First, let me start by saying that I don’t believe the Cubs are the reason Joe Maddon opted out of his contract, nor do I believe that they played dirty pool in getting him come to Chicago rather than renegotiating his deal in Tampa. I do believe, however, that they were acutely aware of the situation with Maddon and the Rays and that they wasted no time in going after him once he had indeed opted out.
Many have postulated that there’s no way Maddon, or any manager for that matter, would leave a gig without an assurance of where his next paycheck is coming from. I don’t believe that’s the case at all though; the carousel of professional coaches is forever spinning but there’s always room for an elite-level leader.
Maddon knew quite well that he would have his pick of the litter when it came to new jobs and it’s even possible that he was serious about sitting out a year if need be. I know the folks in Tampa might not want to admit it, but the Rays job isn’t necessarily the most desirable in baseball.
So all this talk of tampering is likely a mixture of anger, jealousy, and butthurt, but that doesn’t mean it can simply be dismissed. Even if it’s just an attempt to salvage a little dignity or steal a prospects, the Rays may somehow be able to make enough of a case to get something back from the Cubs.
MLB’s rules say “there shall be no negotiations or dealings respecting employment, either present or prospective, between any player, coach or manager and any club other than the club with which [the player] is under contract or acceptance of terms.” While both Theo Epstein and Alan Nero, Joe Maddon’s agent, have made it very clear that the Cubs did their due diligence and proceeded appropriately, the league may still want to discourage such moves in the future.
Baseball hasn’t been very harsh with the enforcement of its tampering rules in the past, but this situation is somewhat without precedent too. Most instances in the past have involved players, not managers. But even if the Cubs did send surreptitious notes to Joe Maddon through back channels to let him know that they’d be willing to talk if he were to opt out, what could MLB do about it?
Let’s take a look at the options:
Award the Rays a top prospect
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports wrote the other day that Tampa Bay could ask a very high price in return for the loss of their manager, namely Addison Russell or Javier Baez. Several people misunderstood this and believed that Rosenthal was saying that this was a legitimate possibility, but he was simply saying those are the guys the Rays would seek.
Aim for the moon, I guess. This simply isn’t going to happen, period. The evidence against the Cubs would have to prove that they not only let Maddon know they were interested, but that they also were the ones to let him know about the out clause in his contract.
Award the Rays a low-level prospect
This is a much more likely scenario, though it still requires the Rays to prove that the Cubs had contact with Maddon before he was officially a single man. I’d have no doubt such proof existed had Crane Kenney been in charge of this whole matter, but the Cubs’ baseball operations have not been prone to the same issues with communication that have plagued the business side.
Still, this team is familiar with giving up a prospect in exchange for signing a leader away from another team, as the Cubs sent minor league pitcher Chris Carpenter (not the former Cardinal of course) to Boston in exchange for Theo Epstein. Carpenter was a third-round pick in 2008 but was plagued by inconsistency in his time in the minors.
But the big difference in that situation was that Epstein was indeed still under contract with the Red Sox. He and the team were both more than happy to part ways, but Carpenter was more of a peace offering of sorts. Think of it like settling out of court just to avoid a lengthy trial. This could be a possibility just to get the Rays to let it go.
Fine the Cubs
Of all the possible outcomes, this would be most likely…if the Cubs are found to have tampered. Or in the case that MLB basically acts like a parent stepping between two quibbling siblings and says to them, “tell your brother you’re sorry.” The Cubs would be the big brother in this situation, exerting their superior size and strength over the little guy.
In either situation, the forced apology is little more than a formality, though it might serve as a warning to other teams. Even if the Cubs didn’t do anything wrong, it’s clear that baseball’s old guard doesn’t like the way it felt. And no sport is more in touch with its feelings and unwritten rules than baseball.
At the end of the day, this is likely an effort on the Rays’ behalf to appeal to their fans’ sensibilities. So far this season, they’ve traded David Price and seen their GM and coach leave for bigger markets. Then you’ve got the talk of a move to Montreal. Not a great series of PR events for a fanbase that’s been pretty fickle already.
MLB and its department of investigations will certainly do its due diligence, but as lawyer John Lowery wrote in a guest post for Cubs Den, the tampering claims “don’t appear to have merit.” Epstein and Nero have already done a good job of setting the timeline for the negotiations too, so absent some pretty damning evidence, there may be no case against the Cubs.
At the same time, baseball has taken steps in the past to protect its small market teams and to make sure that the game is being played on as “fair” a field as possible. And let’s not forget that this is the Cubs, the organizational incarnation of Murphy’s Law, we’re talking about.
But even on the off chance that they’re forced to send balm for the Rays’ chapped ass in the form of cash or a player, I think the Cubs will consider the cost well worth it. After all, it will pale in comparison to the amount they’re spending on renovations, rooftop purchases, and even Maddon’s contract.
And then there’s the matter of the $65 million they have available to spend this offseason, that according Bruce Levine’s report on 670 AM Sunday morning.
This move might not upset the Rays or to baseball traditionalists, but the Cubs couldn’t care less about that. They got their man and they’re moving forward in a big way, and that feels pretty good.