Real bummer to see Joe Maddon shoved out of town with little celebration of his accomplishments. He’s the best Cubs manager I’ve experienced in my decades of fandom. He changed expectations on the North Side – and now he pays the price for those gains. The real escape artists here are the Ricketts family, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.
Joe Maddon guided a very young team, hurdling their longtime divisional superior in the 2015 NLDS, then achieving the ultimate goal in 2016. He was the victorious manager in the greatest baseball game ever played, Game 7. Immediately, thoughts turned to a potential dynasty. The core pieces were there: Bryant, Rizzo, Russell, Baez, Schwarber and Contreras. The up-and-coming players seemed like can’t miss prospects. Albert Almora Jr.’s pinch-running in the 10th inning of Game 7 was a direct contributor to that win. Ian Happ was another quick study, rising through the minor league system. Eloy Jimenez (more on him in a moment, believe me) oozed with talent.
Theo and Jed set to work to turn one magical year into a half-decade of dominance. For some unbeknownst reason, it was always a forgone conclusion that the Cubs wouldn’t make an offer to retain Aroldis Chapman – who, if we’re being honest – was probably the true World Series MVP. Finished three victories and, despite the back-breaking Rajai Davis homer, came back out to shut down Cleveland in the bottom of the 9th. But the media was fed the narrative that Aroldis was a rental. The ever-powerful Chicago sports “expert” groupthink – the very same that has concurred on so many terrible decisions throughout recent history – from how to best utilize Devin Hester (and his subsequent release), to the way the Bulls supposedly got “ripped off” in the Jimmy Butler trade, to – I’m gonna say it – the Jordan Howard trade that supposedly improved the Bears backfield – They were unanimous in the assertion that Aroldis Champman wasn’t worth $100 million over 4 or 5 years. My thoughts were: It’s the Ricketts fucking money we’re spending – who gives a shit about their bottom line? We gave up Gleyber Torres for him, keep him. He wanted to go back to the Yankees, was the word. But it seems like outbidding the Yankess might’ve worked. Or at least been worth a try. Do you see how much money they rake in at RickettsLand and how much they charge you for a beer? Pay the guy who won us a World Series, $1 million for each MPH he throws. Or more. They didn’t. Every dummy agreed it was the right move. They were wrong. Instead they traded Jorge Soler for 1 year of Wade Davis. We were taught that spending money on big bullpen arms isn’t wise. Instead, give up on Soler – who, to be fair, had been woefully inconsistent up until that point in his career with the notable exception of that 2015 NLDS against the Cardinals when he went 8-for-8 in his first 8 plate appearances. After accepting the loss of Aroldis, I liked the Soler-for-Davis deal at the time. I was anticipating a repeat. I was wrong on both counts. Wade Davis was the only Cubs All-Star in 2017, as the stars suffered from a severe World Series hangover and Schwarber’s star fell from the sky all the way down to Triple-A. The team was still in the hunt for the playoffs, and Theo and Jed made their move – Jimenez for Jose Quintana. Q is a high-quality starting pitcher. I was excited when we got him. I didn’t know how good Eloy was going to be. Geez, that trade will haunt Cubs fans for the next decade-plus. Guess the shoe’s on the other foot as my South Side brethren were forced to watch Sammy Sosa launch bomb after bomb on the North Side after a mediocre beginning at Comiskey. Even as a non-expert, I never got the feeling that Q was a A1 game-changer starter. But he pitched well and the Cubs were lined up for another run at the World Series. This is when the Cubs front office made the most crucial mistake since Larry Himes let Greg Maddux walk in free agency. Back when the secondary waiver trade deadline was a thing in MLB, there was a guy in Detroit who really wanted to come to the Cubs. He waited it out until the last day of August, but the Cubs didn’t want to take on his $20 million salary. Justin Verlander, reportedly disappointed the Cubs didn’t try to get him, reluctantly accepted a trade to Houston. He went on to lead them to the World Series and dominate ever since. He’ll collect another Cy Young and – I’ll bet – another ring this year. You’ll hear Jed and Theo revise history on sports radio nowadays, saying they already made their move and didn’t realize Verlander would be available and they didn’t have the prospects to offer. That’s all bullshit. It was clear Verlander would be attainable from the moment the Tigers season started. The Ricketts didn’t want to spend the money. Theo and Jed liked how Q would be under club control for 3 more years. That was all it was: $. Those 2 cheap-out Ricketts moves (Chapman, Verlander) with the full backing and explanation cover-up of their highly-paid front office darlings, Theo and Jed – are the difference between the Cubs sitting at home and possibly trying for their 4th straight championship in 2019.
A shame, because – as Theo bragged at the “We didn’t fire Joe, we had a win-win agreement that Joe wouldn’t return” press conference on Tuesday – he and Jed did a masterful job building the core of this team. They made all the right moves through 2016. From acquiring Travis Wood for Sean Marshall and Rizzo for Andrew Cashner; Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop for Feldman & Clevenger; drafting Bryant, acquiring Russell, signing Lester and the trade for Chapman(minus the rental aspect) were all perfect. They directly resulted in the miracle of 2016. But since then, it’s been a disaster. No one could have predicted Russell’s personal downfall, so that’s purely on Addison. I didn’t know Soler would blow up like he has for the Royals, but maybe the guys who get paid to assess such possibilities should have. Theo did a sudden 180 on the not paying big relievers when he gave Brandon Morrow $60 million. Then again this year with $43 million for Craig Kimbrel. Add that up and it’s $103 million. If only we could’ve signed one effective guy for that much – someone who was an All-Star this year for the Yankees?
Ah, well. I guess I’m just bummed that Joe got dumped. He deserved better. I hope David Ross or whichever manager they hire has better fortunes with his bullpen. Because the front office ain’t helping anyone get through the 7th, 8th and 9th.