Miami Marlins

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.”

Cubs unveil 2018 schedule with more White Sox and a World Series rematch vs. Indians

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AP

Cubs unveil 2018 schedule with more White Sox and a World Series rematch vs. Indians

The Cubs will open their 143rd season with a 10-game road trip, expand the crosstown rivalry with the White Sox and revisit an epic World Series next year.

Those are some of the highlights from the tentative 2018 schedule released Tuesday, with the Cubs opening next season on March 29 at Marlins Park and traveling to Cincinnati and Milwaukee before the April 9 Wrigley Field opener against the Pirates.

One year after the stunning Jose Quintana trade, the Cubs will play two three-game series against the White Sox in Wrigleyville (May 11-13) and on the South Side (Sept. 21-23).

As part of that American League Central crossover, the Cubs will have flashbacks to the 2016 World Series in Cleveland, returning to the scene of an unforgettable Game 7 (April 24-25) and hosting the Indians — who are now one of the hottest teams in baseball history — for two more games a month later (May 22-23).

Check out the entire grid here:

 

Catcher looks like next trade-deadline move for Cubs: ‘We have a lot of hooks in the water’

Catcher looks like next trade-deadline move for Cubs: ‘We have a lot of hooks in the water’

Adding a veteran catcher sounds like the next trade-deadline move for a Cubs team built around pitching and defense and Willson Contreras’ almost unlimited supply of energy. 

“We have a lot of hooks in the water right now,” general manager Jed Hoyer said before Tuesday’s 7-2 win over the White Sox at Wrigley Field. “But whether or not something happens soon, I’m not sure.”

The Cubs aren’t hunting for a big fish, because Contreras has already become one of their most valuable players, a dangerous cleanup hitter, a physically gifted thrower and receiver and an eager student when it comes to the team’s sophisticated game-planning system. Just look at how Contreras set the tone by launching a Carlos Rodon fastball 417 feet onto Waveland Avenue for a three-run homer in the first inning. 

With that in mind, the Cubs are not as high on Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila as some reports indicate. The Cubs also don’t have Jonathan Lucroy near the top of their list, sources said, because the Texas Rangers catcher needs to play regularly to be effective and would ideally go to a situation where he could showcase what made him a two-time All-Star with the Milwaukee Brewers and recoup some free-agent value after a disappointing walk year (.632 OPS).

Leading up to the July 31 deadline, the Cubs are actively looking at backup plans where rookie catcher Victor Caratini would return to Triple-A Iowa – where he hit .341 in 69 games before Miguel Montero’s epic rant – and become a September call-up. 

If the Cubs stay focused on a veteran backup who will only play once a week, A.J. Ellis could make sense. The price would be less than $1 million in salary and wouldn’t cost a top-tier prospect. The Miami Marlins are sellers and Ellis – who used to work as Clayton Kershaw’s personal catcher – knows the pitching infrastructure catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello helped design for the Cubs after their time together around Brad Ausmus with the Los Angeles Dodgers.    

“We’re still in that process,” Hoyer said. “I think some teams prioritize timing. They have a bunch of deals they need to make, and so they’ll say: ‘OK, we’re going to move this guy by Thursday.’ Sometimes it happens…right now, we’re kind of sorting out that. 

[MOREWillson Contreras may be ‘the f------ Energizer Bunny,’ but Cubs still need to get another catcher before trade deadline]

“But a lot of this time of the year is about timing. Unless the team prioritizes moving early, then usually things aren’t going to happen for another four or five days.”

This sounds like a matter of when – not if – but the Cubs won’t rush to get their new catcher in uniform before this weekend’s showdown against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.

“If it happens, that’s great,” Hoyer said. “But otherwise it’s kind of a false deadline. You want to careful not to react to that. You don’t want to do a deal for a couple games.”