Is Joe Maddon Worth It?

No sooner had the news of Joe Maddon opting out of his Tampa Bay Rays contract hit the wire than speculation began in earnest as to his next destination. Thing is, there’s currently only one managerial opening in all of baseball, and that’s in Minnesota. Other thing is, reports are that Maddon wants to be in a big market.

I’m pretty sure everyone reading this is aware of the blog’s name, so I’m going to dispense with talk of all but the Cubs for the purposes of this post. After all, several sources, including ESPN’s Buster Olney, listed the Cubs as the frontrunners to land the bespectacled skipper.

Given the thoughts of many that Maddon wouldn’t have opted out of Tampa without some sort of wink, wink understanding already in place, some have brought up the notion of tampering. And while it’s reasonable to believe that the Cubs organization could have made it known that they’d welcome Maddon with open arms, does that really need to be the case?

I mean, if George Clooney isn’t happy in a relationship, does he need to have assurance that he can land another date once he walks away? Of course not, he’s George Clooney. And Joe Maddon is like the George Clooney of baseball, only without the embarrassment of Batman and Robin forever haunting him.

The Cubs wouldn’t have needed to make Maddon aware of their interest because of course they’d be interested. For years, the man has been one of the most well-respected managers in the game, routinely guiding teams with a low payroll and little support into contenders.

So why did he leave then? Given how little pressure was placed on him, it’s a relatively sure bet that Maddon could have stayed in Tampa in perpetuity with little worry about the bench ever getting too warm beneath him. And had Andrew Friedman not left for Hollywood, that’s exactly what may have happened.

But when Friedman agreed to take the reins of the LA Dodgers, it set in motion a Rube Goldberg device of sorts. It not only sparked a bit of wanderlust in Maddon, who saw his boss head for a bigger payday in a bigger city, but it literally opened the door for him to leave as well.

Maddon claims that he was not aware of it until the Rays told him, but Friedman’s departure is what triggered the opt-out in Maddon’s contract. Even if he had been told about that clause immediately upon hearing of Friedman’s decision, that would mean Maddon made his own choice in less than 10 days.

That doesn’t sound to me like a guy who spend a lot of time weighing options or being tampered with, but I suppose I’m a little biased. No, I believe Maddon realized a while ago that he’d done about all he could in Tampa; seeing David Price traded with a year of control left may have iced it and the opt-out clause simply made it much more convenient for him.

But this is professional baseball, and while new challenges and legacy are nice little buzzwords, it all comes down to one thing. The grass is indeed greener and more plentiful on the other side, particularly when compared to that abomination of a ballpark in St. Pete. That said, Maddon is going to be looking to stack a whole lot more dead presidents with a new deal.

Reports have him seeking a 5-year, $25 million pact, which would put him atop the list of the highest-paid managers in the game. Interestingly enough, he’s already a part of that group after earning $2 million for his work in 2014. Know who’s not in the top 6: Ned Yost and Bruce Bochy.

The Cubs already have a manager in place, a guy who’s only been on the job for one season after replacing a guy who was only there for two seasons after replacing another guy who was only in the role for one season (and part of another on an interim basis). Do they really want to be a team that’s employed six different managers in five seasons? What does that say for the stability of the team and the position? And does a manager really win games anyway?

Whoo, that’s a lot of questions. As for the stability of the team and the possibility of spurning Ricky Renteria after only one year on the job, I equate it to the oft-seen narrative of fairy tales in which the heroine is forced to marry for convenience due to some sort of extenuating circumstances involving the male antagonist. She and the audience are forced to make due…until her soulmate overcomes the odds to stop the wedding and carry his love into happily ever after.

In that, the Friedman move is a real-life deus ex machina that may allow the Cubs to be united with the man who would have been their first choice from the beginning. Sure, they could learn to love Ricky in time. But he was never really the permanent choice, and if the organization is really trying to do all it can to fulfill Theo Epstein’s goals for 2015, Maddon’s the guy.

Renteria fit the Cubs’ stated criteria for a manager to replace Dale Sveum, specifically in terms of communication. They needed a guy who could better relate to players, media and execs, and Ricky has done very well in those facets.

But talking a good game and managing one are two different things. Given the increased immediacy of the Cubs timeline, they may be less willing to wait on their manager to mature along with their young team.

And back to the question about whether managers win games. I hope you’re sitting down for this, ’cause I’m about to blow your mind: they don’t.

Well, at least not a lot of them. In terms of in-game decisions, you’re probably looking at very little difference in terms of the number of games a great manager will win over a mediocre one. And a bad manager probably only costs his team around five losses, many of which can be overcome by giving him better talent.

But as Tom has written in the past, there are patterns in a skipper’s handling of the bullpen or even a platoon situation that have ramifications over the course of a season. The impact might not be immediate, but the aggregate might be felt down the stretch or in a playoff situation.

Would you rather run with a guy who’s trying to learn that on the fly or one who’s been there and done that?

But even more than his decision-making, it’s Maddon’s gravitas that may be his best asset. Players won’t come to Chicago to play for Ricky Renteria, but they will come for Maddon. That is probably most true for those who have experience playing for or against him in the AL East, not that the Cubs are in pursuit of guys like that or anything.

And if I may get a little Platonic here, the idea or concept of Joe Maddon may be of even greater importance than the man himself. Pursuing and signing him would represent a true desire to win now.

Epstein has already expressed as much, but that could be construed as just so much rhetoric. This would truly be a shot across the collective bow of the rest of the NL, if not all of MLB.

I wrote recently that the Cubs need a guy like Hunter Pence, a guy who can rally the team and who makes the clubhouse and ballpark a little more fun. If Maddon isn’t actually that guy himself, he surely knows how to foster him when he comes along.

For evidence of that, one need look no further than the Rays’ themed road trips. Everyone had fun with the Cubs rookie event this year, during which all the new guys wore superhero outfits, and that’s just the sort of thing Maddon is known for.

You know what sells tickets and gets eyeballs on TV screens? Fun. Well, okay, winning; And with negotiations for a new TV deal and a need to increase ticket sales, the Cubs need to increase both the winning and the fun.

Expectations for the Cubs have been low these past few years, but that’s all gone now. They can no longer afford to sit back and wait on development, of either players or the manager. They need a leader who understands how to work under and, even more, how to alleviate the inevitable pressure on this team in coming seasons.

So is Joe Maddon worth it? Absolutely. And if he puts the Cubs in position to win, he’ll be worth twice what he’s asking for.

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