GM Meetings Notebook: Why the Cubs felt they had to make another change at hitting coach this offseason
LAS VEGAS — For the Cubs, finding the right hitting coach is a lot like stepping into the batter’s box.
It’s all about feel.
That’s why the Cubs decided to promote Dustin Kelly from minor league hitting coordinator to the big-league hitting coach position.
“Going with a guy in Dustin Kelly that we think the world of and has relationships with all those young hitters, that was really important,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said Tuesday after the team finalized the coaching staff. “We felt like Dustin was the right fit. Dustin and Johnny Washington will make a great pairing.”
That was part of the struggle for Greg Brown, the Cubs hitting coach in 2022. Hoyer said it “wasn’t the right fit” when it came to Brown, the players on the big-league roster and some of the young players ascending to the major leagues.
“We think the world of Greg Brown,” Hoyer said. “We certainly hope he stays in the organization and can have a big impact on the franchise.”
In Kelly, the Cubs have someone who has been with the organization for a pair of years and has worked with some of the young players that are starting to trickle into the major leagues. He’ll work in tandem with Washington and new assistant hitting coaches Jim Adduci and Juan Cabreja to improve the Cubs’ offense.
The hope is the group can continue to work together as one unit in different areas to progress the hitters.
“Ultimately, I think it’s important that you have a pitching coach, a hitting coach that have the EQ, that have the ability to allow them to work with someone else, have experts in different areas and not feel like they have to be the final arbiter or the best coach, the best game planner or the best mental guy. I think that’s really important in becoming more collaborative,” Hoyer said. “We definitely have it on the pitching side right now and getting the hitting side to that place was really important to us.”
At his end-of-season press conference, Hoyer mentioned the team had taken the “first steps” in extension talks with some of his players.
While that likely means first interactions with a player’s agent, Hoyer stressed his preference to completing deals ahead of Spring Training. It’s not a rule he adheres to, but there’s some benefit in pushing deals across the finish line before then.
“The more I do it, the more I think it causes real tension,” Hoyer said. “Guys want to start the season. I’ve watched many deals fall apart in Spring Training. I just don’t think it’s a great way to start the season. I think I’d like to push that up a little bit. And if we get it done, great. But [not] doing it in Spring Training, at least [not] starting the process and trying to end it.”
Ian Happ, who was an All-Star in 2022 and is a free agent at the end of the 2023 season, and Nico Hoerner, who produced a 4.5 WAR season at shortstop, are two players on the current Cubs roster who could be in line for an extension this winter.
Reports circulated Tuesday that Willson Contreras had been offered and declined the qualifying offer.
That isn’t the case — the Cubs have until Thursday to extend the qualifying offer and will do so then. It’s expected Contreras, 30, will reject the offer and become a free agent, but none of it is official yet.
Sources confirmed an ESPN report over the weekend that said the Cubs had a deal with the Astros for right-handed pitcher José Urquidy for Contreras the day before the trade deadline, but it fell through. Sources said the deal had progressed to the point where some in the Cubs coaching staff were aware of the deal.
Smyly rejects option
Left-handed starter Drew Smyly rejected his mutual option for 2023.
He was signed ahead of the 2022 season to a one-year deal that included a mutual, $10 million option for 2023. Smyly, 33, will receive a $1 million buyout and become a free agent. He posted a 3.47 ERA across 22 starts and 106.1 innings for the Cubs.
Both sides have expressed interest in a reunion in the past.