David Ross is the new Cubs manager.
It really did not surprise many people.
But it is a surprise hire if you thought the Cubs were ready to win in 2020.
It was no surprise because Cubs ownership needed a new "face" for the franchise after letting Joe Maddon go to the Angels. For all the "marquee" players on the roster, it was Maddon who talked to the press at least twice daily. Ross becomes the new hire because he was a popular, folklore figure from the 2016 championship team. He has a reputation of a good clubhouse leader. He had a "get in your face" attitude with his teammates. Whether he can transition from being a teammate to being their boss is an open question.
If Maddon was the only thing holding the Cubs back from a long 2019 post-season run, then one would have assumed that his replacement would be an experienced, championship caliber manager (Girardi). But the Cubs clearly signaled that they did not want to have an independent dugout voice.
The Cubs continue to spend a fortune on more layers of administrative baseball staff (like new directors of hitting and pitching) to feed more technology and information into the current team coaches (who are not going to lose their jobs with the Ross hire). Theo and Company have built a front office like baseball is a video game that they can control from their skybox. Reams of analytical data has replaced an experienced manager's gut instincts.
The press conference attempted to stress the "qualifications" of Ross to be the next Cub skipper.
Theo said the club had been grooming Ross to be the manager since he left the team in 2016. He has been a special assistant. He sat in on scouting meetings. He sat in the amateur draft. He spent this spring training shadowing Maddon. Ross said that he wanted to become a manager when he was a player, so he observed and learned from Bobby Cox and Maddon.
Not lost on anyone is the fact that Ross has not managed at any level. Ross has not coached at any professional level. If the Cubs were grooming him to take over for Maddon, why did not Ross manage a Cubs minor league team? He had three years to get some managerial experience.
But he did not. And the Cubs did not think it was necessary. Why? Because the Cubs are not looking for a manager but a front office collaborator. A person the GM and staff can control.
Just as an experienced manager would demand a working knowledge of what the team would do for him (i.e. spend on free agents, the health of the current roster and farm system) and a pledge from ownership to spend money in the off-season (as Maddon received from the Angels), Ross was in no position to get those promises. And the Cubs could not offer them.
Tom Ricketts clearly stated that the 2020 Cubs would rebuild from within, which was another clear statement that the Cubs would not be spenders in free agency. With the farm system one of the worst in baseball, and Theo's inability to draft, develop and promote a major league starting pitcher, next year's Cubs will be the same team unless major star(s) are traded for young talent.
But as the Nationals showed you can win a championship by getting rid of your franchise player (Harper). However, it only works when you have a young rookie phenom like Soto to take his place. The Cubs have a roster construction problem. There are no minor league prospects pushing for a major league roster spot.
Will Ross be a figurehead or will he put his own stamp on the Cubs? That is the million dollar question. No one has inferred that the players quit on Maddon. The complaint was Maddon was not getting the best out of the talent on the roster. But it may be that the front office continues to overvalue their talent.
A slow start. A rash of injuries. The first real 2020 crisis will show whether Ross will be an independent voice of accountability or another Cubs PR person.