It seems like heresy to even throw out the idea that Joe Maddon could be out as Cubs manager prior to the conclusion of his five-year deal at the end of 2019, but some in the industry believe it’s a strong possibility. During his appearance on 1070 The Fan’s Dan Dakich Show, NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan cited a well-known baseball insider who said chances are “better than 50 percent” that Maddon would be relieved of his duties if the Cubs fall to the Rockies.
Kaplan was adamant that this was not his personal speculation, but that it was coming via the anonymous individual with whom he was conversing during the recent Pirates series at Wrigley. Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard of industry buzz that Maddon’s seat could be a little warm, though an earlier report from USA Today’s Bob Nightengale may have been focused more on the manager simply not receiving an extension.
Maddon called that report “actually dumb” when asked about it in late August, and it’s entirely possible that’s exactly what any of this is. It’s also possible that his seat really is warm enough to throw off a little smoke, if not quite fire. Yet.
One way to cause smoke and fire is with friction, which Kaplan spoke of between Maddon and the front office. When you get down to it, that would have to be the primary reason to part ways with a manager who’s led the Cubs to four consecutive 90-plus-win seasons and resultant playoff berths. While most of the drama between manager and execs will remain behind closed doors, the well-connected TV host specifically noted displeasure with how Maddon’s decision to have Pedro Strop bat in Washington led to the closer pulling his hamstring.
And the only reason Strop was closing games is because Brandon Morrow was injured, which some believe was a product of unnecessary overuse. Kaplan mentioned Morrow pitching on three consecutive days, which happened from May 31 – June 2 against the Mets, as the possible nexus for what eventually became a season-ending stress reaction/bone bruise in the closer’s right elbow.
Then you have Maddon’s initial reaction to the blog post written by Melisa Reidy, Addison Russell’s ex-wife, which contained allegations of psychological and physical abuse. Word around the organization is that Theo Epstein was not at all happy with Maddon flippantly answering “Should I?” when asked whether he’d read the blog.
I want to make it perfectly clear here that Kaplan did not bring up the blog post or the manager’s reaction to it in his conversation with Dakich. That is all on my end. Nor is Kap the one generating the idea that Maddon’s future is as much of a coin flip as the Wild Card game. But in mentioning the injuries, which may or may not have resulted directly from Maddon’s choices, Kaplan was merely offering context from his own direct knowledge to what his source shared with him.
One thing I always say when talk turns to replacing a successful and/or long-tenured coach/manager is that you’d better have a solid succession plan in place. And if what this anonymous source shared is anywhere close to true, that’s exactly what the Cubs are working on (and they may have been for several months, more below). Kaplan named three potential successors to Maddon, all of whom have significant ties to the organization.
Anyone want to take a guess at who they are before your eyes scroll down?
The names he listed were Joe Girardi, David Ross, and Mark DeRosa, three guys with very different pedigrees but with significant ties to the organization. Girardi seems an odd fit given his old-school tendencies and the way he reportedly butted heads with the Yankees’ front office over their desire to employ more advanced analytics. But he’s a Chicago guy and former Cub who would offer new perspective over Maddon’s more laid-back approach.
Ross would obviously be a hit with the fans and, presumably, the players on the roster who were his teammates in 2015 and ’16. As a former catcher, he was something of a field general who had to have a perspective of the game as a whole. His backup role would have afforded him plenty of time alongside coaches to absorb strategy as well. And now that Grandpa Rossy is working for ESPN, he’s getting an even broader view. Going from the booth to the dugout seemed to serve Aaron Boone well.
DeRosa is an interesting one because he’s been on MLB Network for several years and isn’t as closely aligned with this current Cubs group. Then again, maybe those are good things and he’d have fewer preconceptions about how things should be. He was also among three potential coaching additions the Cubs reached out to this past offseason with an eye toward grooming them as managerial candidates, according to Jon Heyman
But now I’ve probably gotten too far ahead of myself and should just leave off with talk of how these guys might fit.
So to re-Kap: There are some who believe Joe Maddon’s job is in jeopardy if the Cubs don’t advance to the NLDS, but we’re not talking about staggering odds. Also, the Cubs have likely identified potential successors to Maddon, one of whom overlaps with a report back in March (and I’m not discounting the possibility that Heyman is responsible for both). Finally, not everything is sunshine and rainbows between Maddon and the Cubs front office.
Take this all for what it’s worth, but I will say that Kaplan is very plugged in to what’s going on with the Cubs and none of this is entirely new information. As such, I think we have to consider it a fairly real possibility. When all is said and done, I do think Maddon is back for 2019, though I wouldn’t put bets on anything past that.