Less than a month after parting ways with the most successful manager in franchise history, the Cubs have found their newest skipper: David Ross. In an offseason full of managerial vacancies, the Cubs have become the second team to fill theirs with the hiring of their former catcher that helped the team to its 2016 World Series title. A lot of speculation circled around whether Ross was truly the right candidate for the job having played with over a third of the Cubs 2020 roster in the past. However, the fact that the Cubs have committed to Ross so readily demonstrates their full confidence in his readiness to manage successfully with his leadership and pre-existing connections to the team.
While it seems like Ross was the favorite all along for the job and never truly had any contention, this is not the case: Joe Espada was among other candidates in serious consideration, and the Cubs may have even been looking for a reason to select someone other than Ross:
Alas, that never happened, and this process certainly speaks to how highly the Cubs regard David Ross.
In many ways, Ross is also a good candidate for the manager because he can bring to this Cubs team many things that they’re accustomed to after playing under Joe Maddon for the last five seasons: most notably, trust. Ross’s prior relationships with much of the Cubs roster is going to be a pervasive story as he begins his managerial career with the Cubs, and the most important aspect of these relationships is that many of the most important players in the clubhouse already respect and trust Ross as a leader. This will contribute to chemistry, a factor that was immensely important in Maddon’s philosophy as well. More than anything else, Ross’s familiarity with the current Cubs team allows them to hit the ground running with working relationships and a history of success already in place among the group.
At the same time, Ross is a deviation from Maddon in that he’s likely to be more strict – and he’s not going to be in the clubhouse simply to be everyone’s buddy or another teammate. Better than I can put it, the Chicago Tribune’s Mark Gonzales summarizes Ross’s leadership qualities here:
Even as a player, Ross wasn’t afraid to do what made his team better, and it’s only reasonable to assume that this role will be enhanced as manager. Moreover, while it may be hard to imagine Ross as the leader of all of his former playing buddies, the roster overlap between the 2016 and 2020 teams is much smaller than it seems:
All of this is to say that Ross is in a position that’s perfect for him to find success. He knows his team well enough to connect with them and provide leadership that’s appropriate without being too partial to his players.
Among other concerns is that Ross is not analytically oriented or experienced enough to assume a managerial role in modern baseball, but the limited evidence points in his favor in this regard. Similar to his position in the clubhouse, Ross’s familiarity with the front office means that he will be open to their input, but the team’s confidence in Ross also rests on the fact that he’s not just going to be Theo Epstein’s yes-man; he will use the analytics that the Cubs are now embracing to play catch up with the powerhouses of the Astros and Dodgers, but he is experienced enough to exercise his own jurisdiction as well and deviate in favor of what he believes is right when necessary.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to qualify a managerial hiring with no prior experience, but Ross appears primed for success in a managerial role. There will inevitably be some growing pains, and it’s possible that there was a better candidate out there. But at least from a first impression, hiring away the intern from the Bryzzo Souvenir Company checks all the right boxes for the Cubs, even if he still can’t quite package those boxes correctly.