Baseball

The Cubs are interviewing David Ross for their managerial vacancy. Will the search end with him?

David Ross is expected to interview with team President Theo Epstein on Thursday before his presumed coronation as Cubs manager.

While Epstein already interviewed three other known candidates, including former Yankees manager Joe Girardi on Wednesday, consensus opinion is the job is Ross' if he wants it.

Whether that's true, one Cubs player echoed the rumor last week as he packed up and left Wrigley Field.

"If you're a betting man," the player told a fellow Cubs employee, "put your money on Rossy."

Epstein was unavailable for comment.

Girardi, who lost out to Lou Piniella for the Cubs manager job in 2006 and opted to stay with the Yankees in 2013 after Epstein courted him, is the only known candidate with managerial experience. Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer also interviewed bench coach Mark Loretta and first-base coach Will Venable, whom the Cubs believe has managerial potential but aren't serious about hiring for the current vacancy.

The Cubs are one of eight teams who have managerial vacancies, and with much of the personnel in place and resources available, a new manager should be expected to win immediately. During his second Cubs managerial search in 2013, when he was replacing the fired Dale Sveum, Epstein stated the obvious.

"To say this is just another job would be fooling oneself," he said. "There are unique elements that go into the job here."

That was before the Cubs ended their 107-year championship drought, which made them a unique sports franchise. But three years later, managing the Cubs is no more unique than managing the Yankees, Red Sox or Dodgers, teams with an intense media spotlight and a passionate fan base accustomed to winning – not to mention huge payrolls.

If you're trying to think like Epstein, it's easy to imagine Ross as the perfect choice as Joe Maddon's replacement. The thinking is Epstein has been grooming Ross for the possibility since his retirement after the 2016 season.

An anecdote in Tom Verducci's book on that championship season, "The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse," provides some clues as to why Epstein admires Ross' leadership abilities.

After Ross consoled Aroldis Chapman while the Cubs closer cried after serving up the tying home run to the Indians' Rajai Davis in Game 7 of the World Series, Jason Heyward called Ross and his teammates into the visitors' weight room in Cleveland during a now-famous rain delay.

According to the book, Heyward began by saying: "I know some things may have happened tonight you don't like ... "

Verducci wrote that Ross immediately thought to himself: "Is this going to be about Maddon?" The implication was Heyward's speech would be critical of Maddon's strategical moves, which led to the overtaxing of Chapman's arm.

"At first I thought it was going to be negative," Ross said to outfielder Matt Szczur. "And I thought this is nothing any of these young players need to be hearing.

"But it wasn't that at all. There was no negativity."

Some players credited Heyward's speech as the impetus for the Cubs bouncing off the mat to win Game 7 and end the championship drought. But Ross' first thought was one most every Cubs fan was thinking at the time – that Maddon's moves directly led to Chapman's Game 7 implosion.

Maddon's parting shot after his final game as manager answered those critics.

"When anybody ever writes about game decisions or bullpen management, they have no idea what they're talking about," he said, adding: "I promise you, for those that say those things, if you are in the other dugout I will kick your ass. So just know that. Your ass will be kicked."

Whether Ross would come in and kick some butt is the million-dollar question, because Girardi already has the reputation as a no-nonsense guy. It's unlikely Ross would be as independent as Girardi, who was fired after one season as Marlins manager after telling off owner Jeffrey Loria.

Asked on the final day of the season how he would feel to have Ross as his new boss, shortstop Javier Baez replied: "Obviously great. We all know David and he knows the team and the organization. I really don't know who is coming or what's the deal with that. We'll see. Whoever is going to be here is going to have to adjust to the team and organization."

Or, depending on who it is, perhaps the team will have to adjust to him.

"It's going to be important for the next manager of this particular group at this time to find a way to foster a team identity," Epstein said last week, hinting at more group-oriented preparation instead of the individual routines Maddon allowed.

"That's something that we need. And at this moment with this group, accountability is important. We were pretty mistake-prone this year. This is an organizationwide challenge, not (just) on the manager. But the next manager should be part of this, creating a culture of accountability and a sense of grind, grinding through the first pitch of the season to the end."

Ross, a special assistant to Epstein, was spotted in his Wrigley Field suite several times during the final weeks of the season. He's also friends with several players and is especially close with Jon Lester, Anthony Rizzo and Heyward, who upgraded Ross's hotel suites on the road in 2016 as a retirement gift.

"That's one of the first emotional moments I had in the offseason," Ross said afterward. "(Heyward) texted me this nice long message about supposedly what I've done for him."

That friendship and familiarity could help Ross quickly reestablish himself in the clubhouse, though if he didn't hold some players accountable, his close relationship with those players would come under scrutiny quickly.

Baez said he has no concerns about a new manager coming in and trying to change his free-wheeling style.

"I already made myself, and that's something no one can change now," he said. "That's why I'm so thankful for Joe."

Epstein's decision doesn't appear imminent. He still might interview Astros bench coach Joe Espada, among others. None of the eight major-league openings has been filled.

Epstein is keeping the job search under the radar, in fear of the media staking out the Cubs offices next to Wrigley Field, as happened Wednesday during the meeting with Girardi.

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