The coaching-staff purge at Wrigley Field continued Thursday, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon said it was more about “availability” of new coaches rather than any negatives about those who were fired.
Hitting coach John Mallee and third-base coach Gary Jones joined pitching coach Chris Bosio as incumbent coaches let go by Maddon and the front office.
The Cubs have hired Chili Davis as their new hitting coach and promoted Andy Haines as assistant hitting coach from his role as minor league hitting coordinator. Haines replaces Eric Hinske, who left to take the job as hitting coach of the Los Angeles Angels.
Brian Butterfield is the new Cubs third-base coach. Both Davis and Butterfield most recently were coaches with the Boston Red Sox under manager John Farrell, who was not brought back.
The Cubs say they will fill their pitching-coach vacancy and announce the rest of the staff “at a later date.” However, Chicago native Jim Hickey will be named the new pitching coach, according to sources. Hickey worked under Maddon in Tampa Bay. The Cubs have not officially announced the Hickey hiring. They are not expected to do so until the World Series is over.
There is some sense of shock to this purge. During the National League Championship Series, all seemed well with Maddon and his coaches. And on top of that, team president Theo Epstein said Oct. 20 that any coach Maddon wanted would return.
The next day, news broke that Bosio had been fired.
“A lot of it was based on availability,” Maddon said via conference call. “I’ve known [Butterfield] for a long time. Part of his background is that he’s an excellent third-base coach. Beyond that, he’s a really outstanding baserunninig coach, too, so we want to add that to our group.
“Chili, I’ve known him for a long time, also. I worked with him with the Angels. Here’s another guy that is really good in regards to probably helping our hitters get to that next level, possibly situationally. These guys are fabulous. I’ve known them both for a while. They’re definitely force multipliers. I’ve gotten to know Andy over the last couple of years.”
Maddon was not available last week to talk about Bosio’s firing, as he was tending to a personal matter. Thursday, he took questions for the first time on how it went from sounding like he wanted all his coaches back to being the engineer of a major overhaul.
“It was really an awkward question at a tough time,” he said. “We’re in the playoffs, and I thought that was the only way I could respond to it because I didn’t want it to negatively impact the room. That’s it. There’s no other way to describe it. If you put yourself in my position having to answer that question during the playoffs, if I had answered it any differently, I thought it would cause a lot of concern in the coaches room.”
Maddon added that the firings and hirings were “by no means a denigration of the coaches who are leaving.”
“The guys that are not going to be here next year – Bos and Johnny and Jonesie – fabulous,” he said. “I actually just talked to Jonesie last night. I still have to talk to John, but I did talk to Bos. These guys are probably going to all end up on a major league coaching staff this year. They’re outstanding. When I was talking to Jonesie last night, I couldn’t tell him one negative. It was just a matter of availability right now with these other guys.”
With Bosio, Maddon said it was “time for a different voice at this particular moment.” That voice will be that of Hickey.
The Cubs ranked fourth in the National League during the regular season with a 3.95 ERA. Their pitchers gave up 194 home runs, fifth most in the NL. During the playoffs, the relievers had trouble with walks.
Cubs batters ranked first in on-base percentage, second in runs and third in home runs. Maddon, however, often talked about need to do better as situational hitters. The Cubs did not hit well in either round of the playoffs.
For the first three years of his tenure, Maddon was working with a coaching staff that was mostly inherited. He did hire Dave Martinez as bench coach. Martinez, according to reports, is in the process of being interviewed for the managerial job with the Washington Nationals.
Maddon has now put his own stamp on the staff. The Cubs have made three straight appearances in the NLCS, and they won the World Series last year. But Maddon said he doesn’t see everything now on him after getting his way with the coaching staff.
“Of course not,” he said. “It’s about the team. We’re all a spoke in the wheel, whatever you want to call it. I think we’ve done pretty well over the last three years, actually. First World Series in 108 years, I’ll take it. Three times to the championship series in the last three years, I’ll take it. And if we start looking past that as not being successful, then we have to re-evaluate how we look at the world in general.
“So no, this is not just about me. It’s never just about me. It’s about all of us. This is about the Cubs moving forward, and we think these new coaches can absolutely help take us to another level, get us back to the World Series again.”
Mallee, a Chicago native, issued a statement on Twitter. He thanked the Cubs organization and added: “I left a great Houston Astros organization to be closer to home with my family and to help my hometown team win the 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.”
Davis, 57, will mark his seventh season as a major-league hitting coach. He spent three seasons with Oakland (2012-14) and three with Boston (2015-17). Over the past three seasons, the Red Sox have led the majors in runs (2,411) and pitches per plate appearances (3.95), tied for first in OBP (. 334), ranked second in batting average (. 268), third in OPS (. 762) and plate appearances per strikeout (5.35).
Davis had a 19-year major-league career (1981-99), won three World Championships (1991, 1998, 1999) and was a three-time all-star.
Butterfield, 59, will begin his 22nd season as a coach at the major-league level, including his 18th as a third-base coach.
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