Merry Cubsmas BCB! Today is the first day of the 12 Days of Cubsmas and the single most important move the Cubs made in 2019 was allowing Joe Maddon’s contract to expire so that they could hire former backup catcher David Ross to the position.
As Al wrote earlier this year, David Ross will be either the 55th or 61st Cubs manager depending on how you count the bizarre “College of Coaches” experience.
By hiring Ross the Cubs have embraced the trend of hiring managers with no coaching experience but a lot of communications and PR savvy. However, contrary to early speculation that Ross was hired to be a tool of the front office in the clubhouse I wrote earlier this fall that Theo Epstein clearly doesn’t see Ross that way:
In fact, Theo told all of us exactly what he’s thought about David Ross years ago, in a different book. I reminded myself earlier this week that Theo wrote the foreword to David Ross’ book, Teammate. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but a particular passage jumped out at me. In 2008 the Boston Red Sox needed some catching depth and they signed Ross as their “break glass in case of emergency third catcher.” As Theo describes it, despite only having eight at bats over six weeks, Ross made a huge impact. Below is an excerpt in Theo’s words:
“By the time the playoffs came around, he was respected enough that we invited him into our advance scouting meetings along with [Jason] Varitek and [Kevin] Cash. Again, I didn’t expect much from David. These are big, important meetings with the front office, manager Terry Francona, and the whole coaching staff. Typically, advance scout Dana LeVangie and Varitek - both expert in this role - would take the lead breaking down opposing hitters, and pitching coach John Farrell, Tito, and a few of the front office would chime in. The third-string catcher was not usually present, let alone vocal. Except for David. He spoke up early and often, in a strong and authoritative voice, making insightful points about every opposing hitter. He wasn’t afraid to disagree, even with Varitek, and quickly won over the room. By the third or fourth hitter we discussed, others were deferring to Ross, the backup’s backup who up until the last six weeks had spent his entire career in the other league.
“That was impressive,” I remember telling Assistant General Manager Jed Hoyer. “We should keep an eye on him... might make a good scout or coach when he’s done playing.”
Ross will have a unique challenge in his first year as manager since the Cubs have done very little this offseason. The front office promised changes, but outside of the coaching staff those haven’t materialized. While the trade rumors are still going strong the Cubs haven’t seemed to come to terms with a team for any of their core players. Pitchers and catchers report in approximately 50 days (the Cubs haven’t announced their dates yet) and the Cubs 25-man roster looks very similar to how it did in September - minus Nicholas Castellanos, Ben Zobrist, and half the bullpen.
Theo clearly has a lot of confidence in Ross but I think expecting different results from a roster that won 84 games in 2019 minus some key players may be asking too much.
We’ll find out soon what, if any, effect Ross will have on a roster that truly revered him in a magical 2016 season.
One the first day of Cubsmas my true love gave to me: A David Ross for manager.