Part of the goal of the Cubs Convention (which I attended this weekend) is to get fans excited about the upcoming year. Despite a less than exciting offseason, I’ve got to say #CubsCon did it’s job and I’m pretty pumped for 2014. The Cubs not getting Tanaka put a bit of a damper on that, but the Baseball Prospectus Cubs top prospects list (with some flattering things to say about Javier Baez (ETA: 2014)) helped tick the mood up a bit.
One of the highlights of the Cubs Convention for me personally was getting a feel for the new Cubs manager, Rick Renteria. I instantly fell in love with a lot of things he said. Words in January and actions in June are two different things, but right now I genuinely believe Renteria is the kind of man he says he is, and his first year with the Cubs is going to be one of the storylines I’ll pay close attention to in 2014.
The biggest messages Renteria preached all weekend was about making this ballclub a family. In fact, his parting words on the first panel he sat on were: “Come out to the ballpark. Our theme is going to be family.”
Everything about his management style is about support. He’s all about the youngsters (“[the players] are going to be my kids now”), of which the Cubs have plenty, and actually alluded to the fact that he turned down a contract offer for a team that was just in the playoffs for a chance to work with the Chicago Cubs’ young core. That’s pretty big.
On discipline and accountability, Renteria seems like the kind of guy who is going to make the players want to play good for him. He’s not going to routinely chew out players in the dugout for not hustling or for booting the ball. Instead, from what I gathered, he’ll create such a positive atmosphere of support that players will want to execute for him, rather than want to execute not to get yelled at or benched. That’s not to say Renteria is going to be a doormat – there are certain situations where that style of discipline is appropriate. “When I bite, I want it to count,” Renteria said.
A few fan questions addressed poor managerial decisions in the past, and Renteria made it clear that he’s looking towards the future. “I can’t speak to what happened in the past,” was said quite a few times from the new Cubs skipper. The questions did result in a few reassuring answers, however.
On a few occasions, Cubs fans have experienced their favorite team calling up a top prospect, only to have said prospect sit on the bench while veterans play in a lost season as managers try to save their job. Renteria is in tune to The Plan, and said if top prospects are called up, they’re probably being called up to play. I can’t imagine a scenario in August where Baez would be riding the bench, and it sounds like Renteria can’t either.
Renteria also made a point of not complaining about the roster he’s given. As he said: “I hate when people complain about what they don’t have. Let’s work with what we have.”
Another fan talked about Starlin Castro‘s struggles last year, and how the coaches messed with his swing. (Trying to tweak Castro’s approach was a worthwhile experiment, but it sounds like they’re going to just let Castro be Castro from now on.) It was here that Renteria talked about the importance of listening and watching the players early on to get an understanding of who they are. Renteria and his staff aren’t going to rush in on Day 1 of Spring Training and try to change everything they don’t like or understand about every player. Understanding your players is key and Renteria is going to do just that.
I only got up once during the day to ask a fan question and it was during the “Meet the Skipper” panel. I asked Renteria about his bullpen philosophy, the importance (or lack of importance) of late inning roles, and if this team actually needs a “closer.” (I’ve long be a hater of the “closer role.”) Renteria said free agent signee Jose Veras was the team’s closer, saying that “he’s earned that opportunity” and that the ninth inning is special. From innings 6 to 8, though, it sounds like the team is going to be flexible on who pitches when. I can live with that, especially because Veras’ deal isn’t for all that much.
Part of the reason I’m so in love with Rick Renteria early is because I identify with a lot of what he says about management. Long ago, I used to think that managing was just about writing out the lineup and making the substitutions, but it’s about managing the clubhouse and the players inside it. His management style, from accountability through support, to letting the coaches (other managers) he’s brought in do their job, to only “biting” when it counts, sounds like the style I have strived for in the times I’ve been in a management position. Basically, I would love to work for Rick Renteria.
I don’t remember who my “nobody asked me” top choice for the new manager was. But after hearing firsthand from Renteria and how he plans to lead this ballclub, I’m totally on board. As Danny put it:
I’m a *BIG* fan of Renteria already. I would follow him anywhere if he was my leader.
— Danny P. (@All_Weather_Fan) January 18, 2014
Let’s hope the team feels the same way. Good luck, Rick.