Cubs manager Joe Maddon came into this season with no guarantee he’d be back in Chicago after 2019. But with a disastrous weekend series with the Cardinals, Maddon’s future with the Cubs isn’t so murky anymore.
Cubs fans have been spoiled by the last half-decade of success their ballclub has enjoyed since Joe Maddon was named manager in 2015. The quirky manager’s arrival was the official signal to fans and the league that the Cubs were ready to compete.
The move coincided with top prospects like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber arriving and thriving in Chicago almost immediately, as Maddon and his player-friendly energy seemed to be fueling a young, up-and-coming team transitioning from bottom-dwellers to one of the top teams in the league.
Maddon’s themed road trips, interesting Spring Training entertainment including petting zoos and mimes and even his press conferences packed full of “Maddonisms” were all part of his “shtick.” It was Maddon’s laid back culture that factored heavily into the Cubs being labeled as the favorites to win the World Series in 2016 and eventually bringing a Championship to the North Side for the first time in 108 years. And even though Maddon made some head-scratching moves throughout the playoffs, Cubs fans fell in love with their team’s skipper, warts and all.
But now it’s 2019, three years removed from the Cubs’ historic curse-ending season, and the team is floundering. For the second season in a row, the Cubs have lost control of their division, are sitting now three games back of the Brewers for the final Wild Card spot, and currently have only an 8.6 percent chance of making the postseason.
What looked like a team on the brink of becoming baseball’s next dynasty are now most likely going to miss the playoffs for the first time under Maddon in his five seasons in Chicago. But the writing has been on the wall all season for Maddon as it became more apparent after last season that the front office wasn’t only upset with the results but was frustrated with Maddon’s managerial decisions.
Put up or Shut up
Theo Epstein was vocal last year after the Cubs were bounced from the postseason by the Rockies in the Wild Card play-in game, “challenging” Maddon to be more “hands-on” in 2019. Maddon was also asked to give players more of a heads up when they were in or out of the lineup, hoping it would allow players to relax or prepare themselves better for each day.
And to Maddon’s credit, he’s followed through with of all those requests this season, but the Cubs have still resembled the same club as last year, with a broken offense. Much of that is on the front office and the Cubs’ ownership who came into the last offseason with a much smaller budget than anticipated. Fans were expecting someone like Bryce Harper to arrive in Chicago this season, but instead, they got Daniel Descalso and a few low-cost bullpen arms who no longer play for the Cubs.
Maddon’s options off the bench this season have been limited due to the lack of offseason spending, coupled with serious regression from players like Albert Almora and Addison Russell. Ben Zobrist on the inactive list for the majority of the season hurt the Cubs as well, losing their best contact hitter. Only the Tigers have made less contact than the Cubs since 2015.
The bullpen couldn’t remain healthy and the few healthy pieces proved to be unreliable options. Guys like Pedro Strop and Steve Cishek, who had been essential parts of the bullpen for Maddon last year, were either injured or so bad they couldn’t be trusted. Closer Brandon Morrow hasn’t pitched for the Cubs since June of last year, forcing the Cubs to sign seven-time All-Star Craig Kimbrel, who has allowed 15 HRs in 20.2 IP of work this season for Chicago. And the rotation has been up and down all season, despite Yu Darvish producing an incredible second half of the season with a 2.72 ERA and 106 K’s to just seven BB’s.
Simply put, the 2019 Cubs have done very little to help Maddon remain their manager after 2019. This has easily been the most unreliable and most unpredictable roster of Maddon’s career and it’s hard to fully pin all the issues on him.
So does Maddon deserve to come back?
There have been questionable decisions and maybe a handful of mistakes that can be traced back to Maddon, but ultimately, the Cubs needs a shake-up. And the only way to do that is by either making serious changes to the roster or to the coaching staff.
The Cubs have changed both their hitting and pitching coach each of the last three seasons, so putting someone else in charge of the hitters or pitchers hasn’t been the fix. A roster change would make sense for the Cubs, who have had roughly the same core of players since Maddon started in Chicago. But the Cubs’ key players, guys like Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Willson Contreras, have all had great seasons.
With that being said, Maddon’s time in Chicago should come to an end. He’s the best manager most Cubs fan have ever seen and he’s done a great job with this team over the last five seasons. He brought fans their first World Series in 108 years and will most definitely be in the Hall of Fame someday because of that, but it’s time for a change of culture in Chicago.
Theo Epstein knows he has to make the most of the next few seasons to not only take full advantage of the competitive window he’s helped create in Chicago, but he also must get the most out of his underachieving team. And while there are few better manager options than Maddon, the Cubs are capable of so much more and if Maddon can’t solve the issue someone else must.
With rumors circulating about whether or not Kris Bryant will re-sign when he becomes a free agent in two seasons, or if the Cubs can afford to sign all their young players once they are no longer arbitration-eligible, something has to change. The easiest way to do that is to move forward in 2020 without Joe Maddon at the helm — even if he is the only manager in over a century to lead the Cubs to a World Series title.