You know the backstory: Joe Maddon opted out of his contract with the Tampa Bay Rays and then the Chicago Cubs hired him as their new manager last Fall. The Rays cried foul, claiming the Cubs must have tampered with Maddon before he’d opted out, in violation of league rules. The Cubs and Maddon strenuously denied the charge, and the league has been investigating ever since.
Commissioner Rob Manfred said about six weeks ago that the league expected to have a resolution by Opening Day, which, for the Cubs, has now come and gone.
So, what’s up?
“Our goal was to conclude [the process] by the beginning of the season but there is still some work to be done with the investigation,” an MLB spokesman told the Sun-Times.
It appears, then, that the genuine expectation was, as of six weeks ago, that everything would be done by now. And it’s not. Does that mean something changed in the interim? Or was MLB overly optimistic about its investigation?
Here are some of the possible explanations for the delay/change in timeline, roughly in descending order of likelihood, and ascending order of terror:
- It’s been a very busy time for MLB’s new commissioner, and there have been a lot of changes at the MLB level since January. With bigger fish to fry, this hasn’t been very high priority.
- Coordinating the schedules of everyone who needs to be interviewed, and reviewing all of the potential documents has simply taken a long time.
- MLB found hints of malfeasance earlier in the investigation and/or after Manfred’s comments, which necessarily spurred more investigation, and that is ongoing.
- The teams and MLB have reviewed all of the information, and are together negotiating a resolution, because maybe MLB has determined, yes, there was something inappropriate here, but not quite bad enough to unilaterally blast the Cubs – so the sides are talking about what would be reasonable compensation that the Rays actually want.
- MLB found clear malfeasance, and is going to punish the Cubs, but wants to wait a little bit to announce the punishment so as not to take away from the excitement and positivity of the open of the season.
As I said, I think that’s roughly the order of likelihood, but I wouldn’t rule any of those possibilities out. The history of tampering punishment in baseball is relatively thin, but the possibilities include fines, suspensions, or the loss of players/prospects/draft picks.
Again, the Cubs have been emphatic from day one that they proceeded through the appropriate channels. The Rays, however, have been suspicious from day one. The longer this drags on, the more you do wonder what MLB’s looking at behind the scenes.
We’ll know eventually, and hopefully it doesn’t result in anything too dramatically painful for the Cubs.