When the Cubs finally made public what was already baseball’s the worst-kept secret, that manager Joe Maddon would not return in 2020, the list of potential replacements quickly began to grow.
On Monday, team president Theo Epstein announced he would start to interview candidates from a broad list with hopes of finding a manager, who, like Maddon could help guide the Cubs to a World Series title.
Former Cubs catcher and fan favorite David Ross expressed his interest for the job on an ESPN broadcast on Sunday. Then, three days later, another Cubs catcher – this one with managerial experience and a World Series championship of his own – threw his proverbial hat in the ring when former Yankees skipper Joe Girardi indicated on Wednesday that he too would be interested in the opening.
The public clamoring to replace Maddon in Chicago certainly doesn’t come as a surprise given the Cubs’ recent run of success. But after failing to make the playoffs for the first time since before Maddon took over, the job isn’t one of just stepping into Maddon’s shoes, but instead, taking over a club that will look much different than the one Maddon managed in 2019.
Girardi appears up for the challenge.
“When you look at managing in major-league baseball, there are only so many jobs,” Girardi said during a radio interview on Chicago’s 670 The Score on Wednesday. “So anything that comes across your desk you’re going to be very interested in. … There are 30 jobs and obviously 10 teams in the playoffs, so those jobs probably aren’t open. So you start to look at the other jobs that are available, and obviously I have a lot of ties to Chicago.
"And any job out there is going to interest me because I would like to manage again.”
Girardi, who has 11 seasons of managerial experience, including 10 with the Yankees, has twice expressed interest in managing on Chicago’s North Side in the past. He was considered to be in the mix to replace Dusty Baker in 2006 before he expressed interest in replacing Dale Sveum in 2013. Now, he looks ready to make a run at managing a team with which he is well familiar.
Girardi spent two stints with the Cubs during his playing career (1989-92, 2000-2002) and played a career-high 133 games with the team in 1990. A native of Peoria, Ill., Girardi attended Northwestern along Chicago’s North Shore, where he was a two-time All-Big Ten selection before being drafted by the Cubs in the fifth round in 1996.
After winning three World Series titles with the Yankees as a player in the 1990s, Girardi captured the National League’s Manager of the Year award with the Marlins in 2006 before he continued his managerial career in New York where he ran his career wins total to 988 games and led the Yankees to a title in 2009.
On Monday, Epstein said he would begin to interview possible replacements for Maddon that already includes three internal candidates, including Ross. But as Epstein considers his next manager, he must also prepare for a team that will likely be without many familiar faces from the Cubs’ 2016 championship team after Epstein indicated Monday he does not believe in “untouchables.”
That apparently includes former National League MVP Kris Bryant, who is eligible for arbitration and who turned down a reported $200 million multi-year deal last year. Bryant could be several mainstays not to return to Chicago next season, joining shortstop Addison Russell, pitchers Cole Hamels and Pedro Strop, center fielder Albert Almora, Jr. and veteran utility man and 2016 World Series MVP Ben Zobrist.
Still, the Cubs have plenty returning star power in star infielder Javier Baez, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and youngsters such as Willson Contreras and key veterans Jon Lester and Jason Heyward. But after two straight seasons in which the Cubs have floundered down the stretch, Epstein said change was needed - starting with his manager.
Yet, Girardi believes there is still plenty to work with.
"There are a lot of pieces in place there," Girardi said during the radio interview on Wednesday. "And that's always a good thing. And they talk about retooling, and I think the Cubs in a lot of ways have the ability to do that. Some markets don't have the ability to do that, but the Cubs have the ability to do that. I think they'll be clever in the things that they do. They'll look for every piece that fits their roster better than a piece now and do whatever they can."
How Girardi’s ties to the Cubs, coupled with his managerial experience, factors in his candidacy remains unknown. Like Girardi, Ross has a significant link to the Cubs and to their magical run in 2016. And while Ross took on cult-like status in Chicago, where he was commonly referred to as “Grandpa Rossy” due to his veteran status and the way he took younger teammates under his wing, Epstein said on Monday that the bond that still exists between Ross and the team doesn’t make the long-time catcher a slam dunk hire.
“His connection to the players on this team, and especially his connection to the 2016 team, are not necessarily assets that distinguish him or are important to us,” Epstein said. “Ross is an attractive candidate, and he's going to be evaluated on the merits."
Epstein said he would not discount the bond that exists with Ross, but said that at times, paying too much attention to what the Cubs accomplished in 2016 became a hindrance in the years following and in Maddon’s final three seasons in Chicago.
Ross, 42, played 15 years in the majors and spent the final two seasons with the Cubs. On Sunday, he called the Cubs opening “one of the best jobs in baseball” and, citing his relationship with current players, said he thinks the interest in Maddon’s former job would be there.
“I think my heart is drawn to that dugout a little bit,” Ross said on-air on ESPN.
He continued: “I’ve got a lot of thinking to do if (the job) gets presented to me as everyone says will happen. I’m sure waiting for that phone call.”
For his part, Epstein said Ross will be one of many candidates for a job that certainly has plenty of appeal. Epstein told reporters on Monday that he wouldn’t drag the hiring process out any longer than he has to but his search will be thorough.
Epstein made it clear that any expectations he had for a new manager was not a direct reflection of what Maddon did or did not do during his five seasons with the Cubs. While he is likely to have plenty of names to choose from to take over a team Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer still believes has some winning left in it, the expectations will be clear from the beginning.
And in the end, Epstein said it’s not a matter of which candidate interviews the best, but the one he believes is capable to putting the Cubs back on top,
"It's going to be important for the next manager to find a way to foster a team identity,” Epstein told reporters Monday. “Our routines tended to be more individualized. There wasn't a lot of work as a team. I think it's going to be important for this group to work as a team.
“At this moment in time, with this group, I think accountability is important. We were pretty mistake-prone this year. The next manager should be part of this. Helping to create a culture of accountability."