Despite all the fanfare and criticism directed toward Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon this offseason, get ready for his finest work in 2019.
Four years ago, who’d have thought I’d be taking the time out of my day to defend Joe Maddon. Especially after he ran off four-straight postseason appearances, averaging 97 wins per season and brought a World Series title a century-plus in the making to the North Side, ending the anguish of Chicago Cubs fans everywhere.
But here we are.
Despite getting just eight starts from Yu Darvish, a near-worthless season from Tyler Chatwood and only half a season from Brandon Morrow (Theo Epstein’s three biggest offseason additions last winter), Maddon led the team to 95 wins – taking the division down to a winner-take-all Game 163.
We all know how that went. A sold-out Wrigley Field watched the rival Milwaukee Brewers celebrate their National League Central championship only to see the Colorado Rockies win the NL Wild Card game in 13 innings just days later, ending any hopes of yet another deep October run.
It’s all about winning
In the wake of such a disappointing end to the 2018 campaign, Epstein issued a public challenge to his skipper – get more hands-on and get things back on track. This means less time with the media and more time working one-on-one with his players and coaching staff.
“He helped transform this franchise, but he’s not content,” Epstein told MLB.com during the Winter Meetings. “He’s looking to get better. … The good news is that this is a situation where the players just want more of Joe. They like Joe. They love the impact that he has on them when he speaks to them and when he’s doing real hands-on leadership.”
Under Maddon, Kris Bryant won the 2015 NL Rookie of the Year, then followed it with 2016 National League MVP honors. Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks both finished in the Top 3 in NL Cy Young voting that year, as well. Jake Arrieta, of course, put together one of the best seasons ever for a Cubs hurler, winning the league’s top pitching honors in ’15. In other words, there’s been no shortage of accolades for this franchise since Maddon came to town.
Dynasty talks are quieting in a hurry
But Epstein – and ownership – wants more. The days where winning it all would be enough are long gone. It’s now about creating a dynastic run that would rival the New York Yankees of the late 1990s. And, so far, Maddon has fallen short of hitting that mark. The reasons why don’t seem to matter much at this point.
With tremendous turnover on his coaching staff for the third-straight season, the odds aren’t in Joe Maddon’s favor. He’ll have to mold this team to his liking – all while battling in an incredibly competitive National League Central.
“… I’ve pretty much put my Minor League hat back on, which I really love to do. The developmental component,” he said. “The instructional league component. Try to challenge myself on that level. And again, it’s kind of fun to think about it.”
A baseball lifer, Maddon absolutely possesses the knowledge to get this team back to the postseason for an unprecedented fifth season. But he has his work cut out for him. Now, all that’s left to do is buckle down and silence those who believe his mantra has gone stale in a hurry.