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Cubs Wed Oct 29 2014

The Dance to Get Joe Maddon is Worth It for the Cubs

Chicago CubsRick Renteria is an affable guy. He always seems to have a smile on his face unless Edwin Jackson has loaded the bases in the second inning while already down 3-0, though anyone would have smug look it that was happening for the third time in a month.

The Cubs got fantastic performances out of the guys they cared about most in 2014. Anthony Rizzo was arguably the best first basemen in the National League because he figured out how to hit left-handed pitching, and Starlin Castro found his hitting stroke by posting his best weighted on-base average, and surprisingly, the best walk rate of his career. Jake Arrieta turned himself into a potential ace with quite possible the nastiest slider in all of baseball, Kyle Hendricks proved that he could easily function as a back-of-the-rotation innings eater, and the three youngest guys in bullpen that threw more than 30 innings combined for 2.9 wins above replacement.

In terms of setting up the Cubs organization for a corner turning 2015, Renteria couldn't have done a much better job. He communicates well with every player, primarily because he's bilingual (something Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer preferred after they struck out landing Joe Girardi) and does a great job at handling the press. As far as his in-game tactician grade, he was fine for a guy that was a rookie manager, though he bunted a little too often for the sabermetrically inclined. According to Keith Law's sources (27 minute mark of that podcast), some folks in the organization were a little frustrated with Renteria's game-management and style in the dugout. It's probably something that could be ironed out during offseason meetings and general growth, but some believe it's a change he might not be able to make when the team starts winning.

Renteria isn't perfect, but no manager is. Their job is to get second-guessed at absolutely every opportunity. The best ones handle the media and their players well, and when it comes to the decisions between the lines, they do their best not to screw things up. You don't need a fantastic manager to make the playoffs or get far in October -- proven by Royals manager Ned Yost, who is widely considered one of the worst tacticians in baseball, yet is playing in Game 7 of the World Series tonight. It sure is helpful if you want to compete for a title on a yearly basis though, as proven by Bruce Bochy of the Giants, widely considered one of the top managers in baseball. That's exactly what the Cubs want to do.

Joe Maddon becoming a free agent was a shock to the baseball world. Few knew that he had an opt-out in his contract if Rays general manager Andrew Friedman left the team, which he did earlier this month to join the Dodgers for $7 million a year. Maddon tried negotiating for a significantly higher salary, but the Rays just didn't have the cash, and Maddon wasn't ready to spend his prime managing years trying to build up another low-budget winner in Tampa Bay. The Rays traded their ace pitcher in David Price, have a depleted farm system due to some poor drafting recently, have little money to spend, and few fans to enjoy the product. Maddon decided it was time to move on.

Though the timing might seem inopportune for the Cubs to make a play at Maddon because they already have Renteria, it actually couldn't be more perfect from a baseball perspective. Chicago is a team full of young talent with plenty more in the pipeline, and is ready to start competing for a playoff spot right now. Then comes Maddon, who is one of the few managers in baseball who has taken a young, losing team (127-197 in his first two years there) to a perennial playoff contender (six straight winnings seasons with 90-plus wins in five of them) and a World Series appearance while getting lapped in team salary. He's the perfect guy at the right time for a team full of greenhorns.

Epstein is no stranger to Maddon either, as Maddon was a leading candidate for the Red Sox managerial job in 2004 before it went to Terry Francona. Boston was a veteran squad, and the front office believed that someone with previous managerial experience (Maddon only had two stints as an interim leader for the Angels) was best for the franchise at that moment. Epstein's decision led to a pair of World Series titles.

The Cubs have been dead silent since Maddon became a free agent, while other teams that already have managers employed for next year have come out and said they aren't interested -- including the Dodgers, where Friedman now resides. Renteria has issued a statement saying he's focused on bringing a championship to Chicago, but he never specifically mentions managing next season.

A report from the Sun Times this morning says that the Cubs have had discussions with Maddon to be their manager going forward. Anything in regards to Maddon has to be handled extremely carefully by Epstein, as if things don't work out, he still has to back Renteria as the manager going forward. It could be messy, but this is exactly why Epstein is paid handsomely -- to make sure everything is done right.

What would the Cubs do with Renteria if they hire Maddon? That remains to be seen, but the only two options that make sense are to either pay him off, or give him a promotion within the organization. The latter seems unlikely because it would make for an awkward situation, but it's tough to pass up staying with the Cubs in any capacity at this point in time. Winning a World Series on the North side of Chicago is the holy grail in sports achievement. Jason McLeod turned down chances to interview for GM positions to see things through at Wrigley Field. The Cubs are a destination once again.

The bottom line is, the Cubs are smart for making a play at a great manager like Maddon. These opportunities rarely present themselves, and it's crazy not to strike while the iron is hot. Players in Major League Baseball want to play for Maddon because he has a fantastic reputation for being smart and honest. The problem in Tampa Bay was that they could never afford to spend a lot of money. The Cubs can, and the combination of cash and a well-known and well-liked manager could make the difference in a free agency winter that will be key to the Cubs' future.

In terms of staff, Epstein will more than likely stipulate that Chris Bosio remains pitching coach (he's done a wonderful job in that role), and newly hired John Mallee will need to stay on as hitting coach since he was just hired, with Eric Hinske staying at first base after turning down the Yankees hitting coach spot. Hinske played for Maddon in 2008 when they went to the World Series, and homered in Game 4 after being added to the roster before the game to replace an injured Cliff Floyd. A bunch of holdovers might be tough to swallow for a guy of Maddon's stature, but he wouldn't be guaranteed any of his staff from Tampa because they're all still under contract, and he's still getting a chance to manage a storied franchise.

So when will we know the verdict? Friday is more than likely the day we'll find out who's managing the Cubs in 2016. The team is likely receiving heavy pressure from MLB not to upstage the World Series, and though it ends tonight, they'll want the talk on Thursday to remain all about Game 7 and the new champions.

These have been a tough few days for Rick Renteria, but if the Cubs land one of the best modern-day managers in baseball, you won't care. They will have made another move in putting together a perennial playoff contender.

 
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