Because we don’t really think about managers in the same way we do players, we never really talk about managerial “free agency.” The difference between the best and worst managers is something considerably smaller than the difference between the best and worst players, the salary differences are much smaller, and good managers tend to stick with their clubs until there’s a somewhat organic-feeling separation.
In other words, you don’t really see situations where good managers head into their final year under contract with the feel of a player approaching free agency. Ooh, what’s going to happen? Where else might he go if the team doesn’t make a serious offer? What will the team do if he walks?
Strange though it may be in the managerial context, that’s kinda how things are with Joe Maddon and the Cubs, what with no extension forthcoming this offseason and 2019 being the last of Maddon’s initial contract with the Cubs. And it’s how he framed things in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times.
“Lame duck or free agent, are they synonymous terms?” Maddon told the Times. “Players go into that year annually. Good players go into a season without a contract for the next year. Why would I feel any different as a manager than a good player does, a (Manny) Machado or a (Bryce) Harper, whatever?”
To be sure, Maddon is correct that he’s more like a free agent than a lame duck, since there is no guarantee that he *won’t* be back with the Cubs past 2019. All sides really do seem to be operating on the same page that Maddon is under contract for 2019, he’s going to do his best to succeed, and everyone will see what’s what at some point during the year or after the season, not unlike a top free agent player. If he’s truly comfortable in that way, and if the Cubs don’t mind not having certainty beyond 2019, then fine. We’ll see what happens, and maybe, like a top free agent player, everyone will want to make a change after the season, or maybe everyone will want to re-up.
The Cubs will not be able to make Maddon a qualifying offer, though …