The Cubs have a deal with Jim Hickey to make him their new pitching coach, a source familiar with the agreement said Thursday, part of a much broader shakeup to Joe Maddon’s staff and a team that will need to replace 40 percent of the rotation and identify a new closer.
The Cubs essentially limited their search to one candidate after firing Chris Bosio last week, knowing Hickey’s close relationship with Maddon, his reputation for helping the Tampa Bay Rays consistently develop young pitchers like David Price and Chris Archer and his roots on Chicago’s South Side.
Hickey became an in-demand free agent earlier this month when he parted ways with Tampa Bay with a year remaining on his contract. Maddon denied the speculation about a reunion during the National League Championship Series, when he said “of course” he would like his entire coaching staff back in 2018.
Two days later, Bosio got fired during a Wrigley Field exit meeting. Hickey was said to be in the mix for potential jobs with the St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants and Boston Red Sox.
“The fact that Hickey’s available has nothing to do with it,” Maddon said Thursday on the same conference call where he explained the availability of Chili Davis and Brian Butterfield — with the Red Sox staff in flux — led to the dismissals of hitting coach John Mallee and third base coach Gary Jones.
Bosio — whose six years with the Cubs covered marketing short-term assets like Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija for big trade-deadline deals and overseeing the development of Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks into foundation pieces for a World Series rotation — is said to be close to landing another job as the Detroit Tigers pitching coach.
With Arrieta and All-Star closer Wade Davis about to become free agents — and John Lackey expected to disappear into retirement in Texas — the Cubs will have a major overhaul of their pitching staff. Two key pieces to that pitching infrastructure — catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello and run prevention coordinator Tommy Hottovy — will remain in place next season.
Hickey also creates another connection to Alex Cobb, a free agent the Cubs will need intelligence on after he underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in the middle of the 2015 season. Cobb went 48-35 with a 3.50 ERA in 115 career starts for the Rays, just turned 30 and has only 700 innings of major-league wear and tear on his body.
Major League Baseball is entering a World Series blackout zone where teams are not allowed to make major announcements. But there is no doubt Hickey will be coming home to Chicago, wearing a Cubs uniform next season and standing next to Maddon in the Wrigley Field dugout.
“We just thought it was time for a different voice at this particular moment,” Maddon said. “I don’t want to get too deeply into that, but that’s exactly where we’re coming from. We just decided to make this change. I’m here to tell you, man, Boz is one of the most organized coaches — not just pitching coaches — I’ve ever been around.
“Nobody can care more than he did. But just moving it along — and I hate to say change in direction or whatever, I don’t like to use that phrase — we just thought a different voice was important right now. And that’s it. But it had nothing to do with Hickey.”