That was the word from Cubs President Theo Epstein on the opening day of the annual general manager meetings.
Though that leaves Maddon’s future in Chicago uncertain and is bound to create news if the Cubs don’t play up to their capabilities next year, it’s a situation Maddon apparently is fine with.
“We are not going to be doing a contract extension this offseason, and we’re really focused, all of us, on digging in and finding ways to get the absolutely most out of 2019,” Epstein said. “Joe understood. (Agent Alan Nero) understood.
“Honestly the only concern expressed was it could be a bit of a distraction at some point, so I decided the best thing to do was get that news out now. … We’re not running away from Joe in the least bit.”
Nero confirmed Maddon is OK heading into the season without a deal. He’ll make $6 million in the final year of his five-year deal, which includes a $1 million bonus for winning the 2016 World Series.
Last month, Nero told the Tribune there were no worries about the contract, and that they had the GM meetings and winter meetings to talk about an extension.
Despite Epstein tabling discussions until next year, Nero said there’s no change in Maddon’s feelings.
“Joe is very comfortable,” Nero said. “There’s a tremendous amount of trust between Joe and Theo. There are a lot of issues that need to be solved going forward. Things will work out. … Joe would be very happy waiting until the end of the season, and if the stars line up they line up. If they don’t … Joe and Theo have the ultimate trust in each other.”
Nero said the “issues” he mentioned had nothing to do with the financial aspect of a potential deal, but that he meant Epstein had more important things to deal with, such as building his team for next year.
Nero blamed the media for creating a story where he said none exists, as he did in October when a column in The Athletic suggested friction existed between Epstein and Maddon, a report Nero and Epstein denied.
Epstein said Maddon is capable of adjusting his managing style to communicate with what Epstein called the “ultra-millennials” on the roster. After the season, Epstein admitted some players weren’t thrilled with the communication about their spot in the batting order.
“Joe is nothing if not open-minded,” Epstein said. “I think he relishes this as a challenge and an opportunity to return to his roots where he’s sort of in the middle of everything in the clubhouse that’s going on, and he’s going to be re-energized by this challenge the way we all are.”
Being a “lame duck” won’t affect Maddon’s demeanor, Nero said.
“Joe is not insecure,” he said. “And there’s no reason to be. I think there’s a very good argument that he had his best year last year with the Cubs, considering everything that happened.
“So from a performance point of view, that’s not the issue. I think the issue really comes down to where the Cubs are going after next year, and that’s going to be decisions that aren’t about Joe.”
Nero called Maddon a “brilliant guy” with “lots of options,” suggesting he’ll be in demand if the Cubs let him leave.
“He doesn’t plan to retire, but who knows?” he said. “All you’ve got to think about is what (agent-turned-Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen) just did. Whatever’s meant to be is meant to be.”
Maddon plans to open a restaurant in Chicago. Nero said the Cubs job has no effect on that.
Epstein called 2019 a “pivotal” year and clarified his comment after the season that it was time to evaluate “production” as opposed to “talent.”
“In a lot of ways, we’re going to be as good as our core of talent produces,” he said. “If you start to look at this competitive window as a whole, and we’ve all been operating under the assumption that it’s going to be at least seven years, it’s time to produce, or else there’s the chance for significant change with the group. That’s really where our focus is.”
Epstein said no decision has been made about shortstop Addison Russell, who is suspended 40 games for violating MLB’s domestic abuse policy. Epstein said he has “engaged” with Russell about adding “stability to his life” after the incident.
“Part of the solution can possibly include rehabilitation and reformation,” Epstein said, leaving the door open for now.
Epstein wouldn’t reveal whether the Cubs will be players in talks for the big two on the market, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, though it seems unlikely because of budget restraints. Epstein said he expects the Cubs’ payroll to rank among the top six in baseball, as it has the last three years.
“I appreciate and understand the desire for more every winter; that’s part of the fun of baseball, the hot stove,” Epstein said. “And we should do everything we can to get this team better. There are some great names out there, and we’re not ruling anybody out, but I think it’s important to have some perspective too.
“Like any other team, we’re going to have our budgets. … We should all feel great about the ownership group we have. Some offseasons are going to be more challenging than others. If that means anything, it means I have to do my job better.”
The 95 wins in 2018 is a “nice number,” Epstein said, but he added there is “a potential for real change” if the Cubs don’t produce to their capabilities in 2019.
“Nothing in baseball is bestowed,” he said.