The Chicago Cubs’ 2014 season was a bust, as they finished fifth in the National League Central division, far out of the postseason once again.
But their dismal ’14 didn’t stop a rabid fan base from building hopes for the season to come. The Cubs are awash in young talent — infielder Javier Baez, outfielder Jorge Soler, right-hander Kyle Hendricks and second baseman Arismendy Alcantara — that could help them finally chase down an elusive World Series title.
Now, with Joe Maddon headed to Chicago as manager, expectations are soaring even higher.
But as the Windy City prepares for the Maddon era, the Tampa Bay Rays — the manager’s previous team — are protesting his departure by threatening a tampering charge against the Cubs’ front office. It’s a rare move that has captured the attention of the major league baseball community.
Here’s how the tampering allegedly took place. Maddon, who was the Rays’ longest tenured skipper in franchise history, had an opt-out clause in his contract (which was set to end in 2015) that allowed him to move to Chicago.
But, Tampa Bay believes the Cubs improperly convinced the 60-year-old to jump ship before he could officially opt-out of his existing contract. Indeed, rumors about Maddon’s departure for Chicago began to swirl even before he announced he was leaving the Rays last week.
Their front office claims it offered him a deal that would have made him a top-paid manager. Alan Nero, Maddon’s agent, denied this claim on MLB Network Radio. He said his client was willing to stay in Florida at an under-market value, but Tampa Bay refused to pay up.
Even if the Cubs contacted him before he made a final decision, however, experts think it would be difficult for the Rays to prove direct contact took place between Maddon himself and anyone from the club. Agents and go-betweens probably were the ones doing any talking, if such pre-departure negotiations took place.
Maddon is widely revered in MLB for turning Tampa Bay into a serious postseason contender. He led the Rays to an American League pennant in 2008 and to the postseason in three other Octobers. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Maddon was set to make $1.85 million in 2015 with Tampa Bay, and is now expected to pull in approximately $25 million over five years.
His departure also comes shortly after the Rays’ longtime GM Andrew Friedman left the franchise to become the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations.
Taking over the Cubs — a team that some considered to be “cursed” — will be no easy task for Maddon, despite the plethora of young talent at his disposal. Chicago is a much bigger stage than St. Petersburg, Fla., where the Rays actually play. But he certainly seemed at ease during his first Cubs press conference on Monday when he offered to buy the room a round of drinks.