Joe Maddon Is Dream Fit for Chicago Cubs' Hype-Filled, Youthful Future

Anthony Witrado@@awitradoFeatured ColumnistOctober 31, 2014

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There was no way the Theo Epstein regime was going to sit on its hands with bait in its pockets and a big fish in the water.

Joe Maddon—that big fish—will be announced as the Cubs' new manager at a 2 p.m. press conference scheduled for Monday.

Maddon, a two-time AL Manager of the Year, was too tempting not to go after. Epstein even said as much on Friday to Bob Nightengale of USA Today:

The #Cubs offered Renteria another job in the organization, and he declined. Theo Epstein said they decided Maddon was too good to pass up.

— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) October 31, 2014

Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune broke the news that Renteria had been fired after declining a different position within the Cubs organization. Epstein spoke to the Daily Herald's Bruce Miles about the skills Maddon has that make him an ideal replacement for Renteria.

Theo said Maddon may be "as well suited as anyone in the industry to manage the challenges that lie ahead of us." #Cubs

— Bruce Miles (@BruceMiles2112) October 31, 2014 

According to an original report by Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, the two sides were in contact last week and news that a deal had been struck leaked hours before Game 7 of the World Series on Wednesday.

The deal will likely make Maddon one of the highest-paid managers in baseball, which is one of the reasons he opted out of his deal with the Tampa Bay Rays last week after general manager Andrew Friedman left for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

This is a huge get for Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer. Once Friedman announced the Dodgers were going into next season with incumbent manager Don Mattingly and were not in play for Maddon, the Cubs became the immediate frontrunner to land him.

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It seemed like a no-brainer then, and it is a brilliant acquisition now.

Epstein and Hoyer are trying to build the Cubs in the model of the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays: through the draft, international free agency and with the occasional big-ticket free agent—those last two parts are more Red Sox than Rays, of course. 

The Cubs have already started down the winning path, working with a roster that is chock-full of young talent like Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jake Arrieta and Arismendy Alcantara.

Maddon’s stellar reputation as a great communicator and handler of young players made him a target for as many as 10 clubs going into this week. But with their roster, the Cubs put the biggest target on his back.

Ben Margot/Associated Press

The Cubs have the financial resources to operate like the Red Sox did when Epstein was their GM. That means the Cubs are expected to be in on some highly priced free agents this winter, particularly on the pitching front.

Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields are going to be on the Cubs’ short list. So will catcher Russell Martin, who could be a nice complement to Maddon as a manager-type on the field and a veteran presence in the clubhouse.

Another part of the attraction to Maddon is his openness and willingness to accept advanced statistics and implement them in on-field strategy. Under Maddon and Friedman, the Rays became innovators in how they used defensive shifts and situational platoons.

That kind of thinking is right in line with Epstein, who made the Red Sox one of the first big-market teams to embrace similar concepts and metrics.

There is a bit of a negative twist to all of this, though. While it shouldn’t affect how the Cubs play on the field or the finalization of a deal with Maddon, it seems the news of his hiring has rubbed certain baseball people the wrong way.

Maddon has a strong reputation around the game and within the managerial fraternity, but that was before he took another manager’s job. The Cubs gig was not vacant. Rick Renteria was hired last offseason and had two years left on his current contract with the Cubs.

Managers are fine with their peers leaving teams to chase open jobs, but if there is a whiff that Maddon opted away from the Rays with his sights on the Cubs job, it could damage his reputation amongst baseball people.

Maddon is liked throughout the game, but feeling among some managers is that this does not look good, re: Renteria. They're talking about it

— Andy Martino (@MartinoNYDN) October 29, 2014

"I am shocked he would do this," one current MLB manager on Maddon. #Cubs

— Andy Martino (@MartinoNYDN) October 29, 2014

Another current manager on Maddon reports: "Some of the older guys, they're going to think it looks real bad to go after someone else's job"

— Andy Martino (@MartinoNYDN) October 29, 2014

Also, Renteria was considered a Hoyer hire. Maddon is clearly an Epstein guy, as Epstein became an admirer of his after Maddon interviewed for the Red Sox opening that was eventually filled by Terry Francona and resulted in two World Series titles.

Another thing: Major League Baseball and the Rays may kick the tires on tampering charges simply based off how quickly this came together after Maddon left Tampa Bay. Any time a situation like this comes up, it is due diligence to at least ask a few questions about the process.

Regardless of the backlash, Epstein—and likely the rest of the Cubs—felt Maddon was too good to pass on. And they are correct.

DAVID BANKS/Associated Press

Maddon became something of a baseball savant in Tampa Bay. In an NL Central that lacks a dominant frontrunner, the Cubs are positioning themselves for a run at the top within the next few years, if not immediately. With their budding roster and now a manager that commands instant respect and possibly a big-name free agent or two, the Cubs are primed for a long, successful run.

If this doesn’t become a flourishing marriage, it will not be because of Maddon’s inability to handle the team. Based on his track record and the team’s situation on and off the field, there isn't a better candidate than Maddon to lead the Cubs into the next phase of their existence.

It’s time for Cubs fans to believe again.

Anthony Witrado covers Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. He spent the previous three seasons as the national baseball columnist at Sporting News, and four years before that as the Brewers beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.