Rick Renteria’s managing vital to Cubs’ prospect-fueled rebuild
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter February 12, 2014 9:29PM
Updated: February 13, 2014 11:49AM
MESA, Ariz. — Rick Renteria is the new face of the Cubs’ rebuild.
That was all but assured the day Dale Sveum was fired after only two seasons as the hand-picked, player-development manager, an acknowledgment of the biggest mistake made by Theo Epstein’s front office in its first two years.
The significance of the latest heralded player-development manager was underscored when reports of under-spending on the baseball operation were confirmed in the failed run at coveted free-agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
Epstein isn’t hiding where his third-year rebuilding plan sits as pitchers and catchers report to spring training Thursday. He has a waiver-claim roster of castoffs and hopefuls that should cost less than $70 million by Opening Day (roughly $85 million total, including money still owed on traded players).
“We’re not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. We’ve been a last-place team,” Epstein said recently. “We haven’t accomplished our baseball goals. Our business plan, a lot of it’s still in front of us, yet to be executed, and I believe that we’re going to execute on both fronts.”
When? Between rooftops, split TV deals, big debt-service bills and apparent profit-taking by ownership, there’s no reason to believe the already-delayed promises of big resources for baseball ops suddenly will appear anytime soon.
That puts an even greater premium on Renteria being the prospect whisperer he’s supposed to be.
Any progress this club makes in the foreseeable future might rely almost exclusively on an approach used by the A’s and Royals, who built on the hope of impact prospects and scrap-heap free agents.
Welcome to your first big-league managing job, Rick.
He said he’s prepared — “I think I have to be” — and a strident optimist. “My personality’s not going to change.”
But even one of his biggest supporters, Padres general manager Josh Byrnes, recognizes the difference the former Padres bench coach will face in his first major market as a player, coach or manager.
“I agree, it’s different,” Byrnes said. “Even me interacting with the media about [the Cubs’ hiring], it’s sort of a higher level of scrutiny than the norm in San Diego.
“I hate to oversimplify it. He’s a great guy. He loves the game. And winning is the best thing he can do to build credibility in the marketplace. But the players will respond to him.”
Renteria isn’t the first manager to believe he’s prepared for what Epstein calls the “idiosyncrasies” of the Cubs job. Veteran managers Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella said they did, too, only to admit afterward they had no idea how different this fishbowl is.
But Renteria also has a secret punishing side in his nature, according to those who have known him long. It’s either a byproduct of his tough upbringing in Compton, Calif., or his tougher road to a big-league career as an undersized infielder.
“Oh, no, he’ll crack the whip,” said former Padres and current Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers, who hired Renteria with the Padres. “He’ll set some standards, and they’re going to live by it. And if not, he’ll jump them.
“He’s a foxhole guy. Rick Renteria is one of those guys if I’m going to a battle or a fight, I’m going to stop and pick him up. He’ll have my back.”
Whether he has a chance with this club — this process — is another matter.
For now, he’ll be scrutinized for the progress made by Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Darwin Barney — and eventually a pipeline of prospects.
“My personality is suited to younger players,” he said. “I’ve got four kids. I’ve been raising kids my whole life. These are going to be my kids now.”