Cubs: Is Rick Renteria the right manager at the right time?

Cubs: Is Rick Renteria the right manager at the right time?
January 14, 2014, 5:15 pm
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Ready or not, Rick Renteria will get a close-up look at what he’s getting himself into now.

The new Cubs manager is supposed to represent a fresh start for core players Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. He’s supposed to be the right messenger for Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and the elite prospects in town for this week’s rookie-development program. He’ll at least change the subject for a franchise that made Dale Sveum wear those 197 losses across the last two seasons.

Renteria can’t know all the idiosyncrasies of this job after coaching for the San Diego Padres. He might not understand all the scrutiny that comes with managing a big-market team after playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Seattle Mariners and Florida Marlins.

But Renteria will get a taste of it this weekend at Cubs Convention inside the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers. People who’ve worked with him say he’s not just some happy-go-lucky guy. They say he can be upbeat while still having an edge.

Renteria’s family came out of the Compton, Calif., area. He was a 5-foot-9-inch first-round pick who went five years between big-league at-bats, playing in Mexico before making it back with the expansion Marlins in 1993.

Renteria managed eight seasons in the minors for the Marlins and Padres and ran Team Mexico in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. He turned 52 on Christmas Day and has spent three decades in pro ball waiting for this chance.

“Nothing has ever been given to him,” Arizona Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers said. “He grew up in the trenches. When times get tough, that’s the kind of guy you want to be with. He’ll find a way to work himself out of it.”

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Towers, the former Padres GM with the gunslinger reputation, had Renteria in mind when he took over in Arizona near the end of the 2010 season.

“He was on my list when I got the job with the Diamondbacks,” Towers said. “(Owner) Ken Kendrick and (president) Derrick Hall asked me (and I said): I’ll give (Kirk Gibson) the first opportunity as our interim manager. But Rick Renteria was my next guy, top of my list. I love him to death.

“He’s a special individual. The Cubs are a better organization for having him. He can relate to star players and young players. He’s a disciplinarian. He’s going to expect the guys to play hard and play the game the right way. He’s bilingual, loyal. He just needed an opportunity.”

It’s been a whirlwind for Renteria, who suddenly became a hot name last October, interviewing with the Mariners and Detroit Tigers before becoming the 53rd manager in franchise history.

“I’m still in that craziness right now,” Renteria said last month at the winter meetings. “I went literally from the season ending to having my hip replaced a week later to having interviews in my (Southern California) home for about a month. I went from walker to crutches to cane to (being able to travel). Quite frankly, I don’t mind. I haven’t really taken a breath, but that’s OK. I’ll recover, hopefully, next offseason.”

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein gave Renteria a three-year deal that contains club options for 2017 and 2018. The hope is a positive message will resonate with all the young players coming through the system (and won’t get tuned out in the clubhouse).

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In San Diego, Renteria had made a strong impression on future Cubs executives Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod — manager-in-waiting.

“He really came across as the hard-working, earned-everything-he-got-type-of-guy,” McLeod recalled. “Very passionate about what he was doing. Very detailed, meticulous in how he went about the advance meetings and all of that. He became a guy you really liked being around. He’s the baseball lifer/grinder. Just an overall good person who can be exceptionally nice, but at the same time jump someone’s ass.”

On Opening Day, Renteria will be the team’s fourth different manager in the last five seasons, so Cubs fans and the Chicago media will be skeptical.

“He’s the right manager for that club,” Towers said. “Theo couldn’t have picked a better guy.”