CHICAGO (AP) — The field of candidates to be the next manager of the Chicago Cubs is beginning to take shape.
President of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Monday that former catcher David Ross is on the broad list being assembled by the front office. He also said he wants to talk to at least one member of the coaching staff about the job, and at least one other candidate is working for a team in the playoffs.
“We’re full speed ahead,” Epstein said. “We’re not going to drag this out any longer than it needs to be, but we also want to be thorough.”
Epstein is looking for a successor to Joe Maddon, whose contract expired after Chicago missed the playoffs this year for the first time since 2014. The Cubs made four postseason appearances with Maddon in the dugout, winning the World Series in 2016 for the first time in 108 years.
While lavishing praise on Maddon and portraying the Cubs’ issues in more of an organizational prism, Epstein said he wanted a manager who will help facilitate team-building and create a culture of accountability.
“I think for this group at this time we need to find a way to create a culture and environment that compels every player to push himself to be the absolute best version of himself,” Epstein said, “to be the very absolute best player that he can be. It’s a culture where that’s expected.”
The 42-year-old Ross played on the 2016 team and serves as a special assistant in the Cubs’ baseball operations department. He also works for ESPN, and he talked about his interest on the network on Sunday.
“I think it’s one of the best jobs in baseball,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of close ties with those guys. I think the interest would be there. I think my heart is drawn to that dugout a little bit.”
Ross is close friends with Cubs left-hander Jon Lester and knows a lot of the players quite well from his time with the team. But Epstein downplayed the importance of those relationships.
“I think David Ross has a lot of great things going for him,” he said. “I would say his connection to the players on this team and especially his connection to the 2016 team are not necessarily assets that distinguish him. Those are not necessarily things that are going to be important to us.”
Asked if Joe Girardi, another former major league catcher who played for the Cubs, was a potential candidate, Epstein said: “I’m just going to address the David Ross thing because he’s part of the organization and sort of already addressed it publicly. As far as other candidates, we’ll let you guys know again in due time.”
Heading into what sure looks like a busy offseason, here are a couple more areas to watch with the Cubs:
Nicholas Castellanos made a big impression on the Cubs after he was acquired in a July 31 trade with the Tigers, batting .321 with 16 homers and 36 RBIs in 51 games. He is eligible for free agency, and Epstein made no secret of his interest in bringing him back.
“Man, I love everything about Nick Castellanos,” Epstein said. “I mean what a job he did. I don’t think you can ask more of an in-season trade acquisition than what he did.”
Chicago had the second-highest payroll on opening day this year at $209 million. What it will look like next year remains to be seen.
“With regards to payroll, I wouldn’t make any assumptions,” Epstein said. “I think we’ve come to realize that strategically it’s best just not to talk about it.”
KB AND BAEZ
Kris Bryant and Javier Báez are under contractual control for two more years, and the Cubs are going to have to determine what they want to try to do with each slugger very soon.
Epstein isn’t ruling anything out.
“They’re both guys we’ve had some level of discussion with in the past about trying to find an arrangement that could keep them Cubs longer,” he said, “and we’ll probably get around to doing that again this winter at some point.
“Would love them to be Cubs, but again, all these players, these are guys we have to be open-minded about, too.”
ADDING SOME HELP
Epstein plans to make several structural and leadership changes to the organization.
“You’re likely to see a director of hitting and a director of pitching join the organization to ensure that we are building these departments, teaching the game, evaluating players for where the game is now and where the game will be going,” he said.