Supporting Ross is the correct call for Cubs
The Cubs sank quickly in late September, but president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer was quick to throw a life preserver to manager David Ross.
Hoyer made it clear during Tuesday's end-of-season rehash he's in full support of Ross, who completed his fourth season on the job.
"I was very pleased with Rossy this year," Hoyer said. "Never having the team focus on individual stuff, it was always about the team. Creating that type of culture is incredibly difficult and he does a fantastic job of that."
It's the right call. The ending was miserable, but the Cubs generally exceeded expectations this season. The biggest mistakes were organizational decisions made in the spring.
One was not spending more money on the bullpen. There were a few months when the relievers were healthy and humming, but the Cubs were woefully short on bullpen arms late in the season when Adbert Alzolay, Michael Fulmer and Mark Leiter Jr. were either hurting or on the injured list.
The Cubs signed Fulmer for $4 million and spent $2 million on Brad Boxberger, who appeared in just 22 games. Boxberger is 35 but did post a 2.95 ERA in 70 games for the Brewers last season, so he'd shown a durable history. Some of it's bad luck, but they clearly should have signed another reliable arm.
Among position players, the Cubs added more players than they needed in the spring and that ended up backfiring. Obviously, we're talking about Trey Mancini and Eric Hosmer, brought in as veteran options for first base and designated hitter, but both were released during the season. Actually, you can add Edwin Rios and Luis Torrens as two others who were on the Opening Day roster, but didn't last long.
Hoyer wasn't comfortable handing the first base job to rookie Matt Mervis, which made sense. But if the Cubs never signed Hosmer or Mancini, maybe they discover their best lineup - Mike Tauchman in center and Cody Bellinger at first base - a little sooner. Tauchman had a very good spring training.
Also, what happens if Christopher Morel spends the full season in the big leagues, or Nelson Velazquez gets a longer tryout at DH? Hard to say.
If you want to blame something on Ross, there were a couple times in September when he didn't follow his own advice. After the second of two straight blown saves in Cincinnati on Sept. 2, Ross said losing pitcher Leiter was running on fumes. OK, so why use him? There's no guarantee Jose Cuas or Daniel Palencia would have finished the job, but might as well go with a rested arm.
Then after a rough series in Colorado, Ross talked about the team being tired after playing 14 games in 13 days. In retrospect, giving the regulars a day off during that stretch might have made a difference.
The Cubs definitely played a little tight down the stretch and there's not much Ross could do about that. Seiya Suzuki missing the flyball in Atlanta drew the most attention, but another strong example was on Sept. 16, when Cubs hitters struck out five times in 4 innings against Zach Davies.
All they had to do was lay off the change-up and the Cubs would have put that game away early. Instead, they got anxious to deliver the big hit, swung over the top of it and ended up losing in 13 innings. Davies got one more start against the White Sox, then the Diamondbacks released him. Didn't want him on their postseason roster. Any win over Arizona might have put the Cubs in the playoffs.
"It's hard to define exactly what went wrong," Hoyer said. "Do I think part of it was fatigue, part of it was regression; do I think part of it was a bullpen that ultimately was injured and unable to perform at the same level? Part of it was the way we performed in the clutch, the way we played defense.
"It's going to be hard to figure out exactly what proportions of those things led to our demise. All of those things contributed in some way or another. We have to put it under a microscope."
With Ross, Hoyer talked about how fans notice a handful of in-game decisions, but the hours of preparation is where Ross excels, in the way he deals with players and staff.
Ross built up plenty of good will in the organization during his two years as a player and three as a special assistant. He could have a long run as manager if the Cubs can become the every-year playoff team Hoyer envisions.
"Next year's going to be important," Hoyer said. "Certainly I want us to continue to build on the momentum we had this year. We have real organizational momentum. I think it's really important to build on that. Obviously, Rossy's a big part of that."