Joe Maddon doesn’t seem like a big hip-hop fan, but he may have been listening to Method Man and Redman prior to Sunday’s series finale in Cincinnati. That seems like as good an explanation as any for his response to questions during pregame media availability about his level of optimism that he’ll earn an extension from the Cubs.
“It’s very high, yeah,” Maddon said. “Very high. Very, very high. I’m operating in that I believe we’ll be together for a couple more years at least.”
If it seems like odd timing for the media to be jumping on this topic again right now, consider just how badly the Cubs had played over the previous two games in Cincy. And over the previous two series in the Queen City in which they’d gone 2-4. And over the entire season on the road, which had seen Maddon’s squad put up a 22-35 record through Saturday that included going 0-7 in divisional road series prior to a tie with the Reds.
Still, these questions from the beat aren’t drummed up absent some sort of catalyst. That may well have come from Jon Greenberg of The Athletic, who recently wondered aloud ($) whether the Cubs’ road struggles could be the “deciding factor” in Maddon’s future. It’s a fair point, though the results of their games probably matter less than how the team plays.
While having one of the worst road records in the league is both unexpected and unacceptable, it’s not as though the manager is having a direct impact on those losses. However, there continues to be a pervasive sense that the team simply lacks the urgency that the front office has tried to cultivate since at least last October.
“I think it has nothing to do with wins and losses,” Maddon explained to Jordan Bastian and other reporters. “If that’s the case, I would’ve signed the contract at the end of last season, if it came down to wins and losses only.
“Our success even to this point today — August whatever it is — it’s been pretty good. To just reduce it to wins and losses, that makes no sense at all.”
The manager went on to say that he’s very pleased with the communication between himself and the players, something he believes has been taken to a new level. That interaction, the ability to participate in open and honest exchanges, is what Maddon believes will dictate his future.
It’s not just the players with whom he needs to get along, though, and it’s felt at times that there’s a great deal of friction between Maddon and the front office. That could very well be nothing more than a faulty interpretation by outsiders having only limited context, and we’ve heard time and again that any disagreements are nothing more than a function of a strong working relationship, but Maddon can be stubborn and his bosses may want someone over whom they can exert more influence.
Whether it’s internal strife or the pressure of the job in general, Maddon’s normally placid facade does appear to be showing a few ripples or cracks, whichever metaphor you prefer. It’s become clear that noise from outside the organization is starting to weigh on him, like when he bristled at fans’ criticism of his bullpen decisions.
Any issues the Cubs have with winning on the road are clearly not attributable to Maddon alone, though he’s long since run out of coaching scapegoats. So when his team has visibly lacked a spark and failed to put up a fight far too often over the course of the last two seasons, there’s a point at which the hammer is going to fall. That doesn’t change because of two ugly losses or a come-from-behind win.
It’s a little too simple to say that the Cubs’ road record will determine Maddon’s future with the team, but further listlessness over the next few weeks will almost certainly lead to his departure at the conclusion of his contract. If the Cubs can remain very high in the standings, however, maybe the marriage lasts a couple more years.