Cubs manager Joe Maddon

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Spiegel: Joe Maddon's Spin Sensible, Not Delusional

As always, Maddon is bringing practical optimism to the moment.

Matt Spiegel
November 28, 2018 - 12:35 pm

(670 The Score) Cubs manager Joe Maddon has always believed in the power of positive thinking. 

Norman Vincent Maddon has refined and adjusted his rose-colored approach through the years, but at its core is the same belief. He doesn’t think there's any other sensible way to be. 

Back in 2013, as Maddon's managerial run in Tampa Bay was in its late stages, a Rays front office executive mentioned Maddon was "a serial optimist," which could be a double-edged sword.

"That can be his worst quality too," the executive said. "Joe is almost too loyal. He has patience with guys that maybe we should move on from."

Cubs fans have seen this relentless belief play out both well and poorly in myriad daily decisions. And they’ve heard Maddon refuse to vocalize the negative afterward, no matter the result.

So it wasn't surprising to hear how he described his status entering 2019, the fifth and final season of his contract.

"Lame duck or free agent, are they synonymous terms?" Maddon told the Tampa Bay Times. "Players go into that year annually. Good players go into a season without a contract for the next year. Why would I feel any different as a manager than a good player does, a (Manny) Machado or a (Bryce) Harper, whatever. You could say "lame duck" or you could use "free agent." I think they are both the same term."

Like a lot of us, Maddon has to wake up and face the realities of the day no matter what the truth of the situation is. But you can’t be willfully delusional and over-romanticize in a way that blinds you to the truth.

So he chooses the path of "Practical Optimism."

Marcus Conyers and Donna Wilson are the co-developers of the brain-based teaching degree programs at Nova Southeastern University. They have written several books, including "Five Big Ideas for Effective Teaching: Connecting Mind, Brain, and Education Research to Classroom Practice."

From Wilson's writing in Edutopia:

Neuroscientists recently discovered that optimism is associated with brain pathways connecting the left prefrontal region to the amygdala. Further research has demonstrated that optimism, traditionally considered to be an unchangeable trait, is a way of thinking that can be learned and enhanced. People with a positive viewpoint have less stress, better creative problem-solving skills and better health outcomes than less optimistic people.

This upcoming 2019 season will be a severe test of this approach for Maddon, and it has already begun. All potential scapegoat coaches are gone. Should the season start poorly or trend ugly at any time in the first few months, there will be no one to point at but Maddon. David Ross is being courted for an expanded role with the team, per reports, and many executives around the league believe he will be the next Cubs manager. For the record, so do I. Former players like Chris Denorfia and Mark DeRosa are rumored potential additions to the currently amorphous coaching staff. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein is a restless tinkerer with assistant coaches, trying to find an elusive perfect personality blend.  

All three of the aforementioned names fit the MLB managerial trend of likable and recently retired players who have great attitudes and a willingness to work closely with powerful front offices.

Maddon has been given a mandate from Epstein and the front office after the relative failure of 2018. This young core of position players need to be coached up, because it’s imperative that the ones who get to stay improve.     

"I've always kind of stayed free of coaching because I really want to stay out of coaches' way so they can do their job," Maddon told the Tampa Bay Times. "I've always felt that is the right way to do it. But this year I'm going to get a little more hands-on involved in actually coaching.

"I actually want to do less before the game talking to the media and whatever and try to get on the field more often."

Yes, this is a reaction to an added pressurized ultimatum for the free-agent-to-be manager. It's also a currently depressing storyline for an inactive Cubs offseason. The plan in part seems to be for the existing roster to get coached up and for the famously non-linear development to straighten itself out.  

Seeing Josh Donaldson sign with the Braves on a one-year, $23-million dollar deal made you wonder further what the Cubs can actually do this winter. If a pursuit of Bryce Harper on a long-term deal is out of the picture, then the Donaldson deal seems to be exactly the kind of short-term, fixed-cost addition you go for in the middle of a winning window. He could've slotted in at third base and pushed Kris Bryant to the outfield, as a trade of one of the young outfielders still seems likely.

There are more potential targets who are 30 or older for deals like that. Adam Jones would be an exciting short-term fit in center field. Jed Lowrie is a former Epstein/Jason McLeod Red Sox draft pick who could stabilize second base while Javier Baez stays at shortstop. With Jesse Chavez gone to the Texas Rangers, Joe Kelly, Kelvin Herrera or Joakim Soria could be affordable bullpen depth with upside. Activity and additions will come, eventually. 

It’s an odd moment for the franchise, with challenges both obvious and unknown to sort through. We would all be best served to follow Maddon's spin-friendly approach of practical optimism. It’s far easier said than done.  

Everywhere this offseason, it seems nervous Cubs fans can’t sit still. Like Maddon, it would be so much healthier to see the hot seat simply as warm and cozy.

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