Next hitting coach should be a keeper

ESPNChicago.com's Jesse Rogers takes a look at the biggest storylines facing the Chicago Cubs during the offseason.

A new offseason storyline emerged Tuesday when Chicago Cubs hitting coach Bill Mueller resigned from the team. This leaves the Cubs with two openings -- Mueller’s position and an assistant.

There’s no doubt these are important hires, but within reason. It’s more important that the Cubs avoid hiring the wrong guy than to believe there’s a magician out there who can transform their offense.

Remember, the Cubs offered Mueller his job back. Maybe they made it uncomfortable for him by dismissing assistant – and his good friend -- Mike Brumley, but they could have fired Mueller as well. As a player, Mueller had one of the highest career on-base percentages of any third baseman to play the game. He connected with players even if Brumley did not. But connecting, and doing things as a player, are a far cry from getting others to change who they are.

So where does that leave the Cubs? In search of their fourth hitting coach in the Theo Epstein regime. Getting an experienced one with a track record is probably the best way to go, given that they need to check this off their list for the next few years. If the coach can help reduce the strikeout totals while – more importantly – increasing the Cubs on-base percentage, all the better. Most important is setting the right atmosphere and tone for a fostering environment. And, of course, being a good listener is a key for any coach.

According to more than one veteran hitting coach, the job has gotten tougher over the years. Players aren’t learning the fundamentals of hitting as they move up the ranks, while strikeout totals have skyrocketed. It’s tough for some of the older coaches and ex-players to accept those mammoth strikeout numbers, and many believe organizations are making it easier on players by not demanding better approaches. Teams will tell you they would love to see more contact, but you can only work with what you have.

Manny Ramirez would seem a perfect candidate for the No. 2 job. He has to want it and commit to it, both of which he did at Triple-A Iowa. Ramirez might be a cross between a coach who can help fix mechanical issues and a coach who is “one of the guys.” Don’t give him the spotlight of being the lead man, let him work under the radar – if that’s possible with Ramirez. But first, he has to retire as a player.

The wrong hire for the No. 1 role is a guy who can’t be the right combination of task master and encouraging nurturer. Although it’s not the worst thing that a new coach has to learn tendencies all over again, having some consistency can only help.

The Cubs are starting to get serious about winning. Their next hire should reflect that.