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Chicago Cubs: It’s Startin’ to Come Together as Rick Renteria Is Tabbed to Turn Team Around

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COMMENTARY | After Rick Renteria signs his new contract to become the 53rd manager of the Chicago Cubs, he should probably pen thank you letters to Joe Girardi and Brad Ausmus.

After Girardi opted to re-up with the New York Yankees, speculation turned to Ausmus, who promptly accepted the managerial role with the Detroit Tigers.

I like to imagine the conversation Tom Ricketts, Theo Epstein, and Jed Hoyer had after hearing about Girardi and Ausmus went something like this:

TE: I've never heard of half of these guys, and the ones I do know are way past their prime.

JH: This guy here is dead.

TR: Well cross him off then!

OK, so maybe it didn't go exactly like that. I mean, it's not as if Renteria was hawking whitewalls at Tire World when the Cubs called. But this isn't the San Diego Padres and he's not a bench coach anymore. And while Ausmus was able to pick a ready-to-wear suit off the rack in Detroit, Renteria is being asked to combine disparate pieces of fabric in an attempt to tailor a bespoke team.

A little over a week after Dale Sveum was let go, I wrote an article in which I gave Renteria 25:1 odds to land this gig. I hope that none of you holding a winning ticket expect to be paid out on it, though; I used the money you sent me for half a gallon of gas and a 40-oz bottle of Old Style.

But enough about that, let's take a quick look at Rick Renteria and how he was able to land one of the most coveted jobs in baseball. Wait, what's that? It's not really a sought-after position? OK then, let's look at how he was able to land a job that a couple other guys didn't want.

Managerial experience

After spending nearly two decades in professional baseball as a journeyman infielder, Rick Renteria moved into coaching. The Miami Marlins (then going by their maiden name of Florida) gave him his first minor league managerial job in 1998, and he stayed in that role for four years. Dave Dombrowski, now the Detroit Tigers' president and a very well-thought-of baseball man, was running the Marlins at the time.

Renteria moved to the Padres organization in 2003 and was named manager of the High-A Lake Elsinor Storm a year later. He stepped up to the AAA Portland Beavers for one season before being named to the Padres' coaching staff in 2008, where he has been the bench coach for three seasons.

Renteria managed Team Mexico in the 2013 World Baseball Classic as well, though 3 games don't really offer an adequate sample size from which to judge his aptitude for the job. He's going to be learning on the fly, but his minor league experience may be a boon considering the Cubs' youth movement.

Playing career

Nothing to look at here folks, move along. Renteria played five major league seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Seattle Mariners, and the Marlins, racking up a .237 batting average to go with 4 homers and 41 RBIs. He was, however, dubbed "The Secret Weapon" for his ability to play several positions and his pinch-hitting.

After a season in which they hit an MLB-worst .218 with runners in scoring position, the Cubs could use some improvement in situational hitting. And while the manager can't pick up a bat, he can impact the approach his players take at the plate.

Communication skills

While his predecessor had only a tentative grasp of the English language, Renteria, who is of Mexican-American descent, is bilingual. This fact most certainly played in his favor given the wealth of Latin talent in the Cubs' system. But more important than his ability to relate to players is his willingness to be a conduit for the front office.

Organizational ties

Sometimes it's about who you know, not what you know. Renteria certainly knows a lot about baseball, but it doesn't hurt that Cubs GM Jed Hoyer was his boss in San Diego for three seasons. That familiarity paves the way to a good relationship between the skipper and the brass.

It has also been mentioned that Henry Blanco would be welcomed as a part of the coaching staff should he choose to retire from baseball. A backup catcher on the Cubs' NL Central title teams of 2007 and '08, Hank White has won in Chicago and would be a valuable asset for Renteria.

Intangibles

It's easy to measure stats, but how do you determine whether someone is dynamic, creative, or tremendously energetic? Dale Sveum, a living testament to monotonous banality, was none of these, but it took two dreadful seasons to fully flesh that out.

One would think the Cubs brass saw these qualities in Rick Renteria, but his possession of hard-to-define characteristics is unclear to all but those closest to him. So fans will just have to wait and see on this. But one thing is for sure: After dealing with a cardboard cut-out of Lou Piniella for that final season, followed by 3 years of Mike Quade and Sveum, even Ben Stein would seem dynamic by comparison.

Theo Epstein's ground-up rebuilding of the Cubs organization is now entering its third year and this hire represents his second hand-picked manager. And, one way or the other, after 197 losses in the project's first two seasons, Rick Renteria might also be Theo's last.

The front office is certainly bullish about the new voice in the dugout and the future of the team, and they want fans to feel the same way. You're gonna like the way the Cubs look. Theo and Jed guarantee it. Of course, this is baseball, not Men's Wearhouse. And we all know what happened to George Zimmer.

So what do you think about the hire? Is a case Rick Renteria the cure for fans' consternation? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Evan Altman is a freelance sportswriter with a wealth of trivial pop culture knowledge. He is a self-loathing Chicago Cubs apologist whose love for the team was cultivated by watching or listening to games on WGN every summer afternoon as a child.
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