ST. LOUIS (BaseballStL) — The Chicago Cubs put themselves in the discussion for division contention Wednesday, hiring Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon, according to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman. The Cubs had been believed to be the top contender for Maddon, who opted out of his deal with Tampa Bay at the end of the season. Though the deal has not been officially confirmed, Heyman says it's all but complete.
joe maddon to become cubs manager. story up soon at @CBSSports— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) October 29, 2014
The Cubs franchise has been a three-year renovation project since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer began working together in October of 2011, and this latest move is an indication the duo feels the program is nearing completion.
Over the course of 2014, the Cubs debuted several star prospects including Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, Kyle Hendricks and Jorge Soler, all of whom fared well in their first big league action.
Rick Renteria, who still has two years left on his contract with the team, will be replaced as manager, despite the club posting a 73-89 record in a tumultuous season. Renteria, who seemingly managed the newcomers quite well, also presided over drastically improved seasons from the Cubs’ two young core players in Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro.
Rizzo, 25, raised his average 53 points and hit 32 homers while making his first All Star Game. Castro hit 14 homers and drove in 65 RBIs, joining Rizzo in the Midsummer Classic and posting the best batting average among qualified shortstops at .292.
Maddon will inherit those improvements along with the promising talents of several rookies. Behind them, Chicago has built one of baseball’s best farm systems under Epstein. Big-swinging third baseman Kris Bryant remains in Triple-A Iowa, expected to make is long-awaited debut next season. A mid-season trade netted the club minor-league shortstop Addison Russell, considered by many to be the best prospect in baseball.
The Cubs are in a strong financial position heading into 2015 as well, with many of their rostered players under rookie contracts. While there are a few arbitration-eligible players, only five, Rizzo, Castro, Soler, Ryan Sweeney and Edwin Jackson have deals beyond 2015. That financial freedom allows the club to chase big-name pitching free agents in the offseason. With Jon Lester, James Shields, Max Scherzer, Ryan Vogelsong and Francisco Liriano all hitting the market, the Northsiders will be able to dramatically improve their rotation; one that posted a 4.11 ERA (24th).
The addition of Maddon is hugely important to that courtship. The 60-year-old has been considered one of the best managers in the game for years, taking the Rays to the postseason four of his last seven seasons at the helm.
Details on the contract have not been released, but according to Heyman, Maddon was seeking $5 million per year.