Saturday, September 28, 2013
Handicapping the Cubs' coaching staff
By Jesse Rogers
ST. LOUIS – With Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum’s short-term fate to be determined Monday, what does that mean for his coaching staff? Even if Sveum is dismissed, it’s highly doubtful the Cubs would get rid of his entire staff.
Handicapping the coaches from the outside looking in can be a difficult task. They do the bulk of their work behind closed doors, in the form of video and of course communicating with – as well as teaching -- the players. They aren’t subjected to twice-a-day media scrums like the manager, and their success or failure with players can’t always be measured in numbers.
Still, there are some things that become obvious in terms of the value of a coach, especially with the task of developing a young core.
Here’s a look at the status of some on Sveum’s staff:
Chris Bosio, Pitching coach
Considering the Cubs keep trading his pitchers, he might be the hardest to judge. But by all accounts he’s done an admirable job. Travis Wood would be the poster child for a success story. Bosio has gotten him to work all sides of the plate and not be afraid to throw any pitch at any time. Jeff Samardzija still has room to grow but hasn’t embarrassed his pitching coach in any manner. And it would be hard to point to Bosio for the failures on the staff. Former pitcher Shawn Camp's struggles could not have come as a shock, considering his age and mileage on his arm. Carlos Marmol was on the decline before Bosio appeared on the scene. Kyuji Fujikawa got injured before Bosio could have much effect on him. There are enough positives -- and few provable negatives -- to think Bosio could return even if Sveum doesn’t.
James Rowson and Rob Deer, Hitting coaches
No one is really talking about it, but before Sveum takes any blame for the regression offensively of any players, shouldn’t the two hitting coaches be examined? There’s good and bad within the Cubs offense. The extra-base hits and power are there, but the on-base percentage continues to be a weakness. It’s something the Cubs front office has often lamented during two years in charge. Rowson never made it to the majors as a player and is serving as a hitting coach for the first time at this level. Deer, the assistant hitting coach, is a former slugger/strikeout king with a career on-base percentage of .324. Communication between players and the hitting coaches seems good, but is there enough advancement for the front office? With aggressive sluggers making their way through the minor league system and as much teaching that goes on at the major league level, the right coaches are essential. This is undoubtedly an area that is being closely scrutinized by Epstein & Co.
Dave McKay and David Bell, First- and third-base coaches
Their value has nothing to do with their jobs when the Cubs are on offense -- let’s face it, they haven’t had enough base runners to be judged by anyway. Their great value is on defense, especially in the case of McKay. He teaches the outfield while Bell drills the infield. Players swear by McKay. Former outfielder Alfonso Soriano credits him, fully, with his improvement in left field over the past two years before he was traded. Others have said the same, and he’ll be tasked with getting Junior Lake up to speed and eventually prospects Jorge Soler and possibly Kris Bryant. Meanwhile, Bell has been instrumental with the Cubs' defensive alignment, which has helped save runs, putting them near the top of the league in that category. The Cubs shift often, and between the infield and outfield it involves a ton of preparation by McKay and Bell. The former is almost guaranteed to come back no matter the manager. Bell could as well, though a new guy in charge might want his own third-base coach.
Jamie Quirk, Bench coach
His fate, more than anyone else, might be tied to Sveum. Seemingly, he’s a good right-hand man, but if Sveum is dismissed there probably won’t be a big push to retain Quirk for the new manager. If others on the staff are staying, then the new man will undoubtedly get to choose his bench coach.
Franklin Font and Mike Borzello, Staff assistants
Their jobs are as undefined as their job titles, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important. In fact, they may be as important as anyone, considering they’re in the trenches with the players and have a hand in many aspects of the team. Borzello, in particular, has been instrumental in catcher Welington Castillo's improvement defensively. And his game-planning with the starters has led to a more than respectable year from the Cubs rotation. There’s a good chance Bosio and Borzello keep their jobs just to keep some consistency going for the pitching staff. Font is a good messenger for the Latin players and has developed a good repoire with youngster Lake.