ORLANDO, Fla. – The Cubs need someone to coach up Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo and help those core players rebuild their confidence – before Javier Baez and Kris Bryant and the next wave hits Wrigley Field.
Sources say the Cubs have targeted Bill Mueller in the search for their next hitting coach. They know they can’t get this hire wrong after a 96-loss season filled with “mixed messages.”
Mueller became a signature acquisition for Theo Epstein’s Boston Red Sox, winning an American League batting title in 2003 and helping the Band of Idiots win the 2004 World Series.
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Mueller has worked in the Los Angeles Dodgers front office after an 11-year career in which he hit .291 and posted a .373 on-base percentage, grinding out at-bats with the kind of approach the Cubs hope to see their big-time prospects develop.
“That position in general will be incredibly important for us,” general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday at the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes. “Some of our young hitters are going to have to learn over time how to control the strike zone, how to get on base.
“We have to have the right message. We don’t want to overly force that message. We want to make sure guys are themselves. But as an organization, it’s pretty obvious we have to get on base more.”
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Mueller has been a regular presence at Hohokam Stadium during spring training, scouting the Cubs in Arizona. He scouted the Red Sox last month as part of his playoff coverage. He also played for the Cubs in 2001 and 2002.
Mueller lacks traditional coaching experience, though that could be offset against his playing credentials, scouting background and relationships with Cubs executives, who have gathered at this resort hotel for the annual general manager meetings.
In trying to assemble Rick Renteria’s staff, sources say the Cubs will bring back pitching coach Chris Bosio and have also considered promoting Mariano Duncan, who worked with Baez, Bryant and Jorge Soler as the hitting coach at advanced Class-A Daytona.
Duncan, who wouldn’t necessarily be a hitting coach in Chicago, spent some time around the major-league club in September and could be another strong bilingual presence. He won World Series rings with the 1990 Cincinnati Reds and 1996 New York Yankees.
The Chicago Sun-Times also identified two minor-league instructors Gary Jones (San Diego Padres) and Bruce Fields (Detroit Tigers) as potential base coaches.
A major-league official shot down the idea Padres executive A.J. Hinch – who interviewed for the manager job – could come to Chicago as Renteria’s bench coach.
The regression of core players like Castro and Rizzo got manager Dale Sveum fired. There was said to be a real disconnect between the front office, Sveum, and hitting coaches James Rowson and Rob Deer. Rowson will resurface with the Yankees as a hitting coordinator in their minor-league system.
Despite all those voices, the Cubs still plan to hire two hitting coaches, likely from outside the organization. As a former World Series hero and on-base machine, Mueller could be the right messenger.