When Joe Maddon and the Tampa Bay Rays visited Wrigley Field in August, the manager raved about National League baseball and praised the iconic neighborhood ballpark.
Couple that with Maddon’s impressive resume, and it’s easy to see why the Chicago Cubs think this is going to be one successful partnership.
Maddon was introduced Monday as Chicago’s fifth manager since the start of the 2010 season, replacing Rick Renteria, and given a $25 million, five-year contract.
Chicago’s braintrust of president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer had planned to bring back Renteria until Maddon opted out of his contract with the Rays last month.
Then they decided to pounce on a free agent “who may be as well suited as anyone in the industry to manage the challenges that lie ahead of us,” Epstein said in a release announcing Renteria’s dismissal on Friday.
The 60-year-old Maddon had a 754-705 record in nine seasons in Tampa Bay, leading the club to four playoff appearances, two AL East titles and a five-game loss to Philadelphia in the 2008 World Series. The two-time AL Manager of the Year also was the bench coach for six seasons under Angels manager Mike Scioscia before he was hired by Tampa Bay in November 2005.
The Rays went 77-85 this year, and Maddon departed after Andrew Friedman left Tampa Bay’s front office to take over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Oct. 14.
Chicago finished 73-89 in Renteria’s only season in charge.
Maddon inherits an impressive group of prospects and a bigger payroll after his successful run with the small-market Rays. But he also gets a run of five consecutive losing seasons and a famous title drought that goes back to the Cubs’ win in the 1908 World Series.
Chicago hasn’t made it to the playoffs since it won the NL Central in 2008 with Lou Piniella in the dugout. Epstein was hired after the Cubs went 71-91 in 2011, beginning a rebuilding process that included 101 losses in his first year in charge.
But Epstein thinks the Cubs are ready to contend right now, and the bold move for Maddon shows he thinks the rebuilding process is far enough long that the manager could make a difference. First baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro each made the All-Star team this year, and young sluggers Javier Baez and Jorge Soler had some positive moments in their first major league action.
Maddon’s biggest challenge is building on the development of Chicago’s core group of young players, while paving the way for another wave of prospects that includes third baseman Kris Bryant and shortstop Addison Russell.