Like a lit match hitting a powder keg, Twitter exploded today following the news of Joe Maddon opting out of his remaining year with the Rays. Not only was the announcement newsworthy in Tampa (if they remember they still have a baseball team) but also in Chicago and Los Angeles, where the Cubs and Dodgers seem to be the suitors at the front of the line, even though both have managers wrapped up beyond this year.
Today’s move is very intriguing because it leaves more questions than answers, but perhaps—just perhaps—if you do a little thinking, there may be a little fire to the Cubs smoke.
First off, why would he opt out of the last year of his deal? The answer could be one of a couple things. He may have a back-channel agreement with a team or he wants to take a year off for a cushy TV job or simply to rest away from the game while the offers pile up for a 2016 gig.
If you saw my earlier tweet, I originally leaned toward him taking a year off, but after giving it a little more thought, I think there is more at play here. A lot more.
You see, the Cubs have this TV deal or deals in the 11th hour of negotiations right now, so the timing couldn’t be more perfect to the outlets with which they are dealing to get into a bidding war for a team that is switching from manager-in-training to elite manager.
Crane Kenney explained at a Cubs season ticket holder event a couple weeks back that they are close to a deal or deals but they want to be sure they get it absolutely right. While the sales guys chomp at the bit to wrap up advertisers and sponsors for a season that starts in just six months, they may wind up with what those in the sales biz call gravy.
Upping the ante for the TV deals and eventual roster of TV sponsors and advertisers would be the signing of a top-of-the-rotation guy like Lester and/or the swap—although I hate the idea—for Cole Hamels. Bringing in Maddon would serve as a major bargaining chip in attracting more free agents, as it is pretty well known throughout the league that he is a player’s manager.
In the matter of a week, between the acquisitions of Maddon and one or more top arms, the Cubs suddenly go from speculative to the serious contender Jed and Theo keep telling us the Cubs will be soon.
I know this is all speculative, but if you read the tea leaves on this one and know how aggressive Tom Ricketts is, a Maddon to the Cubs thing may not be just a pipe dream. It may be real. The money picked up in TV revenue, sponsorships and ticket sales would more than make up for the money owed Ricky.
My prediction? The Cubs make him the highest-paid manager in baseball not long after the final out of the World Series. It’s a bold prediction, I know, but I think it is pretty spot on for all involved.