At last check, the Tampa Bay Rays reportedly were claiming they have “proof” that the Chicago Cubs tampered with manager Joe Maddon while he was still under contract with the Rays, somehow illicitly enticing him to jump ship and join the Cubs. From day one, however, the Cubs’ front office, as well as Maddon and his agent, have denied that there was ever any improper contact last year. Instead, they say, Maddon received notice of his right to opt out of his deal with the Rays, mulled it over, decided to see what he was worth on the open market, the Cubs confirmed he was available, and then the Cubs contacted Maddon’s camp.
All of that has been in dispute for the past several months, however, as MLB has investigated the situation, and a resolution could finally be coming soon.
Commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters yesterday that the investigation should be complete by Opening Day, and “It’s easy to do a quick investigation and reach a quick decision. Our preference here, because it is a very important issue in terms of the way clubs interact with each other, was to do a very thorough investigation and make sure we make the right decision.” (ESPN, Tribune, CSN)
In those same articles, you can read Cubs GM Jed Hoyer’s reaction to the process, in which he expresses a desire to have this all behind them, but says it’s not a distraction for the front office.
As we sit here today, we can’t know for sure exactly what happened behind the scenes, though it remains very difficult to imagine (1) the Cubs front office egregiously violating the league’s rules against tampering, and (2) leaving a trail that could be followed by MLB months after the fact. None of that is to say that I think the Cubs are trying to get away with something here. Instead, I’m just saying it’s hard for me to imagine things playing out that way.
You could try and read something into the length of the investigation if you were so inclined, but I don’t think I will. Taking four months is consistent with MLB finding some incriminating threads to run down, but it’s equally consistent with simply being extremely thorough (or giving the appearance of being thorough), and maybe not having this quite on the front burner.
Should MLB determine that, yes, the Cubs did tamper with Maddon while he was still under contract with the Rays, the team – and/or the individual executives – will face some kind of sanction. These cases are few and far between, so there’s a wide range of possible punishments, from fines to loss of players or draft picks.
Hopefully the resolution will come in the next few weeks, and won’t be painful for the Cubs.