By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The coaching carousel has moved the Cubs and manager Joe Maddon to make wholesale changes to their staff for next season.
On Thursday, hitting coach John Mallee and third-base coach Gary Jones were dismissed, suffering the same fate that pitching coach Chris Bosio did last week. Chili Davis will replace Mallee as hitting coach, while Brian Butterfield will take over as third-base coach. Additionally, Andy Haines was promoted from within the organization to be the assistant hitting coach, a position vacated when Eric Hinske left earlier this week for a promotion with the Angles.
The moves were jarring in the sense that the Cubs have had so much success in the past three seasons and that Maddon had said in the playoffs that he expected his coaches to return.
On Thursday, Maddon admitted he was deking the media previously because it was “awkward” to ask about the coaching staff while the Cubs were still alive in the postseason.
“I thought that was the only way I could respond,” Maddon said. “We did want not want to negatively impact the room.”
The failure of both the Cubs hitters and the bullpen to adjust in the 10-game playoff run certainly influenced the eventual dismissals of Mallee and Bosio. And of course, there was more to it as well, with Maddon citing the need for new voices while praising his old staff, calling Mallee, Bosio and Jones “fabulous.”
“It was just about the availability right now with these other guys,” Maddon said in referencing Davis, Butterfield and Haines. “We think moving forward, they can possibly bring something to us with their skill set over the next three or four years and down the road. We think they can have a tremendous impact. They definitely are impact coaches.”
The Cubs were second in the National League with 822 runs this past season and tied for first with a .338 on-base percentage. Their 3.95 team ERA ranked fourth in the NL.
But the absence of a quality two-strike approach by the hitters reared its ugly head in an offensive collapse in the playoffs, when the Cubs scored just 25 runs in 10 games. As the Cubs struggled at the plate, the bullpen was lit up as well. Walks were an issue for Cubs relievers all season long, and the sudden loss of command by go-to setup man Carl Edwards Jr. mystified some in the organization. Lefty reliever Justin Wilson’s struggles after being acquired at the trade deadline was also mind-boggling to all involved.
Despite referencing the “availability” of the new coaches, Maddon pushed back at the notion that Jim Hickey being on the market had anything to do with Bosio’s exit. Hickey previously served as Maddon’s pitching coach with the Rays in Tampa Bay.
Hickey interviewed with the Cubs earlier this week. He had offers from both the Cubs and Giants, sources aid.
“We just thought it was time for a different voice,” Maddon said of Bosio’s exit. “We just decided to make the change .This had nothing to do with Hickey.”
Davis, 57, spent the past six seasons as a big league hitting with the Athletics (2012-’14) and Red Sox (2015-’17). Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has a history with Davis, hiring him to be the manager of the Pawtucket Red Sox, Boston’s Triple-A affiliate, in 2011 before he later left Boston for Chicago.
Maddon cited situational hitting as one way Davis can help the Cubs improve.
“Chili has a great message,” Maddon said. “I think he is very good delivering the message. We believe he will make a big impact when we face more difficult pitchers.”
Butterfield, 59, also comes from the Red Sox, where he spent the past five seasons as the team’s third-base coach, infield coach and baserunning coach.
The Cubs’ coaching staff turnover may not be done. Bench coach Dave Martinez is interviewing for the Nationals’ managerial job this week. It also remains unclear who the Cubs’ first-base coach will be. Brandon Hyde is the incumbent in that position, but his return has yet to be confirmed.
It was last week that Epstein made clear that any coach that Maddon wanted back will be back, but Maddon downplayed the notion that he made these decisions unilaterally.
“The moves were made among all of us,” Maddon said. “It was Theo, Jed (Hoyer) and myself. This has to be more of a group to be in on it and agree.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.