As we await official word that the next manager of the Chicago Cubs will be Joe Maddon (or WILL HE?!?!1lol!), let’s talk about two of the negative aspects to what is otherwise a positive story in the Cubs’ world: the part where the Cubs have to dump Rick Renteria to pick up Maddon, and the part where the Rays say the Cubs did shifty things to get Maddon.
Parting with Renteria
First, let’s talk about the Renteria separation, which is now expected. From day one, most thinking, feeling, compassionate Cubs fans have expressed a mixed sentiment that looks something like this: the situation sucks for Renteria, who did a good job, but you can understand why the Cubs would want to – have to – take a crack at Maddon when they had a chance. It seemed like that was probably going to be the sentiment around baseball, too.
For the most part, I’d say that it is, but there is apparently a segment of the baseball world that doesn’t see things that way. You can read this piece from Andy Martino for that other side of the story, complete with a number of very angry anonymous quotes.
Those quotes range from calling Maddon “classless” to chastising him for “going after someone else’s job”. One baseball official told Martino he’d never heard of a manager negotiating with a team when that team already had a manager (my eyebrow shut through my skull on that one). The Cubs, by extension, are castigated for doing this to a well-liked, hard-working guy like Rick Renteria.
(1) It seems like a leap to say that Maddon was “going after someone else’s job,” especially as Martino points out that sources say he and his agent didn’t reach out to the Mets because manager Terry Collins is a friend. This clearly wasn’t a case of Maddon stepping on anyone and everyone to get what he wanted. Instead, this was a guy seeing what was out there for him, and if a team wanted to make a change, that’s on the team, not Maddon. It would also seem extremely unrealistic to expect the Cubs to fire Renteria – a guy they really like, absent Maddon – just so that they could talk to Maddon without double dipping. And, let’s be honest: if the Cubs had parted with Renteria before even talking to Maddon, they would look just as heartless and would look like idiots, to boot.
(2) I’ve always felt conflicted about the Cubs dumping Renteria after a successful year in favor of Maddon, even if, ultimately, I can see the merit in doing so. Renteria is a baseball lifer who worked so hard to get to his first big league managerial job … and now he’s going to lose it through no fault of his own. That sucks. You can be a human being and admit that sucks. But the Chicago Cubs, as an entity, have only one mandate: win as many games as possible over the long haul, and also in any given season. It is up to the Cubs to balance the upside of Maddon against the long-term downside of whatever perception problems dumping Renteria could cause. Holding onto Renteria and passing on Maddon may have been the “right” thing to do by Renteria, but it wouldn’t have been the “right” thing to do by the fans (assuming the front office believes the organization is better with Maddon as manager than Renteria). Sometimes, being the steward of a fan-driven business is a tough job.
I hate writing these things. I really do. I hope most of you know me well enough by now to know that I’m a real softy, and I feel very icky about what’s happening to Renteria. But, if I collect myself and look at all of the inputs here – Renteria’s contract and the experience he got, the nature of the business of baseball, the upside of Maddon, and the ultimate goal of improving the organization – I can recognize there’s no villain here. Just circumstance.
And if the front office truly believes in Maddon – and I definitely see the merit – then I’m on board, and I also think the anonymously angry people out there are misguided, jealous, or both.
Tampering with Maddon
Marc Topkin again writes about the Tampa Bay perspective on tampering, and he believes it’s possible the Rays will go forward with a tampering charge once Maddon is officially hired.
Let’s set aside the problem of proof – without someone admitting to something, proving tampering is going to be extremely difficult – I just have trouble with the logistics of tampering here. I remain thoroughly unconvinced that anyone would buy Maddon didn’t know he would have plenty of lucrative options out there – even if just for one year before getting a managerial gig next year – if he opted out until the Cubs told him so.
Further, the argument that the proof of tampering is the speed with which a deal got done with the Cubs after he passed on a “good” extension from the Rays after it looked like said extension would happen doesn’t work for me. If he signed the extension with Tampa Bay, he wouldn’t have been able to explore free agency next year anyway. So, he refused the extension – citing in part the desire to see what his value was on the open market because he and his agent knew it was high, wherever he went – and opted out. Lots of job offers came in immediately. If the Cubs were the best one and it happened quickly because they had to resolve things with their current manager, that doesn’t prove anything.
Imagine that things played out just like Maddon and his agent claim they did: he thought it over, and decided to opt out to see what he was worth. If that’s true, wouldn’t you expect a team like the Cubs to try and move on him very quickly?
Now then. Don’t mistake my assertiveness here for confidence that this won’t be a drama. These things always seem to be, and the Rays might be understandably pissed at how this all played out. Tampering punishments appear to be within the discretion of the league, and it could be financial or involve an executive suspension. I don’t think we’d be looking at player compensation here (I can’t find any example where that’s happened), and this is not the same thing as a Theo Epstein/Red Sox situation where he still had a year left on his deal (and the sides agreed in advance – hastily, perhaps – that some kind of compensation would be involved).
That is all to say: if and when the Cubs sign Maddon, I do expect the specter of a tampering charge to loom. From there, it will probably be something in the background for a couple of months, and it may or may not result in a little bit of punishment for the Cubs. Until then, it’s going to be deny-deny-deny (which may actually be the truth), and we’ll just have to see how it plays out.
One thing is for sure on both of these potentially ugly items: how the Cubs announce this deal, and how they handle the Renteria decision are going to be a case study in careful communication. I’d expect that they’ve spent days getting it just right, because – as the preceding 1200 words suggests – there are so many land mines here.