It’s become fashionable in some parts of the Cubs fanbase to call for the firing of manager David Ross.
Something something lineups, something something bullpen, or something like that.
I’m here to tell you that not only should Ross not be fired, but he should — presuming the Cubs continue contending in 2024 — be given a contract extension.
The season just ended was Ross’ fourth year as Cubs manager. But really, in some ways it was his first, because the previous three seasons had extenuating circumstances:
2020: Pandemic season — in which, incidentally, the Cubs were the only team with zero covid cases among players
2021: Schedule rearranged by covid, then the Cubs have a massive selloff of players at the deadline
2022: MLB’s lockout
So this year was really Ross’ first chance to show everyone what he could do under “normal” circumstances. And indeed, Jed Hoyer and the front office went out and made some major signings before 2023, including Dansby Swanson, Cody Bellinger and Jameson Taillon. The third of those didn’t work out, but the first two did, bringing the Cubs not only performance but veteran leadership and the presence of players who had won World Series rings.
There is no doubt — in fact, there is a consensus — that every single player on the Cubs plays hard every single day for David Ross. That was even evident after the 2021 selloff, when Ross was left with a makeshift roster of callups, waiver claim guys and never-weres. That team went 6-20 over its first four weeks after the selloff. But you know what, Ross had them playing hard enough and pushed enough positive buttons that after that awful 26-game stretch, the 2021 Cubs went 15-17 the rest of the way. That’s not great, but it’s at least close to .500 and included a seven-game winning streak.
The 2022 team was built for a selloff, too, and they did so again, leaving Ross with not much of a bullpen after the deadline. Again, the team responded to Ross’ leadership and went 39-31 after the All-Star break.
Expectations were higher in 2022 but after a good start, injuries and some bad bullpen work had them post a 16-30 record from a sweep over the A’s in April to being swept by the Angels in early June.
After that? Something clicked. The Cubs posted a 50-28 record from June 9 through September 5 and looked headed to the postseason.
Then the wheels fell off. You know the results, we don’t have to belabor them.
Many blamed Ross, for either lineup construction, bullpen use or both.
The bullpen use? Well, when your top three leverage relievers all get hurt (Adbert Alzolay, Michael Fulmer) or ineffective (Mark Leiter Jr.), there’s not much for the manager to choose from. Ross could only use the guys he had, and from 76-64 the Cubs went 7-15 the rest of the way.
There is a school of thought that says that overuse of the relievers helped contribute to the injuries. I don’t see that. Leiter and Julian Merryweather tied for the club lead in appearances with 69. That ranked tied for 10th in the National League and tied for 23rd in MLB. Overuse? I don’t see it here.
Lineups? Ross put the same guys out there every day because those were the guys who got the Cubs as far as they went. There were calls to start Alexander Canario more than Ross did. I’m not sure that would have made any difference, although I will say that in situations the Cubs found themselves in this September, once the offense failed, Joe Maddon would have shaken up his lineup just to do something different. Perhaps Ross can channel his old boss, at times, in 2024.
One thing I will criticize Ross for is his lockstep platoon moves, even when numbers might dictate otherwise. Once Drew Smyly was moved to the bullpen, for example, Ross would sometimes use him as a “lefty specialist” even though Smyly had a better OPS against vs. RH batters this year (.758) than LH batters (.981). Or using Patrick Wisdom strictly against lefthanders when Wisdom actually hit righthanders pretty well this year (.805 OPS). The platoon advantage is useful — sometimes. Doing it every single time is self-defeating.
So where will the Cubs and Ross go in 2024? Five years managing the team is the longest tenure for any Cubs manager since Leo Durocher had the job for 6½ years from 1966 until he was fired midway through the 1972 season. Yes, that’s right — no one’s held the job for more than five years in the last half-century, and only two men have done that: Maddon, from 2015-19, and Jim Riggleman, 1995-99.
And Ross. (Before that you have to go back to Charlie Grimm to find a man who managed the Cubs longer. Grimm had three stints leading the Cubs, 1932-38, 1944-49 and 1960, though some of those were partial seasons.)
The way I see it, I think Ross will be here longer than five years. This front office loves him; Hoyer has had an association with Ross since Hoyer was Red Sox GM and Ross first came there as a catcher in 2008, for the first of two stints in Boston. While Hoyer called 2024 an “important year” for Ross and the team (Captain Obvious on that, incidentally), he might also do what the Tribune’s Paul Sullivan suggested in this column:
But it wouldn’t be a shocker if Hoyer picked up the 2025 option before the ‘24 season begins to avoid the speculation Maddon faced during his final year in Chicago.
No, it wouldn’t shock me at all. And then if the Cubs do take the next step and make the postseason or win the N.L. Central in 2024, perhaps another extension for Ross would be in order. Ross will be 47 in March, is still (somewhat) learning on the job because of the weirdness of his first three seasons, and if the team does step in the right direction next year, he could be Cubs manager for a long, long time.
What should the Cubs do with David Ross going forward?
This poll is closed
Fire him now
Let him manage out the ‘24 season before deciding whether to exercise his option
Exercise his ‘25 option before the ‘24 season begins
Exercise his ‘25 option AND give him a contract extension before the ‘24 season begins
Something else (leave in comments)