The Cubs are too busy embracing the target and trying not to suck to worry about anything beyond the next game, let alone who’s managing the team in 2020. Which is why they’re not even thinking about an extension for Joe Maddon, whose original five-year contract runs through the end of next season.
“Nothing like that is even a thought in our mind right now,” Theo Epstein told members of the media Tuesday. “And probably not Joe’s, either. We’re just focused on trying to make the absolute most of this season, which means, in order, winning the division, playing really well in October, and trying to get another ring.”
So where does that put them in terms of timing?
“I’d say the appropriate time, for us internally, is to start thinking about [an extension for Maddon] after we’ve played our last game of the year,” Epstein said.
Waiting to discuss Maddon’s future shouldn’t come as a surprise when we’re talking about a front office that waited until late September of 2016 to re-up their own deals. Epstein hammered out his extension just before the end of that championship season, engineering pacts for Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod immediately after.
But what’s good for the mallard isn’t always good for the drake, so it’s not like the Cubs are simply holding off because that’s how Epstein handled his own situation. Well, maybe that’s part of it. More of it is the matter of Maddon’s performance and his fit with a team that won’t be nearly as young after next year as it was when he first rolled into town in his shaggin’ wagon.
“He’s done the same great job that he’s done since he’s been here,” Epstein said of Maddon. “We’ve got a deep roster, and he’s managed to use the whole thing and keep guys in spots where they can succeed. He creates an environment that gives guys a lot of freedom and allows them to sort of be themselves and thrive.”
Epstein gave Maddon credit for handling the various misfortunes that have befallen their team this season, which, of course he did. Not that any of that is untrue or even a stretch, but it’s not like the team president is going to throw one of his guys under the bus. I mean, this isn’t John Mozeliak we’re talking about here.
There is perhaps a little something more substantive beneath Epstein’s platitudes, though, a little more “let’s wait and see.” There’s also the matter of Maddon’s contract, which jumped by $1 million per season as a result of the Cubs’ World Series win. He’s been worth every penny of it and then some, but most new deals don’t pay less money than those they replaced and the $6 million Maddon’s earning is already a hefty salary for a manager.
Then you consider his age. Though you wouldn’t know it from the way he acts or dresses, the 64 candles on Maddon’s last birthday cake are more than all but one other active MLB manager has had to blow out (former Cubs skipper Jim Riggleman is actually 3 months older). And he’ll have had added two more by the start of the 2020 season, which is when a new contract would start.
It’s fair to wonder whether the fire in Maddon’s belly will still be lit by then and whether it’ll still burn hot enough to get his players going if it is. There’s been no sign of the flame guttering this season, but it’s impossible to predict what could change in the next few months, let alone a whole ‘nother season. If there’s even the slightest concern that Maddon’s message isn’t carrying the same impact, the Cubs would have no problem moving in a different direction.
Absent some sort of obvious shift, though, it’s easier to envision a new deal for the skipper whose lettuce is back to being as silver as his tongue. For as much as people want to pick apart his lineups and bullpen choices, Maddon’s strength has always been the way he manages egos and balances playing time. That’s not something likely to change with time or an aging roster. If anything, Maddon’s guidance could be even more important as the Cubs transition from a team of phenoms to one of highly-paid veterans.
At the end of the day, baseball is a business and we’ve seen some very successful managers fired or simply not re-signed for the cardinal sin of failing to win in the playoffs. And that could well be what decides Maddon’s fate. Another of their patented late runs could see him ensured of a few more years in Chicago. Falling short of the lofty expectations he’s at least partially responsible for creating might push those extension talks at least into next season.
This isn’t more than a whisper in the cacophony of more pressing Cubs conversations at this point, but it’ll grow in volume once the season starts to fade in the rearview. Exactly how those talks go may depend on how long it takes the cheers to die down in October.