping to get better with situational hitting, with our two-strike approach, with using the whole field, with having competitive, team-based at-bats.

“That happens to be Chili’s core philosophy — hitting line drives to the middle of the field. Your line drives will turn into home runs. He’s excellent at teaching a two-strike approach and teaching situational hitting. He’s really good at helping to get hitters to understand when an elite pitcher’s on his game, you have to sometimes take what he gives you, and have an adjustable swing, an adjustable approach for those situations.

“He’s got the gravitas of a 19-year career, 350 homers, over 1,300 RBIs. That combined with his excellent manner and ability to communicate with players makes him a really impactful figure.”

Mallee — who grew up as the son of a Chicago cop and graduated from Mount Carmel High School — brought stability to a position that used to have the job security of the drummer for Spinal Tap.

The Cubs wanted Mallee’s data-driven approach and the ability to explain heat maps and cold zones and how pitchers would attack each at-bat. Mallee also gave the Cubs a very accurate scouting report on Dexter Fowler before making that January 2015 trade with the Houston Astros.

During Mallee’s tenure, Kris Bryant became the fourth player in major-league history to be named MVP the season after winning Rookie of the Year honors. Ian Happ kept making enough adjustments to hit 24 home runs during his rookie season (with only 26 games of experience at Triple-A Iowa). Javier Baez made great strides this year — 23 homers, 75 RBI, .796 OPS — before an 0-for-20 tailspin to start the playoffs.

In one way, the Cubs even endorsed Mallee’s methods by promoting minor-league hitting coordinator Andy Haines to work with Davis as the assistant hitting coach. Mallee and Haines have a Miami connection after working in the Marlins organization.

“I would like to thank the Chicago Cubs for the amazing opportunity to be part of a great tradition and organization for the last three years,” Mallee wrote in a statement. “I left a great Houston Astros organization to be closer to home with my family and to help my hometown team win a World Series.

“We did that. I have no regrets and stand by my work. I wish nothing but the best for the Cubs organization and all the amazing people I met along the way, especially my hitters. See you from across the field.”

When the Cubs talk up their culture and the first-class organization they’ve built, there’s also an unspoken, underlying coldness to it all, even while making justifiable decisions. The Cubs publicly hailed Ricky Renteria basically up to the moment Maddon opted out of his contract with the Tampa Bay Rays and someone better came along.

Whether or not that will always be sustainable, Davis does have a great resume, no doubt. The Cubs are hoping Davis can help salvage the $184 million investment in Jason Heyward and rewire an offense that ranked last in batting average (.168) and on-base percentage (.240) among the 10-team playoff field. Outside of that unforgettable 9-8 thriller at Nationals Park, the Cubs scored 16 runs in nine postseason games.

“John Mallee is an outstanding hitting coach and we would not be in the position we’re in now with rings on our finger without him,” Epstein said. “Chili just happens to be, in our opinion, uniquely qualified for this group, at this moment in time, to help us get to the next level.”

The ripple effects for Dave Martinez as Cubs shake up staff and Nationals can now pursue Joe Girardi

The ripple effects for Dave Martinez as Cubs shake up staff and Nationals can now pursue Joe Girardi

Joe Girardi isn’t going there for a crewcut – to borrow a John Lackey phrase – and that might help Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez get the manager’s job with the Washington Nationals.

The New York Yankees shook up the industry on Thursday by announcing that they would not be offering a new contract to Girardi, the ex-Cub who grew up in Peoria and graduated from Northwestern University.

Girardi did not experience a losing season during his 10 years in The Bronx, winning the 2009 World Series and helping the Yankees through a youth movement that just got them to an American League Championship Series Game 7.

That would make Girardi a dream candidate for the 2018 Nationals and Bryce Harper’s final season before becoming a free agent. Except Washington has a perception problem after using three different managers to win four National League East championships since 2012.

Dusty Baker guided the Nationals to back-to-back division titles – and has a Hall of Fame-caliber resume – and still got fired in the middle of October after the Cubs beat them in a one-run elimination game.

Girardi just completed a four-year, $16 million contract with the Yankees – or about double the length and four times the financial commitment the Nationals reportedly gave Baker.

Is Washington ownership willing to pay a manager Joe Maddon money?

And would Martinez – Maddon’s longtime bench coach with the Cubs and Tampa Bay Rays – get his old job back if the Nationals don’t hire him?

“I would think so,” Maddon said Thursday on a conference call announcing big changes to his coaching staff. “We haven’t concluded anything. And I’m really hoping Davey gets this job. It’s about time he’s being considered so strongly. He’s ready to do this.

“It’s time for him to hold his own baby and go out there and have his voice be heard. Obviously, we’re all pulling for Davey. It’s the right time for him.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Joe Girardi, Bryce Harper and trades

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Joe Girardi, Bryce Harper and trades

With Joe Girardi out of a job in New York, could he ever manager again in Chicago? And how does his availability affect Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez in his bid for a manager gig somewhere? Do these Cubs coaching changes reflect more heavily on Joe Maddon moving forward?

Is Bryce Harper coming to the Cubs in two years or is he just a big flirt? Who are the Cubs most likely to trade of their young position players?

Patrick Mooney, Jeff Nelson and Tony Andracki attempt to answer all these questions as the Cubs offseason ramps up intensity.

Take a listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast below: