I want to say up front that I don’t think there was some intentionally hidden message in Theo Epstein’s end-of-season press conference comments about Joe Maddon. I think Epstein simply said what we all already believed to be true: Maddon is the manager of the Cubs right now, he’s under contract for one more season, he did a good job with a very tough set of circumstances this year, the front office doesn’t always agree with everything he does but they’re overall very happy. No extension has yet been discussed, and they’re comfortable heading into Maddon’s walk year without a longer-term deal in place if that’s what happens.
So the fact that Epstein didn’t say something like “Joe Maddon will absolutely, definitely be our manager in 2019” doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Of course there’s a chance that something could happen that would make a change possible (after all, at this stage in 2014, no one was expecting anyone other than Rick Renteria to be the Cubs’ manager in 2015, and the front office’s comments about Renteria’s job were glowing), but that is far from the expectation.
Still, the lack of certainty in the situation will leave open industry speculation, like that passed along by Nick Cafardo: “Was [Joe] Maddon ever really in jeopardy of not returning to the Cubs? A major league source close to Maddon said no. But the telling part is that there’s no contract extension in the works or was ever discussed. What some in the industry are wondering is would the Cubs let him seek another job, say that of the Angels (you could you see owner Arte Moreno having interest in a big name)?”
Maddon, of course, spent many of his formative coaching years on the Angels’ staff, under outgoing manager Mike Scioscia. That the Angels might want a chance to have a conversation with Maddon would be unsurprising. Of course, they also just finished up with a very expensive, “superstar” manager, and Maddon is set to make $6 million in 2019 – about six times what first-year managers typically make these days. There’s a financial consideration here that is definitely non-zero.
But let’s assume the Angels really are interested … would Maddon even want to have that conversation and jump ship? Even if he played out this year with the Cubs and was then let go, it’s not as if he couldn’t find another managerial job. So having the “security” of a long-term deal right now from not-the-Cubs seems like it would be less important than simply feeling happy about where he is. So the lure of a long-term deal from another club might not move the needle for him. We can’t really know what’s going on in Maddon’s mind, obviously, but he’s given no indication that he’s not happy with the Cubs.
There are reports out there that mention front office friction, from the Ken Rosenthal report disputed by Epstein, to a new line dropped by Jon Heyman: “Joe Maddon had to be brought back after one of his better performances, but word is out that his Cubs bosses are frustrated because he does what he wants.”
But is that stuff legit, and the foundation for each side to see what else might be out there this offseason? Or is that just the natural byproduct of a lame duck situation (and precisely why it’s nice to avoid those situations if you can)?
Which, in turn, leads to the question underpinning Cafardo’s report: folks wonder if the Cubs, who are clearly not interested in firing Maddon after another successful managerial season, would let Maddon seek another job if he was the one who wanted to separate. I mean, I guess it’s a fair thing for folks in the industry to wonder, but unless there’s some dream candidate that the Cubs already have lined up for 2019, I don’t see why the Cubs would want Maddon to walk away right now. Even if there’s some friction, the dude remains very, very good at what he does.
I still think Joe Maddon is the manager of the Chicago Cubs when the 2019 bell rings. At this point, I’d be surprised if there is an extension in place by then, and, if there is, it’s likely to be a very short-term one.
Until something happens on that front, though, you can expect periodic rumors/reports/speculation like this. Other teams with managerial vacancies would be foolish not to at least explore what might be possible with Maddon, given the small puffs of smoke we’re seeing. You never know what might happen, just like what happened with the Rays, Cubs, and Maddon four years ago.