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The Major League Baseball world was in shock to see some news breaking during the midst of the riveting World Series between the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants.
Last week, Joe Maddon exercised the opt-out clause in his contract with the Tampa Bay Rays, days removed from publicly stating he “absolutely” wanted to remain with the team. Initially, 10 teams showed an interest in bringing in the free agent manager, with surprisingly the Chicago Cubs — not the much-rumored Los Angeles Dodgers — quickly jumping to the forefront.
Late Wednesday, CBS Sports reported the Cubs are set to hire Maddon as their new manager, a deal that’ll likely be worth $5 million annually over five or so years, according to multiple reports. And as Maddon inherits a team notorious for losing, they get a manager who has won a lot of games with little resources.
Obviously, we all the know the Cubs’ story. The last time the team won the World Series was back in 1908 when cats named Orval Overall and Jack Pfiester were stalwarts in the starting rotation, and there was actually an outfielder named Wildfire Schulte. No typo, folks. Wildfire!
Fast forward more than a century, and the 2014 version of the Cubbies finished 73-89 with a young, up-and-coming team poised to compete in the always-tough NL Central. And now it looks as if they’ll have a puppet master fully capable of pulling all the right strings at the helm.
Maddon led the Rays to their first American League East title over the heralded New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in 2008 with a young nucleus of players. Maddon was able to get the most his players then, whether it was a longtime power hitter Carlos Pena, who was regularly a platoon man earlier in his career. B.J. Upton finally materialized into a big-league slugger, and journeyman Eric Hinske was able to be a regular contributor. And a 22-year-old Evan Longoria grew up very, very quickly.
That 2008 squad reached the World Series for the first time in team history, but fell in five games to the Philadelphia Phillies. Though the Rays weren’t able to completely pull off the miracle, it was a notice to the league and more importantly the AL East: Maddon’s Rays were to be taken seriously from here on out.
Battling a minuscule budget and a lack of fan support, the Rays continued to remain competitive year in and year out. In 2010 and 2011, the Rays reached the American League Division Series, only to fall to an All-Star-laden Texas Rangers squad in back-to-back years. And in 2013, the Rays again reached the ALDS, again falling to the eventual champion Red Sox.
Maddon’s track record clearly shows his ability to make the most of the talent he has, whether it’s cheap role players thrust into everyday roles or getting the most out of former All-Stars on the downside of their careers. Madden has done it, exceeding organizational expectations and turning the Rays into an American League power during his tenure.
Now he heads to the North Side of the Windy City and will take over a historically rich team in the midst of a notorious championship drought. While the stakes are high, he has the luxury of a very proven president, Theo Epstein, and aggressive general manager, Jed Hoyer. With more resources, talent and a vastly larger wallet available to the Cubs and Maddon, we can now see just what kind of magic this team and manager is capable of.
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