Theo Epstein insisted the Cubs don’t need to hire a big-name manager. It’s still unclear if the team president will even get that chance.
As the New York Yankees waited for a final decision from Joe Girardi on Monday, the Cubs moved forward with their search, having a scheduled interview with ESPN analyst Manny Acta, lining up San Diego Padres bench coach Rick Renteria and keeping Padres executive A.J. Hinch in the picture, according to sources familiar with the situation.
Girardi would create buzz as someone who has won four World Series rings. Epstein is said to have high regard for Girardi as a manager, while also understanding what an ex-Cub/Peoria native/Northwestern University graduate would do for the Ricketts family and the business side as they try to sell a team that’s lost 197 games across the past two seasons.
The Cubs have signaled they would like a shot at Girardi, who’s under contract through Oct. 31. While the idea of a bidding war has gotten a lot of play in the media, major-league officials and people close to Girardi have repeatedly downplayed that narrative.
The Girardi camp already knows he can be one of the highest-paid managers in the game. It doesn’t matter if his office is at Yankee Stadium or Wrigley Field – he will get paid either way.
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Sources say the decision will be driven in part by Girardi’s wife and three children and whether they want to stay in Westchester County, N.Y., or renew their connections to the Midwest.
The sense is that while the Yankees wouldn’t necessarily frame it as a take-it-or-leave-it offer – believed to be worth about $4 million to $5 million annually – they also wouldn’t just let Girardi bring it to the Cubs and wait around for another round of negotiations.
But for all the Girardi homecoming angles, there’s another undercurrent to this search. There’s the wave of Latin players who have already made it to Wrigley Field or should be there sometime in 2014 and beyond.
There’s shortstop Starlin Castro, catcher Welington Castillo and outfielder Junior Lake. There’s the projected young infield next season at Triple-A Iowa: Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and Christian Villanueva. Plus the prospects Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer will be watching this week in the Arizona Fall League – outfielders Albert Almora and Jorge Soler.
Acta, who grew up in the Dominican Republic, didn’t know a word of English when he first arrived in Florida for rookie ball in the Houston Astros system. He taught himself the language but never made it past the Double-A level, quickly transitioning into coaching.
Acta was fired the third year into rebuilding projects with the Washington Nationals and Cleveland Indians, posting a 372-518 record overall. At the age of 44, he is said to be very mellow around the media and in the dugout – by design – and fluent in sabermetrics.
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Renteria has a history with Hoyer, the former Padres general manager, and experience in player development.
Renteria, 51, managed four seasons in the San Diego system before joining the major-league staff. He also managed Team Mexico in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. He has been described as not having a huge ego, developing a reputation as someone who’s friendly and popular within the clubhouse.
Hinch – who has a broad background in the game – is said to be in the middle of the process. The Stanford University graduate and former big-league catcher worked as a farm director for the Arizona Diamondbacks before taking over as manager (89-123 overall record) for parts of the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
After firing Dale Sveum, Epstein said the leadership qualities he’s looking for could be found in an executive. That sounded like Hinch, the 39-year-old Padres vice president with a focus on pro scouting.