Cubs

Cubs will hire Jim Hickey as next pitching coach to oversee new phase at Wrigley

1026_jim_hickey.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs will hire Jim Hickey as next pitching coach to oversee new phase at Wrigley

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.”

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."