Thoughts on Maddon’s Non-Existent Extension, Machado’s Perception, Chili’s Cold Shoulder

The truth is quicksilver, darting about in whichever direction the winds of perception blow it. And though I’m probably thinking too much of myself in even attempting to encase that truth in a thermometer, I do feel it’s worthwhile to take the temperature of some timely topics affecting the Cubs to varying degrees.

First up is Joe Maddon’s extension, or lack thereof, a situation that has led to plenty of speculation as to what the manager’s future employment status says about his relationship with members of the front office. There had even been whispers that Maddon’s job would be in jeopardy if the Cubs didn’t make a deep playoff run. Well, they lost in the Wild Card and he’s still around, so that was false, right?

Well, not exactly.

The idea that he wouldn’t finish out his deal is perhaps dubious, but that doesn’t mean the relationship between Maddon and his bosses isn’t strained. Nor does it mean said strain is anything out of the ordinary. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer may very well have been upset with the way Maddon deployed Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop. They surely hated his “Should I?” dismissal of the Melissa Reidy-Russell blog post late in the season.

But are those things enough to prevent the Cubs from talking contract turkey with a man who’s led the team to an average of 97 victories per season, not to mention a World Series title, in four years at the helm? Hardly. Despite a pair of parroted reports to the contrary, Maddon’s camp has not sought an extension, at least not in earnest, and is comfortable letting the chips fall where they may here in his final season under contract.

“There is nothing wrong,” Alan Nero, Maddon’s agent, told the Tribune’s Paul Sullivan Tuesday. “I have all the faith in the world that we’ll get this done when the time is appropriate, when it’s ready.”

“There was not a problem between Theo and Joe. Joe wasn’t worried about (an extension). Theo wasn’t worried about it. There was plenty of time. We have the offseason. We have the GM meetings. We have the winter meetings. We have spring training.”

Aside from Sullivan writing that the Cubs have averaged only 93 wins under Maddon, it’s hard to find fault with anything said here. Unless, of course, Nero is simply handing out pairs of rose-colored glasses so the situation looks better than it really is.

This is a situation in which we’re dealing with highly successful, highly competitive individuals who understand that tomorrow doesn’t need to be guaranteed today. Epstein and his top lieutenants didn’t extend their own original five-year deals until September of 2016, an event they celebrated by taking in a game from the bleachers.

Whether a new deal for Maddon gets done or not, he could have even more talent to manage during his fifth season in Chicago. Or perhaps I should say he could have more egos to balance, particularly if the Cubs go after one of the top two free agents on the market.

There’s been a lot of talk on this site and elsewhere about Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, which one might be a better fit, and an interesting narrative has been established. Many casual observers have labeled Harper a caustic prima donna while Machado is seen as something of a low-profile good guy. It’s really odd.

Not that I’m saying Machado is a bad dude or that Harper is actually selfless in all regards, just that the perception speaks largely to a lack of exposure. But with Machado on the big stage in the NLCS, the bright lights are revealing some blemishes on what some had thought was a perfect complexion.

The criticism began in Game 2 of the Dodgers/Brewers series when Machado failed to respect 90 on a grounder to short. He overcompensated for that in the next game with a pair of overzealous slides, the motivation for which may have been little more than spite. We don’t know because Machado wasn’t available for comment after the game.

As for the hustle down the line, though, the superstar was plenty clear.

“Obviously I’m not going to change, I’m not the type of player that’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle,’ and run down the line and slide to first base and … you know, whatever can happen,” Machado told Ken Rosenthal (subscription) earlier this week. “That’s just not my personality, that’s not my cup of tea, that’s not who I am.’’

Now Machado is being labeled as a “dirty player” after it appeared that he intentionally kicked Jesus Aguilar’s foot on a play at first base. I’ll let you make up your own mind on that one, I wasn’t actually watching when it happened. Rather than make this a hit piece on Machado, and I swear that’s not what this is meant to be, I’m trying to point on that he’s not some choir boy to Harper’s heathen.

Both men are phenomenal baseball players, both want to be paid a boatload of money in exchange for their talents, and neither is a perfect human being. In other words, they’re pretty much like every other professional athlete. Which means any manager or coach is going to have to learn what makes them tick in order to best work with them, something former Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis probably wouldn’t be able to do.

Davis openly admitted to the communication problems that were made evident when he was fired after one year on the job, telling Gordon Wittenmyer his “message to the millennial players” needed to change. He also threw plenty of shade at his charges, indicating that they were unreceptive to his message and that they had to make changes as well.

“What I know I guess doesn’t matter,” Davis lamented. “I think what really matters is what they want, the players. I learned a lot this year,” he added. “I learned that the next situation I get in, before I say yes to a job, I need to make sure I know the personnel I’ll be dealing with in the clubhouse.”

Dude, seriously, you didn’t know the personnel? That’s weak sauce at best and flat-out ignorance at worst. Regardless of his past employment and immersion in that team’s roster, Davis can’t say that he wasn’t aware of the players the Cubs featured. And even if he was oblivious up until the time of his new job offer, he should have done his due diligence.

And here’s the thing: Maybe the problem is that Davis didn’t bother to take the time to get to know the players. Wittenmyer cited the former player’s strong resume as a big league hitter and coach, but perhaps that’s at the root of the issue. If Davis just walked into the clubhouse and expected everyone to buy into his message based solely on his credentials, he was sorely mistaken.

Not that it matters now, since what’s done is done. And it’s done because Davis couldn’t get it done, whether the players tuned him out or he turned them off from the start. And based on the picture he painted, it sounds like there was a lot of the latter going on. I don’t care how much cachet you carry, you can’t just come in as the new guy and start suggesting changes to people you don’t even know.

So, yeah, the truth of the matter is never as simple as a sound bite or a narrative, which I suppose I could have said from the start and saved you all this time.

Update: Nero joined 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Wednesday morning to discuss Maddon’s status, reiterating that any friction with the front office was media fabrication and that he intends to pursue an extension this winter. Then he went in on Maddon’s handling of the Addison Russell situation, which was…well, it was something.

Nero may want to put his fiddle down.

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