Manager: Joe Maddon, Chicago Cubs
While top players often command a haul of prospects (the Phillies acquired FIVE prospects, including an MLB-ready pitcher in Matt Harrison, when they dealt Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers), very few managers have the ability to garner players as compensation when signed by a club.
Joe Maddon, however, is one of those skippers.
As recompense for opting out of his contract to leave the Tampa Bay Rays and join the Chicago Cubs as manager in 2014, the Cubs dealt a compensatory draft pick to Tampa to acquire Maddon as its leader in the clubhouse.
Consider that the Cubs are in the midst of a dry spell, coming off five consecutive losing seasons, not to mention their 107 year World Series drought. Is the pressure too much for Maddon to manage (no pun intended)? Apparently not.
Maddon has lead his new club to 58-48 record, good for third place in the National League Central. Although the Cubs are 9.5 games out of first place, behind the red-hot, MLB-leading St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago is a half-game behind the San Francisco Giants for the National League’s second wild card, 3.5 games behind the top wild card spot (NL Central rivals, the Pittsburgh Pirates, hold that position).
Aside from acquiring ace Jon Lester and the ascension of Jake Arrieta as a viable NL Cy Young candidate, the team Maddon came to was relatively the same as the 2014 edition, and very, very inexperienced.
Catcher Miguel Montero is the team’s oldest regular at 31, although he has recently been replaced by 22 year old stud prospect Kyle Schwarber, with only 24 games of MLB experience to his name, as a result of Montero’s recent trip to the DL. The likes of third baseman Kris Bryant and second baseman Addison Russell were in the minors last year, and in 2015, right fielder Jorge Soler was entering only his second year in the majors. First baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro, veterans on the squad at 25, averaged five years of MLB experience between them. Shortstop Javier Baez, who may one day replace Castro, awaits in the minors, despite having already played 52 games at the major league level in 2014 at the ripe age of 21. In short, the Cubs are young.
Despite the Cubs’ collective age, the team does not appear to buckle beneath the pressure of playing behind hot teams like the Cardinals and Pirates. Joe Maddon has much to do with it.
Having already lead a young and inexperienced Rays team to a World Series (in 2008) and two AL East titles (in 2008 and 2010) despite competitive years from perennial contenders like the Yankees and Red Sox, Maddon, a two-time AL Manager of the Year, is looking to repeat his Rays’ successes with the Cubs.
Consider that Maddon, two years after inheriting a 101-loss team, had a Rays team competing in the World Series in 2008. The Cubs, a last place team in the NL Central division in 2014, welcomed Maddon, MLB’s best manager, both tactically and motivationally, to lead the Cubs to a World Series, likely sooner than later. When coupled with president of operations Theo Epstein, who revived the Red Sox, leading them to their first World Series championship in 86 years (2004) and again three years later, and general manager Jed Hoyer, Maddon has brought legitimacy to the North Side of Chicago, and then some.
With Maddon doing what he has accomplished already in 2015, just imagine what the skipper will be when the likes of Bryant, Soler, Baez, Schwarber, and Russell finally all live up to their full potentials. With Maddon as their manager, anything is possible for this Cubs organization.