The line between “so crazy it just might work” and “that’s just plain stupid” is thin and fraught with potential embarrassment. Let’s walk it anyway, shall we?
I have an idea. It’s speculation, to be clear. The only “inside” information in this equation is what happened inside a conversation I had with a lifelong friend (and amateur baseball chaos theorist). So take this for what it’s worth. It’s the start of the Hot Stove season, and it’s fun to think about what crazy things might possibly happen in the offseason. This is a fun “what if?” and not much more.
I happen to think this one works. The Cubs should trade Joe Maddon to the Dodgers.
That’s where it starts. That was the genesis. It’s no secret that the shine is off Maddon in Chicago. That’s a bit insane, of course, considering he was at the helm for the franchise’s first World Series title in 108 years — just two seasons ago! The Cubs won 90 or more games only four times from 1970 through 2014, when Maddon was hired; they’ve won at least 92 games in each of his four seasons as skipper.
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But Maddon helped redefine expectations on the North Side, and his Cubs have fallen far short of those new expectations the past two years. Painfully so, especially in 2018, when their late-season malaise ended in consecutive home losses at Wrigley Field to the Brewers and Rockies and the unwanted notoriety of being the first playoff team sent home in October.
Maddon’s in the final year of his contract. The club doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to lock him up for the long term. It was the topic of conversation — often — at the end-of-season news conference held by the Cubs’ powers-that be.
“Joe’s status remains unchanged,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said, as reported in USA Today. “I’m very happy about that.”
“Remains unchanged” isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, eh? Maybe it’s just a negotiation ploy. Maybe an extension is almost done that hasn’t been reported. Maybe.
But what we know is the guy who helped lead the most jinxed franchise in baseball history to its first World Series title in more than a century is set to enter the 2019 season on a lame-duck one-year contract. So, yeah, there’s speculation about his future with the ballclub.
Meanwhile, there’s discontent in parts of Dodgers Nation, too, after LA won just one of five games in its World Series contest against the Red Sox and didn’t count many victories in the strategy/execution category.
Manager Dave Roberts’ status was a topic of conversation at the Dodgers’ year-end press conference with the front-office types Thursday in Los Angeles. The 2018 season was the last official year of Roberts’ contract, and the club has an option for 2019.
Andrew Friedman, the club’s president of baseball operations, said there was no deadline to reach a new agreement with Roberts on an extension, though he anticipates no issues. Reports a couple of days ago said an extension was expected.
Not all Dodgers fans were pleased with that news. Why would the Dodgers and their fans possibly want to part with a manager who helped guide the team to the World Series two years in a row? Same reason, loosely, that the Red Sox fired John Farrell after the 2017 season when he’d won back-to-back AL East titles.
At some point, your team either wins a World Series or it doesn’t. Anything short is unacceptable. And while new Boston manager Alex Cora seemed to have all the answers during the Red Sox’s run to the 2018 World Series title, Roberts didn’t push many right buttons. Lineup decisions backfired. Bullpen choices were questioned in real time, not after the fact. More reaction than action. Cora showed the type of impact a manager could have on a team’s chances of winning a World Series and, unfortunately, so did Roberts.
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So let’s say, theoretically, the Dodgers are looking to make a change. Again, pure speculation. But connecting dots, the relationship between Friedman and Maddon runs deep. In fact, Maddon had it written into his contract in Tampa Bay that he could opt out of his deal if Friedman ever left the Rays for another job.
That’s what happened. Friedman left, Maddon exercised his clause and became a rare highly coveted managerial free agent. Shortly after, he signed a massive five-year, $25 million deal to manage the Cubs.
The idea that Friedman would once again want Maddon — who was a long-time member of Mike Scioscia’s staff in Los Angeles before getting the Tampa Bay job — to pilot his team isn’t crazy. It’s impractical and implausible at the moment, but not impossible.
Trades involving managers have happened.
In the middle of the 1960 season, Cleveland and Detroit swapped manager Joe Gordon for manager Jimmy Dykes, straight-up. After the 1967 season, the Washington Senators traded manager Gil Hodges to the Mets for pitcher Bill Denehy and $100,000, and Hodges led the Amazin’ Mets to a stunning World Series title in 1969.
In 2011, the White Sox received two players in compensation when they allowed manager Ozzie Guillen, who had one year left on his contract, to leave for the Marlins. That situation was equal parts complicated and messy, and a break was best for both sides.
That’s not the case in Chicago, of course.
But you know the Cubs’ front office is always looking to make a bold move if it feels that could be beneficial to the future of the organization. And recent trades have left the farm system decimated; the system is ranked 28th in the majors by Baseball America, former Cubs prospect Gleyber Torres (Aroldis Chapman trade) is a star with the Yankees and former top prospect Eloy Jimenez (Jose Quintana trade) looks like the next White Sox superstar.
They need an influx of talent. How to they make that happen?
So here’s the proposal: The Cubs package Maddon and Quintana — who has been good not great with the Cubs but has two team-friendly club options totaling $21 million for 2019 and 2020 — to the Dodgers for one of LA’s top young prospects/players. Maybe Alex Verdugo, an outfielder whose path to the majors appears blocked in the near future, or Julio Urias, the lefty who developed into a reliable arm in the postseason. That’s probably asking too much. Maybe a couple of high-ceiling players, led by a Gavin Lux or someone of his ilk.
It’s hard to speculate what the going rate for a manager is in a trade.
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The Cubs would need a new manager, of course, and there are good baseball minds available. They could hire Joe Girardi. Sandy Alomar Jr. will make an excellent manager when a team gives him a chance. There are options.
Quintana helps solve LA’s rotation issue, but it creates one in Chicago. They expect Yu Darvish to be healthy and effective, and it’s not unreasonable to think that they’ll figure out a way to move money around to pick up Cole Hamels’ option and that either Mike Montgomery or Tyler Chatwood can be better as fifth starters in 2019. There are options on the free-agent market, too, at the high end (Patrick Corbin, which isn’t likely) or of the potential-bargain variety (Matt Harvey, etc.).
Roberts would be out in LA, but it’s hard to imagine he’d have trouble finding a new job. He could take a year off — he’d be great at MLB Network — or sign with a club for a year and then interview with next offseason’s inevitable round of openings. He’s earned his reputation as one of baseball’s good guys, and his managerial qualities run deep. He would find plenty of opportunities.
Anyway, it’s just an idea. Go big or go home, right? There’s probably no chance of it happening. Even though it makes sense. Kinda.
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