CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs are set to hire San Diego Padres bench coach Rick Renteria as their manager, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the hiring has not been announced. The team was expected to make it official on Thursday.
The move ends a long search that began with the last-place Cubs targeting New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi, only to be denied a shot when he decided to stay put.
Instead, the Cubs are hoping Renteria can help develop their young players and lead them to their first championship since 1908. He replaces Dale Sveum, who was fired after two seasons.
The Cubs went 66-96 this season and finished at the bottom of the NL Central.
A former major league infielder, Renteria spent the past six years on the Padres’ staff and had been their bench coach since 2011. Before that, he coached and managed in the San Diego and Florida Marlins organizations.
Renteria also managed Mexico in the World Baseball Classic in March.
The Cubs are counting on him to get the most out of young players such as shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, along with prospects such as Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant.
The lack of development by young players on the roster was a major sticking point with Sveum. And with more young players on the way, the front office decided it was time for a change.
The Cubs were 127-197 under Sveum and finished in last place for the first time in seven years.
They had targeted Girardi, a Peoria, Ill., native and Northwestern product who played for them. But the former catcher signed a four-year contract worth up to $20 million to stay with New York through 2017.
That forced the Cubs to look elsewhere.
Besides Renteria, they interviewed former Mariners and Indians manager Eric Wedge, Rays bench coach Dave Martinez, former Nationals and Indians manager Manny Acta, former Diamond-backs manager A.J. Hinch, and Brad Ausmus, who was hired by the Tigers on Sunday.
They were also interested in talking to Boston bench coach Torey Lovullo. But according to reports, the Red Sox invoked an agreement banning Cubs president Theo Epstein from hiring any of their employees over a three-year period.
Either way, the Cubs are turning to Renteria, the next step as they try to deliver on the promise that accompanied Epstein’s arrival in October 2011.
They’ve been shedding longterm contracts and trading anyone of value in an effort to stock up the farm system ever since Epstein was hired, hoping the payoff will ultimately be the sort of championship success he enjoyed in Boston. So far, losses have been adding up at a staggering rate, but the record wasn’t the main reason for Sveum’s dismissal.
Player development was.
Castro and Rizzo, two key young players who have long-term contracts, each took a step back this year. Pitcher Jeff Samardzija also had an up-and-down season.
With Baez, Soler, Almora and Bryant on the way, the Cubs made it clear they want to provide the right environment for their young players to develop.
Getting the most out of Castro, Rizzo and to some degree Samardzija will be the most immediate task for the new manager, assuming they’re not traded.
Castro continues to be a head scratcher, prone to lapses in the field, and he couldn’t make up for it at the plate. The two-time All-Star’s average has been in a steady decline, going from a high of .307 in 2011 to a career-low .245 this year.
Rizzo batted just .233 with 23 homers and 80 RBIs in 160 games, not what the Cubs were looking for after a promising season the year before. In 2012, he hit 285 while knocking out 15 homers and driving in 48 runs in 87 games.