Mark Loretta was happy in San Diego. And as icy wind whipped snow across downtown Chicago on Saturday morning -- where Day 2 of Cubs Convention had just gotten started -- it’s easy to understand why.
Loretta, who had spent the last decade as a special assistant in the San Diego Padres front offices, was hired as the Cubs’ newest bench coach back on January 3rd. His familiarity with the Cubs front office goes all the way back to 2006, when he played for the Boston Red Sox under Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. He was then hired by the Hoyer-run Padres after he retired in 2009.
A Northwestern alum, Loretta had never thought about leaving Southern California - until the Cubs came calling.
“I think it was just a really unique opportunity for a lot of reasons,” he said. “You know, obviously the Chicago connection, the team, Joe, so many factors that I thought made it a good fit. I always felt that I would want to get back in a uniform at some point. I didn’t know when it would happen, but when this opportunity came up my family was very excited about it and it seemed like the right fit at the right time.”
Loretta joins a Cubs team that, as you’ve surely heard by now, is returning most of last year’s roster. Though they won 95 games last summer, their late-season stumble soaked up most of the fans’ goodwill. Going 0-2 in home clinchers, while scoring two runs in the process, will leave a bitter taste in most anyone’s mouth.
“I think the silver lining of last year is that this team is really motivated,” he added. “From the front office all the way down, I’ve talked to just about every one of them either in person or on the phone, and they’re stung by last year. There were some tears in the clubhouse after the Wild Card game.”
“I think these guys realize that they can’t just show up and be this dynasty, even though they’re extremely talented. It’s not about changing for me, it’s about growing. These guys need to take the next step and really understand what it takes for the long haul.”
Bench coach jobs are a bit like the White House Chief of Staff in that there’s never really a set job description. During his time in San Diego, he had a hand in the Padres’ scouting, player development, and community relations. Here, Loretta sees the role as an intermediary between the players and staff; he and new quality assurance coach Chris Denorfia are already neck deep in day-to-day planning of Spring Training. Despite only being here for a little over two weeks, Loretta’s already made an impression on many.
“I watched him growing up, and I got to talk to him a little bit,” David Bote said. “He called me a couple weeks ago to kind of get to know each other a little bit. He’s awesome, I think he fits really well into what we have going here. I don’t really know his coaching style, but I don’t think there are going to be any issues based on our conversations. I think he’s really into what we’re doing and I’m really excited to see what he brings.”
The elephant in the room, of course, is that manager Joe Maddon only has one year left on his current contract. He enters 2019 with about as little job security as he’s ever had in Chicago. Though his last two bench coaches have found managerial jobs of their own in D.C. and Baltimore, Maddon’s uncertain future only adds fuel to the potential-replacement fire.
“I think you can read things into it, but as far as I’m concerned, that was not on my radar,” Loretta said. “It was nothing obviously that I talked to Jed or Theo about, so again, I understand the speculation - you can start adding things together. But again, Joe is a huge reason why I was interested in taking this job. I think he’s one of the best managers in the game for sure.”
“I look really forward to learning from him next year.”