Over the last couple of years, I've been asked a few times who I would hire to be the field manager of the Chicago Cubs if I could have my choice of anyone. My answer was always, "Joe Maddon."
Well, now Maddon is available. And I think the Cubs absolutely, positively should hire him.
Let me stipulate one thing right now. The influence of a field manager on a team can be overrated. Managers can lose games by making incorrect decisions; it's rare that a specific decision by a manager in the course of a game can win ballgames. Winning is done primarily by players; the better the players you have, the more games you're going to win.
Having said that, a field manager can also establish a clubhouse atmosphere that is conducive to winning. You might not think that matters. I think it does. David Haugh of the Tribune wrote about some of those things Sunday:
Indeed, in addition to being ahead of the curve on defensive shifting and earning his reputation as a master strategist, Maddon runs one of baseball's most unconventional clubhouses. He motivates players with quotes ranging from Camus to Dr. Seuss, following the motto: "Laugh a little to live a little." He organizes themed trips, like the time Rays players dressed in "grunge" clothing before flying to Seattle. He conducted pre-game interviews wearing a Buccaneers helmet. He has welcomed pythons and penguins and David Price's dog into the Rays clubhouse. When the Rays struggled to start last season, Maddon distributed seven bottles of cologne so his players "would stop stinking." When the Rays began the 2011 season with five straight losses, to ease the pressure, Maddon passed around shots of whiskey on the flight to Chicago and toasted "the best 0-5 team in baseball."
Again, there's a limit to what those things can do to help a team win. As noted above, things like knowing better in-game strategies are more important. But there's a reason that modestly-talented Rays teams were in the postseason four of six years from 2008-13, before faltering in 2014, largely due to injuries and ineffective starting pitching.
It seems clear that the overwhelming majority of people here are in favor of signing Joe Maddon to manage the Cubs; I could have linked to a number of mainstream writers' articles saying essentially the same thing, but because they're almost all in agreement, I'm not going to do that, only say that it's one of the rare times when pretty much everyone who follows the Cubs is saying the same thing: "Hire this guy!"
About the so-called "deafening silence" from the Cubs' front office, you might read whatever you like into that. Personally, I don't think it means a thing. You might roll your eyes at the source, but look at what Gordon Wittenmyer wrote in the Sun-Times:
Internally, the belief the Cubs will land Maddon is strong enough that a source suggested team president Theo Epstein traveled this weekend to Florida to meet with Maddon.
Well, I guess he could have done that. Did he? Check the Starbucks down there, I guess. The thing is, anything we do here, and a lot of what's written elsewhere, is pure speculation. And I say that in agreement with Maddon's agent, Alan Nero:
Maddon’s Chicago-based agent, Alan Nero, said that’s not true. The Cubs are one of 10 teams Nero has talked with since Maddon opted out of his contract with the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday, the agent said Saturday. "And nothing more than a phone call has happened with anybody," said Nero, who added that he didn’t expect more clarity any sooner than the middle of next week. "To speculate is absolutely insane."
So if you don't mind, I'm going to stay away from Nero's description and simply say this: Joe Maddon is 61 years old. He's been quoted as saying that this is the one time in his career that he can explore managerial free agency and, potentially, cash in -- the Rays have been paying him a well-below-market salary for some time, as they have with many of their players. He's been rumored to want a five-year, $25 million contract, and the Cubs have this sort of money to spend, even given the fact that they'd have to pay Rick Renteria for the next two years (presumably, far less than that). They could offer Renteria a front-office job -- "special assistant" is the title often given to men in situations like this.
Changing managers might not make a single bit of difference to the 2015 (and beyond) Cubs. Or maybe it will. Joe Maddon is the shiny new toy that everyone's oohing and aahing over, as big-name as managers get in the year 2014. The Cubs have said they're serious about contending for the N.L. Central title in 2015; Joe Maddon has significant experience leading a team to such a goal, and Rick Renteria doesn't. For that alone, as well as his other leadership qualities, he's worth hiring, even if that means jettisoning Renteria with two years left on his deal.
To me, a timeline of when it happens isn't important, just whether it does or not. Go get him, Theo.