12/10/2013 9:02 P.M. ET
Renteria capitalizing on first Winter Meetings
New Cubs manager meets with bench coach, gains insight into behind-the-scenes work
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Rick Renteria did his best to make a good first impression at his first Winter Meetings, wearing a nice gray suit and tie. The new Cubs manager has been spending the last few days preparing to make a good impression on his players.
Renteria and new bench coach Brandon Hyde were taking advantage of the Winter Meetings to discuss their plan for Spring Training. They will present that this weekend in Mesa, Ariz., when the coaching staff gets together for the first time at the Cubs' new facility.
It's a little early for Renteria, 51, to write a lineup, although he did say he's considering Starlin Castro as a possible leadoff man. Renteria hasn't talked to the shortstop yet about that.
"A lot of those conversations, I like to have more one on one and in person," Renteria said. "It always comes off a lot better when you have face-to-face conversations with players. They can read my face, and if they think I'm happy about it or not happy about it."
The Cubs players will be talking a lot with Renteria. During his brief visit to Wrigley Field last week, he peeked inside the home clubhouse and saw the lounge where they congregate.
"Quite frankly, I'll probably be in [the lounge] more than I'll be in my office, because I'm just kind of a busy body, and hopefully they don't mind it," Renteria said. "Listen, [the home clubhouse] is much bigger than I anticipated, quite frankly, coming from the visiting side."
Hyde was the Cubs' player development director, and he does know his way around Wrigley, as does pitching coach Chris Bosio, who is returning for a third season. Having that experience and continuity will benefit the rookie manager, who stressed that the Cubs will be working on the same drills and fundamentals other teams focus on.
"I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel, but what I'm trying to do is make sure, like every manager does, is that they understand the importance of the actions they're taking in Spring Training," Renteria said. "If you can't do it in practice, what makes you think you can do it in front of 35,000 or 40,000 people when it matters?"
He's gotten some insight into how the baseball operations staff works as he gets a peek behind the scenes at the Winter Meetings, listening to scouts and watching others gather information on free agents and possible trade candidates.
"We think we know everything that's involved, but until you're actually in there, watching them work, there's a lot that goes on behind the scenes," Renteria said.
One player whose name has been mentioned often in trade rumors is Jeff Samardzija, and when Renteria talked to the pitcher, they both agreed that it's business as usual.
"Right now, the way I see it and the way he sees it is, he's a Cub, and we're going to move forward as Cubs," Renteria said. "When I spoke to him, he was very excited about the upcoming season. He came off a high strikeout year last year and a lot of innings, and he's looking to build on that obviously, as we are. I think the club in and of itself with him on it is much better."
Having a competitor like Samardzija should help the Cubs in the National League Central, which has become a tough division as the Cardinals, Reds and Pirates all reached the postseason in 2013.
"We play in a tremendously strong division, which I think is great for us, because I think the club and the players individually have a chance to learn a lot about themselves and what it takes to ultimately get to that winning conclusion," Renteria said. "There are a lot of clubs in our division playing very well, and we want to be a part of that."
He also is hoping that when opposing teams face the Cubs, the message they'll get is, "[Darn], these guys don't quit." That'll be part of Renteria's Spring Training message.
Whether he delivers it in English or Spanish has yet to be determined. Renteria is fluent in both.
"If it's to try to be concise in a message, obviously, it'll help me a lot," he said about being able to speak Spanish. "Hopefully the message they understand from us is that we believe in them, we trust in their capabilities and hopefully when we're speaking and I have to inspire somebody, I hope I have the words to do it with. That'll be the difference."
It doesn't matter what language Renteria uses if the message isn't "clean and concise and clear," he said.
"I can speak both languages, and if I don't articulate an idea or concept the right way, it doesn't matter how many languages I speak," he said.
At some point, Renteria will be able to focus on baseball, and not all the "craziness" he's been through since the regular season ended.
"I went from the season ending to having my [right] hip replaced a week later, to having interviews at home for about a month," he said. "I went from a walker to crutches to a cane to the point where I was able to start traveling two weeks ago. I haven't really taken a breath, but that's OK. I'll recover hopefully next offseason."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.