Rozner: Cubs coaching carousel adds to palace intrigue

Theo Epstein couldn't blame the 2018 season on Joe Maddon.

It's an odd choice of words anyway, to use "blame" for a team that won 95 games and made the playoffs.

But it wasn't on Maddon, the Cubs' inability to get it together in September, leading to a predictable October result.

At least this time, blaming the manager would have been difficult to explain after four playoff appearances in four years, and after some high-profile, free-agent signings did not help the Cubs in 2018.

But Epstein could blame Maddon for firing pitching coach Chris Bosio and hitting coach John Mallee a year ago after three straight NLCS appearances and a World Series title.

That was on Maddon, who brought in pitching coach Jim Hickey and hitting coach Chili Davis.

Of Bosio, Maddon said it was "time for a different voice."

The offense, however, had finished 2017 first in on-base percentage, second in runs and third in home runs, but the offense became one-dimensional in the 2017 postseason and Maddon talked about better situational hitting, a theme that continued in 2018.

When the 2017 changes were announced, Maddon denied that he had put his stamp on the team.

"Of course not. It's about the team," Maddon said. "We're all a spoke in the wheel.

"I think we've done pretty well over the last three years. First World Series in 108 years. I'll take it. Three times to the championship series in the last three years. I'll take it.

"And if we start looking past that as not being successful, then we have to re-evaluate how we look at the world in general.

"So no, this is not just about me. It's never just about me. It's about all of us. This is about the Cubs moving forward, and we think these new coaches can absolutely help take us to another level and get us back to the World Series."

But the starters struggled mightily in the first half - guys who flourished under Bosio - before settling down and having a fine second half.

The offense never produced as it should and Davis paid the price when he was fired a few days ago, replaced Monday by Mallee disciple - and former Cubs special assistant - Anthony Iapoce.

If Maddon had put his stamp on the coaching staff last year, Epstein has now taken away the ink pad.

In his postseason news conference, Epstein went out of his way to praise Maddon and deny any "friction" between the two.

"Not true at all," Epstein said. "We have a terrific working relationship. We don't agree all the time about baseball issues. And that's the way it should be.

"There should be discord and debate and healthy trusting relationships where you can work together to make the organization better.

"And that's the way it is."

That might be entirely accurate, but the two have different ideas about the offense, no matter how much they claim it to be a matter of semantics.

Epstein believes in launch angle and Maddon has railed against it, asking his hitters to use the entire field.

At the same time, Epstein knows the approach has to occasionally change depending on count, score, time of game and where runners are on base.

Maybe they're really not that far apart on this, but the launching of Davis would force a cynic to wonder what else is at play here, knowing Maddon only has a year left on his contract.

There is no denying that Maddon is terrific at his job and there is no denying his four-year record in Chicago of 387-261 (.597) that includes a World Series, three NLCS and four playoff appearances.

There is also no denying his poor in-game managing in the 2016 and 2017 postseasons.

But as much as anything, Epstein is a pragmatist. It's doubtful that he's trying to cause trouble for Maddon or oust him by changing hitting coaches.

Cutting off his nose is not an Epstein philosophy, nor is spite particularly effective for his face.

The Cubs' boss wants to win another World Series and he believed this change was necessary in order to further that goal, and if the Cubs were to win another title in 2019 he would happily extend Maddon and pay him many more millions to stick around.

But these moves - firing Davis and hiring Iapoce - will not calm the waters or quiet speculation. It won't do anything to lessen the appearance that Epstein and Maddon have some different ideas.

And it has added another level of intrigue to the 2019 season.

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