Tamper Bay: MLB Investigating Cubs Over Maddon Hiring

The smoke has officially turned into fire in the Rays’ claim that the Cubs tampered with Joe Maddon to entice him to leave the welcoming climes of Tampa for the cruel and unforgiving desolation of the Midwest. After speculation that they would pursue charges, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that Tampa Bay formally requested that MLB look into the Cubs’ managerial hiring process.

The Rays contend that Maddon only left the post he had held since 2006 because he was made aware that he’d have an offer waiting for him should he choose to do so. Since baseball’s rules prevent communication with an employee of another club, the Cubs would have committed an infraction if they were found to have skirted the rules.

The Cubs, Maddon, and Maddon’s agent, Alan Nero, all contend that everything was on the up-and-up, but they’re not the ones who get to make the call. No, that task falls to MLB’s Department of Investigation, the same outfit that was responsible for the research into the Alex Rodriguez/Biogenesis kerfuffle.

In that case, I would advise Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to only submit the mid-stream portion of their talks with Maddon if they are asked to provide testimony in this matter. As any psuedo-lawyer will tell you, that section of conversation contains sub-clinical levels of dishonesty and tampering.

In all seriousness though, they fact that MLB is actually investigating this at all is somewhat concerning. The facts, however, do appear to be heavily weighted in the Cubs’ favor. Consider, for instance, the fact that Maddon was only set to earn an estimated $2 million in one season remaining on his Rays contract.

That’s actually a princely sum, particularly in light of Tampa’s general thriftiness. But just like any other elite performer, Maddon was surely aware that he’d be worth far more on the open market. And you can be even more sure that Alan Nero was aware that his client was worth more. After all, that’s his job.

So it was that when Andrew Friedman’s departure for LA triggered an out-clause in Maddon’s deal, he used it to become a free agent. It’s possible that the Cubs knew more about Maddon’s contract than the manager himself, but it’s more likely that Nero and the Rays were the parties responsible for making Maddon aware of the loophole.

It is believed that Maddon had initially asked the Rays for $12 million over 3 years, to be paid in increasing annual amounts of $3 million, $4 million, and $5 million. It is also reported that the Rays settled on an offer of 3 years that would be worth $9 million. That’s a difference of 33%, or $3 million, over the life of the deal.

While neither Nero nor Rays general manager Matt Silverman have offered comment at the ongoing GM Meetings, it’s known that the Rays did not receive a counter-offer to their deal, which would mean that negotiations between the parties had ended. I don’t know about you, but if I was presented with an offer that fell that far short of my expectations, I would probably look elsewhere for what I felt was fair market value.

In an earlier post, I had addressed the matter of tampering and what measures MLB might take if the Cubs are found to have been in violation of the established rules. One thing I failed to mention then was the possibility of suspensions. In 1977, Braves owner Ted Turner was suspended for one year for tampering with the free agency of free agent Gary Matthews.

But this situation is slightly different than the one that involved Sarge and Jane Fonda’s ex. Most notably, Tom Ricketts’ name has been absent from any talk of the Cubs’ negotiations with their new manager. That means that, were a suspension to be levied, it would be Epstein and/or Hoyer who would be barred from working with their team.

Depending on the timing of the investigation, any sort of ban resulting from it could significantly cripple the Cubs’ much-rumored offseason dealings. After all the feel-good rah-rah sessions being held in the various corners of Cubdom, such a penalty would be a crushing blow. Then again, there’s a a not-insignificant segment of fans that would simply shrug their shoulders and say that it was bound to happen.

But anything as severe as a suspension would likely come as the result of a member of the Cubs front office actually lying to MLB officials. While we have no first-hand knowledge of the conversations between those parties, the information Theo Epstein has shared indicates that the Cubs have been forthright throughout the entire process.

When all is said and done, I expect the Cubs to come away with little more than a slap on the wrist and an admonition to not hire any more employees away from small-market clubs that can’t pay them as much. At the very worst, I could see them having to give up a draft pick in the 4th or 5th round neighborhood, though, given the Rays’ recent drafting history, that’s only a small step up from nothing.

Then again, this is the Cubs we’re talking about here.

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