Cubs' Loretta Understands Circumstances He Enters

Uncertainty looms as manager Joe Maddon works in the final year of his contract.

Chris Emma
January 22, 2019 - 11:45 am

CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- A major leaguer of 15 seasons, Mark Loretta for years had considered returning to the dugout. Since retiring after the 2009 seasons, he spent the last nine years in the Padres' front office but had the itch to be down at field level with the team.

Then the Cubs came calling, with friends in Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer reaching out for Loretta's interest in becoming the team's bench coach. He had been considered previously but never interviewed. Loretta said he was all in.

"This was just too good of an opportunity to pass up," Loretta said at Cubs Convention on Saturday.

Loretta, 47, was named the Cubs' bench coach on Jan. 2, filling a position vacated by Brandon Hyde being named the Orioles' manager. It was the second straight season the Cubs' bench coach left for a managerial job, as Davey Martinez landed with the Nationals the year prior. That's the kind of positive turnover Loretta knew well going into this interview.

But Loretta had questions about the other changes to manager Joe Maddon's coaching staff too. The Cubs dismissed hitting coach Chili Davis after their wild-card game exit last October, and pitching coach Jim Hickey resigned in November. After the 2017 season, the Cubs parted ways with hitting coach John Mallee, pitching coach Chris Bosio and third-base coach Gary Jones. 

Then there's the 64-year-old Maddon, who's working in the final season of a five-year contract without any assurances beyond 2019. The manager who led the Cubs to their first World Series in 108 years and four playoff berths in four seasons is considered a lame duck, and there's some wonder as to whether Loretta is the Epstein-picked replacement waiting on the bench.

Loretta received a two-year deal with the Cubs and spoke with Epstein and Hoyer about the team's situation with the coaching staff before accepting the job.

"It's not strange because Joe's not making it strange," Loretta said of Maddon's status. "I think he's so sure and confident in his ability that I don't think it's going to be any kind of an issue for him, and I think it will be a trickle-down effect for everybody else.

"I understand the speculation (that Loretta would replace Maddon). Start adding things together, things like that. But Joe is a huge reason why I'm interested in taking this job. I think he's one of the best managers in the game, for sure. One of the best people."

As Loretta spoke with several reporters Saturday morning, Epstein took a stage solo at the Cubs Convention for a panel typically conducted by multiple members of the front office. Epstein wanted to be available for the fans and answer alone to the uncertainty surrounding the Cubs' future, including what lies ahead for Maddon.

"My bet is that it goes extraordinarily well with Joe and the whole group, and he's here for a long time," Epstein said to the convention crowd.

But how Maddon is graded as manager by Epstein will be one of many key storylines to this season. The Cubs have averaged just shy of 97 regular-season victories under Maddon's watch and reached the National League Championship Series three straight years before an early exit this past October.

Players have made clear their full support of Maddon, whose easygoing personality creates a loose clubhouse environment. Epstein is looking for something different and hopes to find greater urgency from this 2019 team after the Brewers captured the NL Central crown with a win against the Cubs in Game 163 at Wrigley Field last October.

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Epstein hopes the Cubs respond in 2019 the way he envisions, that Maddon earns a new contract with the team and that Loretta helped create a great support system on the bench.

"What's great is the last nine years, I really learned a lot about everything that goes on in an organization, whether it's scouting, player development, community relations, all that kind of thing," Loretta said. "So, I feel like when these guys come up to the big leagues, I know exactly what they've gone through -- in this era. 

"It was different when I was coming up. There's been a lot made of these millennials or whatever. But I've been around that.

"A bench coach role can be like a veteran teammate almost, kind of like a mentor as somebody who's been there, been through their struggles and knows what it takes to prepare for a major league season. That's kind of my mindset going into the year, to be that support system for the players."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.​​