Ross was natural fit as Cubs manager
On paper, this had the ingredients for an awkward situation. David Ross came back to manage a group of players after being their teammate a few years earlier.
If not awkward, at least it was fodder for a sitcom, "Welcome Back, Rossy."
Everything seemed to go well, though, during Ross' first season as manager of the Cubs. From start to finish, players praised Ross for his energy and communication. The guys who played with Ross in 2015 and '16 sounded glad to have him back in their lives.
"It's been unbelievable to play for him and the trust he has in all of us to take care of our business," pitcher Kyle Hendricks said late in the season. "But I think, at the end of the day, the biggest thing is just his energy and passion, how much he loves baseball. You can just see it every day."
During his season-ending address, team president Theo Epstein was blunt with his performance evaluation.
"I think what we saw, what we experienced, was a very successful first year for someone who's going to be a great manager here for a long time," Epstein said. "We feel really good about having Rossy at the helm of this group, of any group, moving forward.
"He was an outstanding leader of the coaching staff and the group. He set high standards, he didn't back away from difficult conversations. I thought he saw the game extremely well. He just did a lot of things that great leaders do and I thought it was an extremely successful first year."
Being a career catcher, Ross had a good feel for how to handle pitchers. The starting staff was the strength of the team, and Ross got credit for nursing the bullpen from a slow start into a strong finish.
Ultimately, Ross couldn't fix the Cubs' recurring problem, which was not hitting when it counted late in the season. The Cubs scored just 1 run in the two-game wild-card loss to Miami.
At the start of the season, Ross challenged Cubs hitters to be professional in their at bats, as he put it. He wanted to see his players make pitchers work, stop swinging at pitches outside the zone and move runners along as needed.
The hitters listened and as a team, the Cubs moved way up in number of pitches seen per at bat. Early in the season, they had a tendency to score runs late in games, which was a sign the hitters could make adjustments and manufacture runs if needed.
By the end of the year, it all fell apart. The Cubs have been through several hitting coaches in recent years, so it's not clear if Anthony Iapoce, who has been on the job for two seasons, will take any blame for the latest postseason failure.
Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, who has also been on the job for two years, can point to success with his staff, so his job seems secure. Third base coach Will Venable got some shout-outs from players for helping them with baserunning, defense and approach. Ross suggested Venable should be a managerial candidate soon.
So while the Cubs reportedly laid off roughly 100 employees in the front office and baseball operations, the top coaches will likely stay around if Ross wants them back.