When Joe Maddon responded to reporters’ questions about his future with the Cubs by saying he hoped to be around for “a couple more years at least,” it all seemed pretty innocuous. The topic had come up again in the wake of two more ugly road losses that have become the unfortunate hallmark of this Cubs team and that many believe could cost Maddon his job.
But while the manager’s answers were the furthest thing from inflammatory, they may have crossed a line the front office drew in the sand this offseason. According to 670 The Score’s Dan Bernstein (full audio starting at 9:55 mark of player below), who cited information from a source, the Cubs are unhappy with Maddon’s public discussion of his contract status.
“The Cubs are pissed,” Bernstein explained. “They are not happy with Joe Maddon saying what he said where he said and when he said it, and this is a power move by Joe. The Cubs believe — at least the person that I talked to believes — what the Cubs are grumbling about…They’re unhappy that Joe himself did not honor the handshake…agreement not to talk about it.”
Exactly what was said behind closed doors is between the parties involved, but Theo Epstein stated publicly back in November that Maddon’s status would be re-evaluated at some point later in the 2019 season. Maddon’s agent, Alan Nero, was apparently on board with that strategy, or was at least well aware of it. And as Bernstein noted, team execs have stonewalled any subsequent lines of questioning on the matter.
In describing his “very, very high” optimism that he’ll remain with the Cubs beyond this season, Maddon rejected the idea that wins and losses would determine his fate. Rather, it was about reinvigorated relationships and communication with the players and his coaching staff that would be paramount.
But it’s his relationship and communication with the front office, which already appeared strained even before this latest report, that is more likely to decide things. To what extent you buy the information Bernstein shared, this isn’t the first time the Cubs have been nonplussed by something Maddon has said to the media.
Among other gaffes, the manager’s “Should I?” dismissal of a reporter’s question about whether Maddon had read the explosive blog post by Melisa Reidy, Addison Russell’s ex-wife, almost certainly rankled the front office. Then there comments like those Maddon made about fans having a “really ridiculous concept of bullpens and bullpen management,” which, while true in many cases, could be a sign that the pressure is getting to him.
Even more than what Maddon said, as Bernstein noted, is when he said it. Specifically, ahead of a series against an underperforming Phillies squad that could be looking to replace second-year skipper Gabe Kapler. What may have seemed on the outside as a simple answer to the renewal of a months-long line of questioning could have been viewed on the inside as tantamount to treason or betrayal.
That would be a really brazen flex by Maddon and it feels a little conspiratorial to view it as such, but it wouldn’t be the first time he’s thought about his next job before his last was over. After all, the Cubs surely couldn’t have known about the loophole that allowed Maddon to opt out of his deal with the Rays absent a tip from the manager’s camp.
I’m not suggesting that the Phillies have anything to do with this in the slightest, but Nero wouldn’t be doing his job if he wasn’t working every back channel to ensure his client is being paid well to run one team or another next season. If nothing else, this is a reminder that baseball is a complicated business with myriad moving parts and there’s a lot more to it than anyone on the outside is privy to.
Even if we hear nothing more about this particular wrinkle in Maddon’s Cubs tenure, it’s far from the last we’ve heard about his future with the team in general. And if their performance on the road doesn’t get ironed out soon, the chatter is only going to get louder.
Update: Epstein responded to the report Tuesday afternoon, calling it “baseless” and praising the way in which Maddon has addressed the media.