Nothing is official yet, but with reports citing Joe Maddon as the next manager of the Los Angeles Angels, it’s hard not to get excited to see what Shohei Ohtani does under the former Cubs skipper.
The Los Angeles Angels have had the best player in baseball for the better part of this current decade, but only have made the postseason once since Mike Trout debuted back in 2011. After 18 seasons with Mike Scioscia at the helm, he won more games than any other manager in Angels’ history, but after 18 seasons that’s not necessarily hard to do.
But last season the Angels decided to change directions and go with Brad Ausmus as their manager in 2019, who was a year removed from being fired by the Tigers, and he produced their worst season since 1999. And while some of that blame falls on the front office missing on free agent signings and the Angels roster was decimated by injuries, especially in their rotation but both Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani finished the year on the IL.
But Ausmus was still let go at the end of the season, coincidentally, the day after the Cubs announced they were parting ways with manager Joe Maddon. The 65-year-old Maddon will eventually end up in the Hall of Fame after leading the 2016 Cubs to their first World Series title in 108 years, but there’s more Maddon and the Angels than just a championship pedigree.
Maddon, who was Scioscia’s bench coach when the Angels won their lone World Series title in 2002, spending three decades with the club, even serving as the interim manager in 1999 before Scioscia was hired. And while he’s been out of the Angels organization since 2005, Maddon still owns a home in Long Beach. It’s clear the Maddon holds a special place in his heart for the Angels.
It’s been reported over the last week that Maddon and Angels have each other on the top of their lists, and while nothing is official yet, the expectation is that Maddon will become the next manager of the Los Angeles Angels.
Maddon on the West Coast makes a lot of sense, not just because of his ties to the organization, but also his vibe is very California. Maddon isn’t a guy who takes things too seriously with tons of “Maddonisms” defining multiple Cubs seasons, with slogans like “Embrace the Target” or “Try not to Suck”. It was clear that in Chicago, Maddon had created a culture that his young Cubs players could thrive in, taking the pressure off the graduating prospects and letting them just have fun playing baseball.
If there was ever a player that needed the advice of just being themselves, it is Shohei Ohtani, the league’s premier two-way player. The Angels are expecting Ohtani to return to the mound after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, effectively shutting him down as a pitcher for all the 2019 season. However, Ohtani still managed to rake at the plate, slashing .286/.343/.505 with 18 home runs in 106 games last season.
Despite the 25-year-old two-way player suffering a knee injury that knocked him out for the rest of the season in mid-September, general manager Billy Eppler said he expects Ohtani to return in Spring Training without any limits on the mound or at the dish. And while that in itself is great news for the Angels in 2020, pairing their Japanese phenom with a quirky manager like Joe Maddon seems like a perfect match.
Maddon is notorious for getting the most out young talent, doing so with the Rays and then the Cubs. And while he was let go in Chicago after a disappointing two seasons with an underachieving roster, Maddon has a way of setting young players up for success. And for an example, look no further than SS Javier Baez, who went from an exciting player with a high-ceiling to an MVP candidate in 2018.
But that’s just Javy being Javy.
Maddon saw something in Baez early on his in Cubs tenure, noticing Baez’s high baseball IQ while watching him play in Puerto Rico. Maddon said he could tell just from the way Baez was running the bases and how he was fielding ground balls at 2nd base that he was special. Baez was seen by many as a project, a player who could swing and hit a ball nearly 450 feet at any point during an at-bat, but had struck out 430 times in six seasons in the minors. That’s really bad.
But with Maddon opening the door for Baez, encouraging him to play his game, the young Baez found himself starting in the postseason after only making 78 starts in the regular season. It’s that type of position reinforcement with Baez that the Angels are hoping Maddon can provide to Ohtani.
Ohtani dominated the Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan, both at the plate and on the mound, and currently profiles as the Angels staff ace as well as their starting DH next season. If the Angels are going to get the most out of their $22 mil+ investment, it’s hard to find a better manager for the job than Maddon.