Connecting Dots on Chris Bosio’s Fate, Which Probably Shouldn’t Have Surprised Us

You know how it’s sometimes hard to see things that are right in front of you? That’s generally because you’re too close to the situation to take in the bigger picture, whether it’s literal or figurative. In the case of Chris Bosio’s recent firing as the Cubs’ pitching coach — as first reported by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale — a lot of us were surprised because we’d probably been focused on the wrong things.

I should note here that I’m going to be swimming in speculative waters here, albeit calm ones, and none of this stuff is sourced in any way. Rather, I’m just looking to connect a few dots that I saw emerge as if from one of those cool 3-D images that you can only see when you relax your eyes (a schooner is a sailboat, stupidhead!).

It’s always easier to maintain the status quo, so no one batted an eye when Joe Maddon spoke glowingly of his coaching staff and said that he hoped to keep the band together for the 2018 season.

“Our staff has been awesome, and they’re tight, a tightly knit group,” the manager said Wednesday prior to Game 4 of the NLCS. “There’s a lot of synergy involved. No one knows everything. Everybody helps everybody. There’s cross-pollination. Nobody is on their own little island. I like that.”

Be that as it may, it appears that Bosio has been voted off the island. Maddon’s words are pretty bland stuff on the whole, so the first thing we need to do is add a grain of salt or five to the mix. Of course he’s not going to rock the boat and say that changes need to be made, especially not immediately prior to an elimination game. And if you look at the coach-speak again, you’ll notice that Maddon really isn’t saying anything.

Trope, idiom, trope, idiom, trope. Even Chuck Pagano thinks Maddon is laying the cliches on a little thick here. Again, that’s par for the course for these situations, so the skipper isn’t going to come out guns a-blazing. Dammit, now he’s got me doing it too.

Despite the general blah-ness, one pretty interesting tidbit from the presser came when someone asked about Jim Hickey, Maddon’s pitching coach in Tampa Bay.

“I have talked to Hick, (but) purely how he’s doing,” Maddon said. “It surprised me and a lot of us.”

“It” in this case is Hickey’s departure from the Rays after a decade in Tampa, a move that came as a big surprise to fans and outside observers alike. Hickey was under contract through the 2018 season and was viewed as a lock to return along with the rest of the coaching staff. Huh, where have we heard this story before?

The Cubs are a look-before-you-leap organization when it comes to big moves, so you have to think they felt pretty comfortable with being able to lock up Bosio’s replacement prior to letting him go. The Rays missed out of the playoffs, so Hickey’s been on the market since early October and it’s reasonable to believe that there have been at least some back-channel conversations to augment Maddon’s condolence call.

The Cubs are a look-before-you-leap organization when it comes to big moves, so you have to think they felt pretty comfortable with being able to lock up Bosio’s replacement prior to letting him go.

Or maybe that’s not the case at all and Hickey is interested in one of many other openings left by the firing/reassignment/resignation of several other respected pitching coaches. Mike Maddux is out in Washington, Dave Righetti in San Francisco, Dave Eiland in Kansas City, Derek Lilliquist in St. Louis, Dan Warthen in New York (Mets), and Carl Willis in Boston. But in this game of musical chairs, it sure feels like Maddon’s got a seat reserved for Hickey.

We know Maddon is fiercely loyal to his guys, with Davey Martinez and Ben Zobrist standing out as two shining examples, and that he’s a fan of having people around him that he knows and trusts. I guess that goes without saying, but Bosio isn’t really such a guy. He was a holdover from previous staffs so, while he certainly did a good job and there wasn’t any visible animosity, you can see why Maddon might be looking to make a change.

And while I believe personality conflicts, whether big or small, contributed heavily to the decision to let Bosio go, it’s likely the performance of the pitching staff factored as well. I’m not talking about relievers walking guys in the playoffs, but more the overall stagnation of growth with starters and relievers alike. Once revered as the Wizard of Boz, it seems as though perhaps some of the magic had started to wear off.

He’s no carnival huckster, far from it, but the changing nature of the team and the staff may have been such that his methods weren’t as effective any longer. Some guys do have a shelf life in that way. You look at big perceived wins like Scott Feldman and Jake Arrieta and think Bosio could work miracles. But most of the pitchers responsible for helping to build that reputation were reclamation projects and change-of-scenery pitchers. They were also starters.

The bullpen has been a source of much hand-wringing over the past few seasons and will be a major target of offseason improvements. As more attention turns to the relief corps and with the Cubs on the cusp of actually developing some homegrown arms, perhaps the philosophical differences in Bosio’s approach and that of the team and organization created an impasse.

There’s also the possibility that Bosio actually got a little more public credit for things that weren’t necessarily his doing. Kyle Hendricks, for instance, saw his career arc follow a much steeper trajectory after opting to lean more heavily on the curveball and four-seamer. The author of those changes was a guy whose name starts with B, ends with O, and has a Z sound in the middle, but it wasn’t the pitching coach. Catching instructor and master strategist Mike Borzello was probably more responsible (subscription required) for Hendricks’ ascension to staff ace.

It may sound as though I’m dragging Bosio here, but I assure you that’s not what I’m trying to do. Rather, I’m highlighting those dots I was talking about earlier and trying to see if perhaps the signs of this move were actually pretty evident the whole time.

The final piece here, and this is not so much a matter of direct correlation as much as potential ancillary benefit, is what a coaching change might mean for the Cubs’ free agency moves. One name that keeps coming up when it comes to their rotation vacancies is Alex Cobb, the newly-minted free agent who pitched for both Maddon and Hickey in Tampa.

I’m being doubly hypothetical in that case, as there are too many moving pieces to really make this scenario very concrete. It does pass muster on a couple different levels, though, so I figured I’d throw it out there.

Hickey to Chicago just makes too much sense not to happen, though there are several viable candidates if what appears obvious ends up not being so. The sheer volume of pitching coaches available would have made it easier for the Cubs to move on from Bosio if indeed there were some philosophical differences (which I’m sure there were, otherwise I’m not writing this).

I swear I meant this to be a much shorter piece. So with the gym and some Ikea furniture calling my name, I’ll bid you adieu and allow you some time to poke holes in the logical tapestry I’ve hastily woven. Enjoy!

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