Rick Renteria, Cubs Manager: Savior? Placeholder?

Christian Petersen

The Cubs have a new manager. Will that make any difference?

It's official now, via press release from the Cubs -- Rick Renteria is the 59th* manager in Cubs history, signing a three-year contract.

* It's either 59th or 55th, depending on how you consider the four men (Vedie Himsl, El Tappe, Charlie Metro and Harry Craft) who were the College of Coaches in 1961 and 1962. The way I see it, they served as managers even if they didn't have the title, so I'm counting them. Renteria will also be the 38th Cubs manager since they last won a pennant in 1945. Let's hope he has better luck than the previous 37.

The particulars on his baseball career, you likely already know, but if you don't: Renteria was the No. 1 pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1980 draft. Drafting then was different than drafting now, and the Pirates actually picked 20th overall (despite being National League champions in 1979) because of various picks shifting places due to the compensation rules in place at the time. Here's the entire 1980 first round. Check out who was selected two and three picks after Renteria. And the Cubs... well, that was the tail end of the Wrigley era and that No. 1 pick was pretty much a bust.

Renteria (known, apparently, as "Rich" during his playing days) went on to have a completely non-memorable major-league career, 184 games and 456 plate appearances scattered over five seasons with three different teams (Pirates, Mariners and Marlins). He made his major-league debut against the Cubs in Pittsburgh September 14, 1986 and singled in his first at-bat. His game logs indicate he played in eight games at Wrigley Field for the Marlins in 1993 and 1994, going 1-for-12, but I confess I have no memory of seeing him play there at all... not surprising for a utility player from an expansion team.

Since then, as for many players of his playing ability, he learned the game and got into coaching quickly after his playing career ended. He managed in the Marlins organization from 1998-2001 (including managing the Kane County Cougars in 1999); coached in the Padres organization in 2003 before managing in that system from 2004-2007. He was the Padres' first-base coach from 2008-2010 and has been their bench coach since 2011.

That's quite a bit of experience. He comes to Chicago with a reputation of being good with the development of young players. That's all good, but what is going to make him different than all the men who have occupied this position in the past and failed to bring a World Series title to the North Side?

Wait, you're saying, Renteria isn't being expected to do that. In the end, you'll say, the Cubs have to get better players before they can get to the Promised Land. That's all well and good, but Dale Sveum was fired for a reason -- you don't fire a guy with a year left on his contract unless you have pretty good justification for that. Communication with players was rumored to be the issue, which leads me to what I think the various jobs of a manager are:

  • Setting a tone for the clubhouse and interaction with the players and being a leader (however you define that)
  • Dealing with the media
  • Setting starting lineups; being able to react and make changes to those lineups if the ones you have aren't working
  • In-game strategy, use of relief pitchers, etc.

We really have no idea how Renteria will do any of those things. Being a minor-league manager is more about developing players than winning -- Renteria has a good reputation for doing that. So there's a positive. There will, at some point, be some pressure to win. There isn't now, and Renteria comes in with fairly low expectations. As I've written before, after Joe Girardi removed himself from consideration, the remaining candidates seemed like a big pile of "meh." I supported Dave Martinez, who has a similar resume to Renteria's (though without the minor-league managing experience), because he's been around the Chicago media and Cubs culture before. That's not the be-all and end-all of why someone should take this job, but both Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella, who did not have that type of experience, said they had no idea what they were getting into. I suspect, at a somewhat lower level (because they didn't have the expectations that Baker and Piniella did), both Mike Quade and Dale Sveum felt the same way, though they never specifically said so.

Yes, I'm just guessing about most if not all of that. And given what we know about Rick Renteria as a man, and as a manager, that's about all any of us can do.

Every good or great manager had to get his first job somewhere. Maybe Rick Renteria will be one of those men. Maybe he won't; maybe he'll be dropped in two or three years for the next victim man who's going to lead the Cubs to that elusive World Series title.

I wish you the best and lots of luck, Rick. You're going to need it.

Josh will have more thoughts about Renteria as a manager later today.

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