CHICAGO – First-time manager Rick Renteria is focused on the future of the Chicago Cubs, rather than their past failures.
Renteria preached accountability Thursday when he was introduced via teleconference as the franchise’s 53rd manager. He takes on a challenging job that goes beyond merely trying to bring a winning team to Wrigley Field.
The development of young ballplayers has been labeled as one of his strengths. And with Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo needing help, the former San Diego Padres bench coach has got lots of work ahead of him with a team that finished 66-96.
“My personality doesn’t allow for being counted out,” Renteria said. “I think what we’re trying to do between the lines will speak for itself. In the end, we’re all judged in one fashion or another, but I don’t preoccupy myself too much about what I think’s going to happen. I preoccupy myself with what I want to do.”
First thing he needs to do: Get healthy. Renteria will be introduced at Wrigley at a later date as he is recuperating in San Diego following hip surgery in October.
The 51-year-old Renteria got a three-year contract with club options for 2017 and 2018. He is another unproven hire by team president Theo Epstein and the Cubs after the struggling organization initially expressed interest in New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi.
Girardi, a Peoria, Ill., native and Northwestern product who once played for the Cubs, signed a four-year contract worth up to $20 million to stay with New York.
“Rick’s reputation is impeccable,” Epstein said. “He stood out throughout the process to lead the Chicago Cubs into our next chapter.”
“You can’t find anybody in this game to say a bad or neutral word about Rick Renteria,” he said.
The Cubs are relying on Renteria to improve on a 127-197 record during Dale Sveum’s two years as manager. Despite the franchise’s four consecutive losing seasons and a last-place finish in the NL Central in 2013, Renteria refused to accept the assumption that the Cubs won’t be competitive next year.
The Cubs last made the playoffs in 2008 and have not won a playoff game since 2003. Under Renteria, they’ll be coming off their first last-place finish in seven seasons.
Renteria, who has spent 30 years in pro ball, is the latest manager hoping to bring the Cubs their first World Series title since 1908.
“I can’t speak to what’s happened in the past,” he said. “I can only think about moving forward with the kids that we have and the product that’s being placed before us.”
“I know it might sound naive, but I still believe that any team that goes in and plays between the lines has a chance to win a ballgame every single day,” he said. “If I was to come in here and assume that we were going to lose, what kind of expectations am I laying for the players who are here?”
Epstein said the rest of the coaching staff with be announced in the coming days and will feature a mix of turnover and returning coaches.
Renteria does have history with the Cubs’ front office, which immediately put him on its radar when the managerial position opened.
General manager Jed Hoyer and senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod both worked with Renteria during their days in San Diego.
“It was very clear when I was in San Diego that Rick was going to be a big league manager and pretty quickly,” Hoyer said.
Renteria spent the last six seasons in San Diego, the last three as bench coach. He also has coached in the Miami Marlins organization and in March managed Mexico in the World Baseball Classic.
Besides Renteria, the Cubs interviewed former Mariners and Indians manager Eric Wedge, Rays bench coach Dave Martinez, former Nationals and Indians manager Manny Acta, former Diamondbacks manager A.J. Hinch and Brad Ausmus, who was hired by the Tigers on Sunday.
The Cubs have dumped long-term contracts and traded most anyone of value in an effort to stock the farm system ever since Epstein was hired, hoping the payoff will be the sort of championship success he enjoyed in the front office in Boston.
Among Renteria’s tasks will be getting the most out of Castro at shortstop and Rizzo at first base, two young players who have long-term contracts. Both were underwhelming last season and pitcher Jeff Samardzija had an up-and-down season.
Renteria believes Rizzo, who he worked with in 2011 before getting traded to the Cubs, has a “tremendous future ahead of him.” Settling in with his approach at the plate will be key, Renteria said.
“He’s a very gifted athlete and obviously has some tremendous power,” Renteria said. “He has a very good eye.”
With prospects Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant in the pipeline, the Cubs made it clear they want to provide the right environment for their young players to develop.
Renteria’s bilingual background enhanced his resume with his ability to speak Spanish with Latin players. That will only help communication between the coaching staff and players, which was an issue at times the past two seasons.
“I’m hoping to be a good coach who happens to speak Spanish,” Renteria said. “But I think the ability to communicate in the same language, it sometimes creates a bit of a comfort zone.”
Renteria was a minor league manager in the minors for eight years with the Padres and Marlins. That followed a 13-year playing career as an infielder that included all or part of five seasons with the Pirates (1986), Mariners (1987-88) and Marlins (1993-94).
The 1980 draft pick was a career .237 hitter with 20 doubles, four home runs and 41 RBIs in 184 major league games.