New Cubs manager Rick Renteria was Theo’s guy all along
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter November 6, 2013 10:07PM
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Updated: November 7, 2013 10:45AM
More than five weeks ago, as Theo Epstein explained the firing of Dale Sveum after only two years, he refused to call Sveum’s hiring a mistake.
“We know what we’re doing,” the Cubs’ team president said that day as his regime and its processes were called into question.
Meet Rick Renteria. The man the Cubs expect to prove Epstein’s point. The man the team plans to introduce via conference call Thursday as its fourth manager in five years.
Renteria, the former San Diego bench coach who gets a three-year contract, has been viewed in some circles as a backup candidate, as the best of a flawed “Not Joe Girardi” crowd that was left over for the front office to peruse once the local-boy Yankees manager chose to stay in New York.
He is neither.
By all accounts, Renteria, 51, was the first choice of Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer from early in the process — even before Girardi was officially made unavailable to a baseball operations department that was already skeptical of the business ops’ faith in Girardi’s interest in the Cubs.
If anything, the focus on Renteria was part of a West Coast bias centered around a San Diego Padres organization familiar to the Cubs’ top executives — where Hoyer was the GM and player development exec Jason McLeod was an assistant GM before joining Epstein’s front office in tandem two years ago. Where Epstein got his first full-fledged front-office job in the mid-1990s.
Half of the field of candidates the Cubs interviewed — including assistant GM A.J. Hinch and special assistant Brad Ausmus — also were Padres employees and were involved late into the process even as the brass continued its exhaustive background work on its top candidate, Renteria.
Ausmus was hired as the Detroit Tigers manager two days after interviewing with the Cubs.
Hinch could yet figure into the Cubs’ larger plans as they fill out Renteria’s coaching staff with a strong emphasis on player development skills — assuming the former Arizona Diamondbacks manager and former big-league catcher would take a coaching job.
That’s how highly he is regarded by the Cubs front office. And he has a strong relationship with Renteria.
But what about this Renteria guy? Who is he? Why does this front office love him so much?
Officials in the Padres’ organization and outside both organizations echo what Cubs officials say about the former minor-league manager with no managing experience at the big-league level.
Renteria, a Southern California native with strong Mexican roots, has an uncommon ability to relate to young players and has been a positive influence on the small-market Padres’ ability to help transition numerous prospects into the big-leagues during six seasons on manager Bud Black’s staff — in particular young Latin players.
The one-time manager of Mexico’s World Baseball Classic entry also spent four seasons each for the Florida Marlins and Padres managing in the minors — where Josh Beckett and Chase Headley were among his success stories.
“When you look at qualities to lead, I think that first and foremost there is a connection to the player,” Black said. “He’s a communicator. He’ll address things. He’s not one to let things linger. I also think he can motivate. He’s high character, and he’s consistent.”
The Cubs plan a conference call on Thursday with Renteria, who had hip surgery a month ago and has not been medically cleared to travel.
Renteria also was considered a competitive candidate for the openings in Detroit and Seattle.
His contract includes two more club-option seasons.