Since word broke on Friday that Joe Maddon had opted out of his deal with the Rays, and that there was a chance the Chicago Cubs would be going after him, the two most common questions I’ve received (in the comments, in my email, on Facebook, and on Twitter) are variations of: (1) How likely is this really to happen? and (2) Is this going to have a big impact on the Cubs’ offseason? (or, How much of an impact will this really have going forward?)
With apologies to those of you who’ve asked, I’ve resisted answering you personally. So let me talk about those two items here.
How likely are the Cubs to get a deal done with Joe Maddon?
I’ve resisted that one for a couple reasons, the first of which is that I wanted to be absolutely certain that the Cubs are going after Maddon before speculating on the likelihood of success. It didn’t feel fair to Rick Renteria, and it also didn’t seem wise. Now, after days of conspicuous silence and a flood of reports, it seems beyond clear that the Cubs are definitely interested in Maddon.
The other reason I’d avoided answering is the no-upside, sizable-downside nature of playing the prediction game. Sure, I’ve heard some things on this story and seen some confident reports from unverified sources, but nothing that made me 100% certain a deal was going to happen. If I say that I think this is going to happen, there’s plenty of downside – folks remember when you’re wrong about something like that – and virtually no upside – it’s the obvious bet at this point, and no one will remember anyway. But I keep getting the question, and I feel like I have to say something since I’ve been so milquetoast about it the last few days.
How likely do I think it is that something gets done? Well, somewhere between “very” and “definitely” (but maybe a touch closer to “very” than “definitely”). With all of the inputs available to put into the estimation box between my ears, including various outside reports (for example, Buster Olney is extremely confident, and no one with whom he has spoken recently on his podcasts (Marc Topkin, Tim Kurkjian, and Jesse Rogers, by my count) would even take him up on his bet that he gets Maddon to the Cubs to manage, and they get every other team and every other job), and various circumstantial evidence, it seems pretty likely that this is going to happen at this point.
That doesn’t mean things can’t fall through, and it also doesn’t mean fans should be heartbroken if Maddon is not the manager next year. Rick Renteria was successful in 2014, and there would be absolutely nothing wrong with him being the guy in 2015. It seems his only crime to this point was not being born Joe Maddon. If it turns out that I’m wrong in my guess here about the likelihood of Maddon, you can bet that I won’t be totally freaking out.
That ties in, however, to the second question folks have been asking.
Would getting Maddon have a big impact on the Cubs’ offseason, and/or future, in general?
If I can speak out of both sides of my mouth … of course it would. Yes, I’d be content with Renteria returning to manage the Cubs next year, and I do think the front office is going to have a very interesting offseason either way. But we’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t acknowledge that spending significant money to bring in Joe Maddon, and then having a manager with Maddon’s track record in place, says a whole lot about the state of the Cubs. You don’t go through this uncomfortable, publicly-icky process to bring in someone like Maddon if you’re not ready to compete. And then you don’t get someone like Maddon and sit on it all offseason – you incorporate it into the free agent sales pitch. Hell, you probably send Maddon out on the road to do some recruiting.
Do I think having Maddon in place is the difference between getting and not getting a key free agent? No. Money is still going to carry the day there. But Maddon could be a heck of a tiebreaker. And for more complementary guys? He absolutely might make the difference between the Cubs getting their top choice for 5th outfielder and having to settle for their second or third choice.
As for competing in 2015, there are reasons to believe Maddon is an excellent in-season, in-game manager. That would obviously be the most important thing here, if the Cubs decided to make a move.
The Cubs can – and, I suspect would – have a great offseason without Joe Maddon, and they can compete in 2015 without him, too. This is not a knock on Rick Renteria. It’s just an acknowledgement of the realities of the market, the impact of messaging, and the value of a manager. Maddon’s presence has a slight impact on free agent decisions, a slight impact on ticket sales, a slight impact on competitiveness in games in 2015, and maybe even a slight impact on spending level decisions. Add up a bunch of slight impacts, and you’ve got yourself an impact.
So, to be clear, I don’t want to undersell this if something happens. Landing Joe Maddon at this point in time would be a huge deal. It’s hard to say that without implying something negative about Rick Renteria, or disappointing folks about the Maddon situation if a change doesn’t happen. But that’s the balance I’ve been trying to strike all along: getting Maddon would be huge, but sticking with Renteria wouldn’t be an affirmatively bad thing.