I haven't done this in the past, breaking out a separate article for Cubs executives and field management staff, but given the excellent year had by the team and the fact that, well, we now have a few months before the next Cubs game, I thought this would be a good opportunity to rate the men who brought the Cubs to 97 wins and the brink of the World Series.
For the front office, led by Theo Epstein, I'm going to give a single grade. It's too difficult, I think, to separate out the individual contributions made by Theo, Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod, the baseball analytics staff, the scouts and the rest of the baseball operations department.
That grade is an A.
Why not an A+? Because there were some glaring holes in even this 97-win team that weren't completely filled at the trading deadline. Some of those holes -- notably a fifth starter better than Dan Haren and some bullpen help -- might have made a difference in the NLCS against the Mets. Or not, as the Mets' starting pitching might have been too much for anyone to overcome.
For the rest of what Theo & Co. put together, they get an A+. No question, from the hire of Joe Maddon to the signing of Jon Lester to the trades for Dexter Fowler and Miguel Montero, the brass put together an impressive array of veteran talent to add to the rookies who came to the big leagues in 2015 and who all made significant contributions to this 97-win team.
Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell weren't just playing in the lineup most days, they were star performers many times, hitting key home runs or making important plays in the field. They will be, in order, 24, 24, 23 and 22 years old on Opening Day 2016. For drafting and/or signing and/or trading for those four, that gets an A+.
At times, you know I doubted The Plan. It's clear I was wrong and it's been right all along, arriving perhaps a year ahead of schedule. And as Josh noted yesterday, there's more in the pipeline.
Now, on to the field management. The grades are perhaps less important than my comments, since the staff as a whole did a fine job this year.
Joe Maddon: A+ There is absolutely no doubt that Maddon not only knows how to push the right buttons for on-field decisions, but he also understands how to keep a clubhouse loose. His famous saying, "Never let the pressure exceed the pleasure," became a mantra for this group of young players, led by a few veteran leaders. Most importantly, he wasn't afraid to ruffle a few feathers by benching players or swapping lineup positions or switching things around in the bullpen, all done with one thing in mind: winning. Getting players to buy into this is perhaps the most important thing Maddon has done all year in changing Cubs culture.
Dave Martinez: A It's not always clear what a bench coach does, and every manager has his own view on what that individual does. It is clear that Maddon trusts Martinez implicitly to be his right-hand man, as he went out of the way to make sure Martinez followed him to the Cubs from the Rays. It's quite possible that Martinez will be offered one of the open managerial jobs this offseason, though he has been interviewed before, including by the Cubs two years ago when Rick Renteria was eventually hired, without getting a managing gig. It would, in my view, be a big loss to the Cubs if he left.
Chris Bosio: A+ We have spoken many times about "Bosmosis," the process a pitcher goes through when coming to the Cubs from mediocre performance with another team, to becoming solid at Wrigley. Jake Arrieta is only one of several examples of this happening with Bosio. 2015 was his fourth year with the Cubs and he's become one of the top pitching coaches in the game. I hope he's here for a long, long time. Interesting note: the Cubs allowed 608 runs in 2015. That's the fewest for a Cubs team in a non-labor-dispute season since 1963.
Gary Jones: A- If you don't hear much about a third-base coach, he must be doing a good job. Jones came in with Renteria from San Diego, but Maddon obviously likes him, as he's been asked to return with the other coaches.
Brandon Hyde: A- Once again, you don't hear much about Hyde, so he must be doing things right. One thing I know is that he's a good dad. During summer vacation from school, Hyde's son -- who looks like he's eight or nine -- is in the outfield playing catch with his dad for a while before every home game.
John Mallee: B+ The hitting coach is always the scapegoat, right? The Cubs need help with not striking out so much. That'd be nice. Otherwise, as they scored 689 runs, the most for a Cubs team since 2009, I'd say he did fine.
Mike Borzello: B+ If you don't know who he is, he's the catching coach. He works hard with the catchers every day -- I see this in the outfield before every game, where he works on pitch-blocking. Obviously this isn't the only thing he does, but clearly, the Cubs need more work on that.
Lester Strode (bullpen coach), Eric Hinske (assistant hitting coach) and Henry Blanco (quality control coach) are also on this staff, but I don't have enough evidence about what these men do to give them letter grades (I know that one of Blanco's duties is to watch for close plays and relay info to the bench on whether they're worth challenging). All of the coaches have been invited back for 2016, and I hope they do all return, as this staff did an excellent job in 2015.