It appears former big league catcher David Ross is coming out of the broadcast booth and the Cubs’ front office and back into the dugout.
According to multiple outlets, the Chicago Cubs are set to name Ross as their next manager after former skipper Joe Maddon and the club parted ways following a disappointing 2019 season.
For Maddon, the writing was on the wall after the team has largely disappointed since winning their first World Series in more than 100 years in 2016. They faltered down the stretch in 2018, forcing a game 163 to decide the NL Central division with the Milwaukee Brewers. The Cubs lost that contest at Wrigley Field and also went on to lose the do-or-die NL Wild Card game at Wrigley field to the Colorado Rockies as well. This season, they missed the postseason altogether, essentially sealing Maddon’s fate with the ball club in the final year of his contract.
For Ross, he hasn’t quite left the Cubs after being a key part of that 2016 World Series championship. He hit a pinch-hit Game 7 homer in Cleveland to help the Cubs to victory – his second World Series title after also winning with the Boston Red Sox as well. Ross then remained with the team as a front office consultant while also calling games for ESPN.
At just 42, he will inherit a talented yet underperforming big league club as well as one of the weaker farm systems in baseball after a string of win-now moves over the last few seasons. While the big league roster could apparently undergo some notable changes in the offseason, this is still a win-now ball club and anything short of a postseason berth in subsequent seasons will no doubt be considered a major disappointment among the Cubs’ substantial fan base.
While the move isn’t yet official as Major League Baseball prefers such announcements wait until after the conclusion of the World Series in order to keep the baseball world’s focus entirely on the Fall Classic, let’s look at why I believe Ross can be an integral piece in getting the team back into contention as soon as the 2020 campaign.
As noted, Ross isn’t far removed from his playing career than ended with that 2016 world championship, meaning he’s just three seasons removed from spending his days in a big league dugout. He no doubt has the respect of many currently on the Cubs’ roster, including Kris Bryant who had this to say in late September, according to ESPN.
“I’ve always looked at Rossy as a coach when he played here. Yeah, it was goofy, it was fun, it was energetic, but when he needed to tell you something, he let you hear it. From the very get-go, I felt like this guy will be a manager someday”.
While Maddon was very much of the new-school variety and a large influence on the infield shifts in baseball, it seemed he lost his voice in the clubhouse and his players didn’t seem motivated to play under him. The team was in a nice position to win a difficult NL Central in each of the last two seasons but collapsed down the stretch on both occasions.
The Cubs need a new voice in the clubhouse, and while Maddon is certainly a respected baseball mind, he simply cannot connect with the players on the same level that Ross can. In sum, this hiring just seems like the appropriate all-round choice for the franchise by a landslide.
Catchers Make Good Managers
Of course, nothing is a sure thing in this league. Just because you are a quality catcher doesn’t guarantee you will make a good manager. However, there’s a reason why so many former big league backstops go on to land big league managerial positions.
MLB catchers make their living managing a pitching staff, as do managers. One of the biggest faults the 2019 Cubs experienced were late-inning bullpen woes. The Cubs ranked eighth with a 3.98 bullpen ERA this season, but just 20th with a 1.3 bullpen WAR. Late-inning bullpen implosions were the norm in Chicago the last couple of seasons and Maddon refused to change his mindset when his current strategies were so blatantly not getting the job done.
Not only does Ross know this bullpen personally, he knows how to handle pitchers after parts of 15 seasons behind the dish. Ross was a strong defender behind the plate, known for his glove and managing the game front behind the plate as opposed to his bat, although he hit for notable power throughout his career nonetheless.
Now, Ross will manage the game from the dugout with plenty of pitch-managing experience already under his belt.
What to Expect for Next Season
While we haven’t even completed the 2019 MLB season and are without online 2020 World Series odds at this juncture (they’re listed at 20/1 in Vegas), I would expect Ross to be the main ingredient in getting the Cubs back into the postseason in 2020.
Their aging rotation might need some help and their bullpen certainly does, however you’d be hard-pressed to find a more talented lineup up and down. Kris Bryant is a former MVP while Javier Baez finished second in that discussion in 2018. Anthony Rizzo is one of the most reliable bats at the first base position in the big leagues while Willson Contreras is certainly among the very best bats in the game from behind the plate.
In other words, there’s plenty to work with on this roster. There’s enviable talent in Chicago. Of course, there might be changes and there are needs here as well. However, I’m already convinced that President Theo Epstein has tabbed the right man for the job and I think we should take a good hard look at the Cubs’ online World Series odds when they are released after the conclusion of the 2019 World Series.