CHICAGO (CBS/AP)– Joe Maddon and the Chicago Cubs will be parting ways after five years, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein announced in St. Louis on Sunday.
Maddon is out as manager. His contract expired after Sunday’s season-ending 9-0 loss to the NL Central champion Cardinals.
As CBS 2’s Megan Mawicke reported, the end of the Maddon era wasn’t contentious or somber. In a media availability at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Epstein said he and Maddon had discussed the issue on Saturday night over a few bottles of Caymus wine.
“We both agreed that this type of change – that it’s time, and that this type of change is a win-win,” Epstein said. “It’s going to be great for Joe, at a wonderful point in his life. He won’t talk about this right now, but I will – there’s going to be a bidding war for his services, and there should be.”
Maddon himself was philosophical.
“In a way, bad news but also good news at the same time – we’re both going to move on. Cubs are going to flourish. Hope I get a chance to do this somewhere else,” he said in the interview. “But there’s no tears shed. It’s a good moment for everybody, and we’re both excited about our futures.”
The move begins what could be an active offseason for Chicago, and the 65-year-old Maddon once again becomes one of baseball’s top free agents.
“I want to continue to do this, whatever’s next out there, I want to be able to be on top of that too,” said Maddon, who has used everything from petting zoos to T-shirts with slogans like “Embrace The Target” and “Do Simple Better” to help his teams over the years.
“All of it’s been positive, man, and it’s been interesting, entertaining and quite frankly for this time of year, feeling pretty good, feeling pretty eager about everything, so it’s been a good year.”
Despite the announcement Sunday, Maddon will be known as the best manager in Cubs history to date.
Fans all remember when he was hired in the fall of 2014 and announced lofty goals.
“We’re going to set our mark high,” Maddon said back then. “Absolutely, I’m going to talk playoffs. I’m going to talk World Series this year. I promise you. I am. And I’m going to believe it.”
In 2015, Maddon’s first year, the Cubs were swept by the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series – defeating the hopes of some who wanted to see a prophecy from the movie “Back to the Future: Part II” about the Cubs winning that year come true. But at that point, of course, the best had yet to come for Maddon and the Cubs.
The following year, the Cubs beat the San Francisco Giants for the National League Division Series and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship series – winning the NL pennant and making the World Series for the first time since 1945.
And in extra innings in Game 7 of the World Series against the Cleveland Indians, early on the morning of Nov. 3, 2016, old lore and talk about hexes and curses ended as Maddon’s Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.
Maddon also took the Cubs to the playoffs in all of his seasons but the present one – including three straight National League Championship Series Appearances.
Maddon was awarded Manager of the Year in 2015.
He has the fifth most wins and the second highest winning percentage in franchise history, and is the first Cubs manager ever to take the team to four straight postseason appearances.
The Cubs also led the Major Leagues in wins from 2015 until 2018 under Maddon, and were only recently surpassed by the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers.
For five seasons before Maddon’s arrival, from 2010 through 2014, the Cubs had posted losing records.
But the Cubs lost in the wild-card round last October and tumbled out of the playoff race altogether this year. Weighed down by a puzzling discrepancy between their 51 wins at Wrigley Field and 33 road victories, the Cubs finished third the NL Central.
“You look at the home and road splits and what we’ve done on the road … I mean these are like some really crazy, hard-to-wrap-your-mind-around things,” Maddon said this month. “I don’t know if somebody’s going to dig deeply enough to really figure it out, but it’s really, just to have your mind try to extrapolate what is going on here, it’s hard to pinpoint.”
The Cubs were in position to make the playoffs for much of this season. They had a half-game lead in the NL Central on Aug. 22. They had control of an NL wild card into September.
But a nine-game slide, including five consecutive one-run losses for the first time since 1915, wiped out their postseason chances and sealed Maddon’s fate.
“We just weren’t able to get over the hump,” he said.
Per the Cubs’ request, Maddon employed a more hands-on approach this year, especially on the hitting side, but the lineup was still plagued by inconsistency. There also were surprising fielding and baserunning issues given the Cubs’ strength in those areas since Maddon took over.
With Maddon gone, the focus turns to Epstein, and the club’s continued inability to develop pitching help for the major league roster. Yu Darvish rediscovered his form after it looked as if the Japanese right-hander might have trouble living up to his $126 million, six-year contract, but reliever Brandon Morrow’s $21 million, two-year deal was a costly mistake.
Even with the disappointing finish each of the past two years, Maddon likely will have plenty of suitors. And there will be a ton of interest in the Cubs’ job.
“Oh yeah, I don’t want to wait. I’m ready,” Maddon said.
The last time Maddon was available, Epstein fired Rick Renteria after just one year to create an opening in Chicago.
Maddon’s arrival in November 2014 coincided with the ascent of an impressive wave of prospects. A month after Maddon signed on, Jon Lester joined the Cubs in free agency, and the team took off from there.
Chicago won 103 games on its way to the NL Central title three years ago. After eliminating San Francisco and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the playoffs, the Cubs stopped their championship drought by beating the Cleveland Indians in a memorable Game 7 in the World Series.
“It’s hard to express kind of how (it) feels. You kind of feel like it could be an end of an era,” said veteran utilityman Ben Zobrist, who played for Maddon in Tampa Bay and Chicago. “When I look at my career, he’s at the top. … Joe’s a special person. Those kind of people, let alone managers, don’t come along very often.”
Before coming to the Cubs, Maddon led the Tampa Bay Rays from 2006 to 2014. Maddon took the Rays to the World Series in 2008, though they went on to lose to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Maddon also had brief managing stints with the Los Angeles Angels in 1996 and 1999.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)