Theo Epstein Following a Familiar Script with Joe Maddon
Lots of fans and media like to compare the Cubs rebuild to the construction of the Cardinals organization. Whether you’re making a positive or negative comparison, it’s hard to argue the similarities therein.
The Cardinals built through their farm system and made shrewd moves with the Major League roster, pairing Ray Lankford, Mark McGwire, and Darryl Kile with young studs like Matt Morris, Rick Ankiel, JD Drew, and Albert Pujols.
In a frequently-referenced smear piece regarding how Epstein is running his organization, Rick Telander asked: “Has Epstein ever wondered why the small-market Cardinals never go to the bottom of the division and stink for years?” Telander believes the Cardinals never threw away three full seasons to build up their juggernaut.
And Rick is right. Instead, the Cards wallowed in mediocrity for the first five seasons of the Walt Jocketty regime, amassing a 381-409 record during that period.
Jocketty fired his manager less than 50 games into his first season as GM and let an interim guy take over. That manager was Joe Torre, by the way, but for the sake of this story that’s not important. Going into the offseason of 1996, the Cardinals made a huge splash that set the stage for eight Central Division titles, four pennants, and two World Series trophies in the last fifteen years. They signed Tony La Russa as the new manager.
Of course, that team wasn’t truly ready for contention yet (although they took the Central with 88 wins in ’96). But in 2000, the Cards went on a run fueled by good young players, smart pickups, and pitchers that were magically fixed by Dave Duncan. That machine has continued to produce over the years and is well equipped going forward, even if their manager is now Mike Matheny and La Russa and Duncan are long gone.
Do you see where I’m going with this? Theo Epstein has been searching for his Tony La Russa since he arrived with the Cubs, allowing two years of Dale Sveum before going after Joe Girardi last offseason. When that failed to produce even a formal meeting (despite what Dan Bernstein said at the time) before Girardi re-signed with the Yankees, he went with nice-guy Rick Renteria. And by all accounts, the Cubs are relatively happy with the results of what they asked him to do in 2014.
But they have been slightly concerned by his handling of the bullpen and in-game decisions, even if they finished 2014 with every intention of letting him learn and grow with his young roster. But Maddon changes everything. I’d be willing to bet that if the Cubs could sign Maddon to manage the team and retain Renteria in some capacity to work with young prospects and Latin players like Starlin Castro, they’d do it in a heartbeat.
But that seems like somewhat of a long-shot, as managers don’t usually like to stick around in organizations that essentially fire them for someone better. Which, if this dream becomes reality, is a bit of a shame. Not only do I think Renteria has the intelligence to grow into a very good manager, but he’s also a nice guy. He simply looks like a fun uncle or grandpa. Couldn’t you see Ricky putting on a fake beard and Santa suit and working at the mall?
But in the name of business, that stuff isn’t important. I’m sure Joe Torre understood when he was fired by the Cardinals. I doubt many of the Best Fans in Baseball regret the move either. If the Cubs can indeed bring in Joe Maddon they absolutely need to do it immediately, no matter the cost. The off-season is shaping up to be very interesting. Here’s to hoping the Cubs’ own fifteen-year run is around the corner.