Even as Theo Epstein concedes that the Cubs will not engage manager Joe Maddon about an extension this offseason, and even as speculation about Maddon’s eventual replacement rages (David Ross?), it’s not as anyone is saying it’s a lock that Maddon is done after 2019. After all, were it a total lock that Maddon and the Cubs were destined to separate, they may well have have separated after this past season anyway.
… which of course would have been crazy, as Maddon was coming off of a 95-win season, his fourth straight playoff appearance, and steering a ship decimated by injuries and underperformance. Sure, things went bad for the Cubs in a lot of ways at the end, but very little – if any – of that can be pinned on Maddon.
Nevertheless, the extension isn’t coming and the speculation is swirling, and Theo Epstein wants to make sure folks understand that the focus for everyone, including Maddon, is on 2019, specifically.
“To me, the story really is I am excited about Joe being all in on 2019,” Epstein told 670 The Score. “He is going to be right in the middle of everything that is going on with the team. He will be deepening his relationship and communication with players and continuing to be committed to getting the most out of these guys. We recognize what a pivotal year it is for our players and their development as a whole. He is renewed, rejuvenated and ready to attack the season. We are all there to support him and do the same and get the most out of his players. So I am really excited about that. When I say we are not going to give him an extension this season, it’s not punitive at all. It is not foreshadowing of changing managers either. It is just a decision we have made to get the most out of 2019 and evaluating from there.”
It’s rare that you see a seasoned, veteran manager at the helm of a very successful club head into a lame duck year under the microscope of “evaluation,” but just because something is rare – and awkward! – doesn’t mean it’s necessarily nefarious.
When we step back to look at where the Cubs are, and where Maddon is in his career, it maybe shouldn’t be that surprising or jarring to us that the front office would want to let Maddon manage a bit into his final $6 million season before signing up for several more seasons at a similar rate. It’s not like Maddon isn’t worth his best-in-baseball salary, but it’s also not like the Cubs absolutely have to extend him at this time if Maddon, himself, is not pushing aggressively for it. Renew the focus, have a great offseason and a great spring. Maybe the front office just wants to offer up something of a new challenge?
Maybe things will indeed simply be very evaluative in the first half of 2019, everyone will agree that things look to be on a good path with a new coaching staff (again), and then the extension talks can come. It does happen.
I still think, though, that it’s equally realistic that everyone involved just wants a little runway before making changes or before committing to many more years. There was a lot jarring about the 2018 season, and a whole lot jarring about the coaching staff turnover the last three years. Taking a breath and seeing where things stand somewhere around the middle of next year? Fine. But I don’t think anyone would be surprised if there ultimately is a change next year. (Just as I don’t think anyone would be surprised if there’s a continuation of this relationship on into 2020 and 2021.)
Here’s hoping Epstein is right that a sense of focus on 2019, for everyone, will prove beneficial.