Epstein Issues Challenge To Maddon, Cubs

Joe Maddon is "fine" entering 2019 without a contract extension.

Bruce Levine
November 05, 2018 - 10:15 pm
Cubs manager Joe Maddon

Jake Roth/USA Today Sports

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CARLSBAD, Calif. (670 The Score) -- In a somewhat startling development, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein announced Monday that the club won't negotiate a contract extension with manager Joe Maddon this offseason.

Maddon will enter the final season of the five-year deal he signed back in November 2014 with no assurances about his future beyond 2019.

"We had a really nice meeting with Joe a couple of weeks ago," Epstein said as the GM Meetings began. "We talked about the season and assessed everything that's gone right under his leadership and how impactful he has been. We also dug in deep into adjustments we all need to make to be better than we were in 2018. We didn't reach our goals last year."

The Cubs blew a five-game lead to the Brewers in September, losing the National League Central crown to them in Game 163. A day later, Chicago was eliminated by Colorado in the NL wild-card game, capping a finish that was stunning to witness. 

Moving forward, Maddon must meet the challenge that Epstein has laid out in front of him and the rest of the organization in 2019.

"Everyone is motivated by what happened at the end of the 2018 season," Epstein said. "That includes me especially. We need to be at least one game better at a minimum than we were last year. If we all do that, we will be in good shape."

Epstein informed Maddon and his agent, Alan Nero, of the Cubs' plan recently and suggested to the media Monday that the focus needs to be on having urgency now, not worrying about the future.

"I told them we are really focused on finding ways to get the most out of 2019," Epstein said.

Maddon, 64, has led the Cubs to four straight playoff appearances and steered them to a historic championship in 2016. In his four years in Chicago, he has directed the Cubs to a .597 winning percentage, and no team has won more regular-season games since the start of 2015.

"We have a really talented team, and we can do more to get the most out of this group," Epstein said about the challenge facing Maddon. "That is where our focus is. Joe understood, and Alan understood. The only concern was that it could be a distraction at some point (with media questions). I decided it's the best thing to get that news out now. We are not running away from Joe in the least bit. Given that we all have things we are working on, we thought this was the appropriate thing to do. We are not going to do anything this winter. We will look at it toward the end of next season."

Along with the Giants' Bruce Bochy, Maddon is the highest-paid manager in baseball, set to make $6 million in 2019. Despite the uncertainty about his future, Maddon is fine with the situation, Nero said. 

"There are a lot of issues (team-wise) going forward," Nero said. "Joe is very comfortable, and things will work out. Joe is not in a hurry. It will happen when it is supposed to happen."

A few weeks ago, Nero indicated he thought that extension talks for Maddon could be on the horizon once Epstein and the Cubs took care of their pressing roster business this winter. That all changed when Epstein called him and Maddon recently to let them know extension talks would have to wait until at least late in the 2019 season.

"Joe is fine," Nero said of his lame-duck managerial status. "This became an issue because of the media focus. Joe would be very happy to wait until the end of the season. If the stars line up, they line up. If they don't, they don't."

The topic of Maddon's status being a potential distraction for the Cubs was broached when he and Nero spoke with Epstein.

"That is true only because of the media pressure," Nero said. "That is the only reason, not that Joe is concerned about the security. Listen, you have the smartest guy in baseball in Theo. You have the best manager in baseball in Joe. Things will work out. This is not about money or anything else. It is about focusing on what needs to be focused on. Joe is not insecure. I believe that there is a very good argument that he had his best year with the Cubs in 2018, considering all the things that happened."

What happened in 2018 was that the Cubs went 95-67 despite right-hander Yu Darvish logging only eight starts due to an elbow injury and star third baseman Kris Bryant being limited to 102 games due to a nagging shoulder ailment. Right-hander Tyler Chatwood, a key free-agent signing, also flopped badly. 

Epstein is cognizant of all that, but he still wants more from everyone, Maddon included. That's why he has issued the challenge from the top down to improve. For Maddon, that means helping players grow and fostering success.

"We are really talented," Epstein said. "For the group as a whole and a lot of individual players, it's now time to turn that talent into production. In a lot of ways, we are going to be as good as our core produces. It's time to produce or there will be a significant change with the group. That is really where our focus is. We hope to have a really active offseason to make this team better."

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.