If this headline sounds familiar, it should. This isn’t the first time I’ve written on this topic; I did so not long after the Cubs were eliminated from the 2017 postseason.
It’s a topic again now because of this USA TODAY article by Bob Nightengale, in which he wrote this about Maddon:
Maddon wants to continue managing, but if the Cubs fail to make the playoffs, or go out quickly, his fate is tenuous, several baseball executives told USA TODAY on the condition of anonymity. The executives did not want to speak publicly about Maddon’s situation.
Well, first, consider the source: Nightengale, who is frequently wrong about just about everything he writes regarding the national baseball scene. For his part, Maddon wasn’t real happy about that article, writes Bruce Miles:
“I don’t get it,” Maddon said of the USA Today story. “I don’t understand it. It’s very uninteresting to me. I’m under contract. I’m very happy with what I’m doing. When the time is appropriate, I’m sure we’ll discuss it further. I really don’t understand that.”
Maddon said he indeed would like to come back on a contract extension.
”Of course I want to come back, but it doesn’t matter to me when it’s resolved,” he said. “I mean that sincerely. I’m not concerned about that stuff. I’ve always believed when you work in a situation here with the quality people we work with, you rely on them to make that decision when it’s the appropriate time.
”I don’t even think about it. If you guys don’t ask this question, I swear to you I haven’t even thought about it once.”
And Cubs GM Jed Hoyer seemed to indicate that management will talk extension with Joe soon, in a column by David Haugh in the Tribune:
“August in a pennant race is the wrong time to talk about a contract,’’ Hoyer told me in an interview on WSCR-AM 670. “Obviously, Joe has been a real wonderful partner for us but the timing of talking about somebody’s contract in August doesn’t feel right.’’
Hoyer is probably right about the timing, but there is no doubt that Maddon should stay as Cubs manager for as long as he wants. Joe is 64 and until the Reds hired Jim Riggleman, he was the oldest manager in the major leagues. But he certainly doesn’t seem his age; his energy level appears high to me and he has a knack of relating to today’s young players, a must for any modern manager. In fact, that’s probably his best trait, being able to understand every player on his team as an individual and bringing out the best in each one. Maddon changed the clubhouse culture to promote winning in a way that no other Cubs manager in decades could do. Leo Durocher, Jim Frey, Don Zimmer, Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella: All had success with the Cubs and the latter four took teams to the postseason. But none could get them over that World Series hump. Joe did.
Beyond all that, the 2018 season is probably Joe’s best managing since he’s come to Chicago. Think about it: 2015 was an unexpected bounce from 73 wins to 97 and a spot in the NLCS. Sure, with Joe’s hiring and the signing of Jon Lester, the Cubs figured to be improved in 2015 but not that improved. The 2016 championship season was a logical extension of the success from 2015; “Embrace The Target” was Joe’s slogan that year as the Cubs were expected to be great, and that all turned out to be true. But that season went almost on autopilot — until the World Series, when the Cubs went down three games to one and some of his managing decisions were questioned, perhaps rightfully so. Still, the Cubs did win the World Series, something many previous managers for over a century had tried to do and failed.
In 2017, there was a bit of a “World Series hangover,” and Joe had to mix and match many times. Still, the team made it to the NLCS again, and lost to a clearly better team.
But this year? With 40 percent of the expected starting rotation injured and/or ineffective? Losing his closer for two months? Losing his starting third baseman for two months? Having a constant flow of relievers out of Triple-A? People like to complain about Maddon’s lineups, but again, his mixing-and-matching has produced a team that’s currently on pace to win 96 games and likely win the N.L. Central comfortably. I don’t think any other current manager — save possibly Bruce Bochy, who’s headed to the Hall of Fame — could have done this with the squad he was presented with.
Beyond that, if the Cubs did let Maddon go after his deal expires post-2019, exactly who would you propose replacing him with? Don’t say “David Ross,” because it appears Ross is pretty happy with his part-time ESPN gig and isn’t in a hurry to get into full-time coaching or managing. There isn’t anyone on the current coaching staff who would be better, and there aren’t a lot of managerial free agents around who would be better, either, and don’t say “Joe Girardi,” because why would you do that? Girardi would likely cost as much as Maddon, and I don’t see that as anything but a lateral move at best.
What would make the most sense is, right after this season ends (hopefully with another World Series title!), to give Maddon a two-year extension. That would take him through 2021; he’ll be 68 in early 2022 and perhaps ready to retire at that point. That would also line up his deal to end at the same time that the contracts of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are set to expire, and at that point ownership will have to make a choice as to how to proceed with the entire front office.
Presuming the 2018 Cubs do wind up with 96 wins, Joe will have averaged 97 wins in his four years as Cubs manager. Three more years (through 2021) with that average would give Maddon 1,460 managerial wins in 18 seasons. That would rank 27th in MLB history — but then, there’s that Cubs drought-breaking World Series title on his resume, and perhaps one or two more before 2021. 17 of the 26 managers with more than 1,460 wins are already in the Hall of Fame, and two more (Bochy and Mike Scioscia) are likely headed there.
A Hall of Fame induction ceremony featuring Joe Maddon? Now that’s one I’d head to Cooperstown to attend.
And Joe’s on a Hall of Fame managerial track, I believe. You don’t let guys like that go. You give them contract extensions. The Cubs should do it, if not now in the heat of a pennant race, then as soon as the 2018 season ends.
The Cubs should give Joe Maddon a contract extension...
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Yes, but wait till after the 2018 season ends