The Chicago Cubs officially named Joe Maddon their new manager, signing him to a five-year contract worth an estimated $25 million, tying him as the highest paid manager in the majors with his mentor, Anaheim Angels manager Mike Soscia. Maddon is a game-changing manager. The 60-year-old manager is expected to quickly mold the Cubs young and talented roster into a contender.
Many inside the league are not happy about Maddon’s power play. The Rays are angered with Maddon’s decision to take the Cubs position and are considering filing tampering charges against Chicago. But tampering is very difficult to prove. Maddon’s agent Alan Nero denies any wrongdoing by the Cubs saying the ex-Rays’ manager simply took advantage of a clause in his contract that kicked in after Tampa’s general manager Andrew Friedman left to take over as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ President of Baseball Operations. The clause was if Friedman left the organization, Maddon could follow suit.
Other insiders think the Cubs manager got shafted. After praising manager Rick Renteria for the job he did at the end of this season, President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein fired Renteria to land Maddon. Epstein explained that Maddon’s availability was a unique situation saying the Cubs faced a “clear dilemma: be loyal to Rick or be loyal to the organization. In the business of trying to win a championship for the first time in 107 years, the organization has priority over any one individual.” The Cubs were 73-89 in the one season under Renteria.
As Tampa Bay’s manager, Maddon led Tampa to their first winning season, first playoff appearance, first division title, and first American League pennant, each happening in 2008. From there he took Tampa to three more playoff appearances, including a division title. Under Maddon’s guidance, the Rays won 90 or more games in five of his eight seasons with the Rays, and is a two-time American League Manager of the Year, winning in both 2008 and 2011.
The Cubs are almost a mirror image of what the Rays were prior to the 2008 season, a young malleable roster ready to make a big leap, led by players such as second baseman Javier Baez, shortstop Starlin Castro, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and outfielder Junior Lake. The Cubs also have one of the better farm systems, ranked sixth according to Bleacher Report, highlighted by shortstop Addison Russell (acquired this past summer for pitcher Jeff Samardzija) and third baseman Kris Bryant. These players should flourish under Maddon’s leadership.
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Unlike the Rays, the Cubs have big money to play with, and are expected to be major players in free agency. Big names such as Oakland Athletic’s and former Boston Red Sox’ ace Jon Lester and Tigers ace and 2013 American League Cy Young winner Max Scherzer have both been rumored targets for the North Siders of the Windy City.
Maddon is already making waves in Chicago. During his introductory press conference last Monday, the 60 year old guaranteed the Cubs will make the playoffs next season. Maddon cited the exciting prospect of breaking “the curse” and the young but talented roster as the main reasons why he decided to take the job. But he was very quick to give thanks to the opportunity the Rays organization gave him.
The Cubs have not won a World Series in over 100 years (1908 was their last championship), and have not made it back to the World Series since 1945, when the curse was put on the franchise. Accounts differ on what exactly happened but according to folklore, Billy Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, was reportedly told to leave Wrigley Field, home of the Cubbies, since the odor of his pet goat bothered neighboring fans – apparently it was not unusual people to bring pets to the ballpark. An enraged Sianis then declared: “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.” They have not made a World Series appearance since then.
The Cubs have come close a couple of occasions. In 1984, the Cubs were knocked out of the National League Championship Series in five games by the San Diego Padres, and then, in 1989, the San Francisco Giants also beat them at the NLCS in five. 2003 was the most famous close call. Chicago was five outs away from making it back to the World Series for the first time in nearly 60 years. But in game six of the NLCS Florida Marlins second baseman Luis Castillo lined a ball down the line in left. Cubs left fielder Moises Alou leaped to make the catch, but a fan, Steve Bartman, got in the way as the ball dropped into the stands. Cubs starting pitcher Mark Prior then walked Castillo on a wild pitch that allowed Marlins centerfielder Juan Pierre to advance over to third. From there Marlins started an eight run inning, winning Game 6. Bartman was escorted out of Wrigley Field and received death threats because of his actions. The Marlins took Game 7 the next night and went on to beat the New York Yankees in the World Series.
Theo Epstein has had his way with breaking curses. As general manager of the Boston Red Sox the organization won their first World Series title in 86 years in 2004, breaking what was called the Curse of the Bambino. The curse “began” when Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold star outfielder Babe Ruth to the Yankees to help finance one of his musicals.
With Maddon now at the helm, the Cubs appear ready to break out. Armed with money to play with, expect Chicago to be playoff contenders this year and World Series contenders for the coming years after.