MLB Winter Meetings: Cubs’ Manager Joe Maddon Officially Lame Duck

The Chicago Cubs, stung by the early exit from the 2018 playoffs, have refused to offer manager Joe Maddon a contract extension. Maddon talks about the news, and what that means for the 2019 season, in a press conference today:

Q. How did you initially take the front office coming to you and saying, we want more from everybody, including you? Maybe a different dynamic from you. How did you absorb that?
JOE MADDON: Easily. I mean, I expect more out of myself, also. It’s not just somebody else bringing that to your attention. First of all, I do want to say that I think a lot of our guys did do well. It wasn’t a horrible season. You can’t look at 95 wins and totally flush it down the toilet. But when you get ejected that quickly you’re going to look more deeply, how do you avoid that from happening again.

So that’s where we’re at right now. I actually like it. I love challenges, as you well know. I’ve already been writing different items down going into camp. Like I said, probably to this point, the 11th, I probably had more conversations via text or actual phone calls with guys than I’ve had in the past, despite moving around a whole lot.

It’s just what you’re supposed to do. It’s not like it’s anything new. It should not be a surprise when you have high expectations like we do and you don’t meet them, you’ve got to do something about it. And so like I said, we’ve had great conversation and the planning has been really good.

Q. How might your day-to-day life during the season change?
JOE MADDON: Well, I guess I’m not going to get to talk to you guys as long. I do have a tendency to get long-winded, I admit it. Part of the plan is to get out a little more often on the field, which I love. This is not like — part of these past couple of years for me is I thought it was important that I did spend a lot of time with you guys in regards to setting up the program, what we’re doing there, answering your questions, which I’ll continue to do. However, with all the new coaches this year and still a lot of young players being developed, I think it’s more important that I get more involved on the field a little more often.

It’s not going to be a dramatic difference. But I do like to coach. And there’s a distinct difference between managing a coach, like you all know. Having this opportunity to get back on the field more in a coaching role more often, I’m looking forward to it.

Q. How different is it from previous, however long you’ve been managing, how different do you expect it to be?
JOE MADDON: Minimally. You guys see me every day. The difference would be that I want to get out. You saw me in Spring Training; I get involved in a lot of the drills in camp. During the season I’ll just maybe make this a little bit shorter and get outside during the batting practice and make sure I walk around a little bit and talk to the guys a little bit more often.

I don’t think you’re going to see visually a dramatic change. I don’t want to paint the wrong picture at all. My teeth were cut in development. I am a developmental guy. I’ve already mentioned it a couple of times today. We need to get a lot of our young players — I would say primarily obviously the challenge is going to be offensively this year. Last year we played pretty good defense, we ran the bases well, pitched pretty well. We have to get more offensive. And that’s pretty much what I majored in as a Minor League coach.

So I want to get more involved in that a little bit, but not to the point of interference. I do believe and still believe in empowering coaching staff and staying out of their way, and I’ll continue to do that. But I just feel it’s necessary that I just get out there a little bit more often.

Q. With the coaching staff, these are new guys but obviously familiar faces and names, how important is that continuity?
JOE MADDON: Of course. Continuity in a coaching staff, of course selfishly from my perspective, makes it easier for me. But it’s all about the players. When players are around and coached by guys that they have trust and confidence in, obviously they have that trust and confidence, and when you speak to them they take it more to heart and it has a much better chance of being implemented and working.

So I know our players like the guys coming in. I think it’s going to be an easy transition, not a difficult one. All that stuff is going to be seamless. However, like for Tommy, for instance, Tommy has not done this. And pitching coach in a dugout, I’ve talked to him about this, because he and I communicated a lot, regardless. The difference is going to be in game communication and how you go about that. He’s got to get used to it. I get kind of quick in the dugout, having him think quickly and understanding me in the dugout is going to be important. We’ll get through that the first two weeks. But those are the kind of nuance.

The other part is I’m really into coaching the coaches. We talked about the players. I’ve done in the past a pretty regular bimonthly meeting with coaches. I like to coach the coaches. And last year I probably did it monthly not bimonthly. But with the young coaches that’s something also that’s going to be important to get back into that.

Best way I could describe it, I put my Minor League hat back on, which I love to do. The developmental component, the instructional component, try to challenge myself on that level. And again, kind of fun to think about it.

Q. What do you think now that you’ve had some time to digest it, happened offensively? There’s a lot to digest. What do you think went on there?
JOE MADDON: Well, for a lot of guys there’s a couple that really got off — Albert got off well early on, maybe struggled later on. We’ve got to get Kyle to the level he’s capable of and happy. Jason did better, also, maybe regressed a bit.

It’s just a communication thing, quite frankly. When I speak to you and how I say something to you as an instructor, how well do you take that and understand that. I’ve always been into the phrase. In other words, listen, Chili is outstanding, I’m a big Chili guy here, but you’re always seeking for the, in other words, method that makes sense to you.

So whether it was John or Chili, this is all us seeking the right message and a method that you understand perfectly. So maybe going back to people that you’ve been around before might unlodge something or make it somewhat easier to connect. The connection becomes easier.

Listen, hitting is difficult. It’s not just us. If you look around the industry, a lot of young hitters did struggle last year. There’s one part of our game, and that is hitting, to me, the offensive players have a great disadvantage based on most of the analytics, most of the stuff out there, most of the video study, really helps and aides pitching and defense and does very little for hitters. I stand by that, I believe that. Hitting is reactive, whereas pitching and defense is proactive.

So hitters, there’s a lot more to absorb when you’re only in the league a couple of years, Schwarber missed some time, Happi is still young, Albert, the same thing, they’re still working on the at-bats. Patience, that’s where I’m at. There is some technique that is applicable to make these guys better, but I think patience is required to permit these guys to get to the level of their competency. This is where I’m at with all this.

Conversationally, I’ve talked to Termel and talked about specifics about what I think. Definitely we’re absolutely on the same page. That’s where we’ve got to go with these guys. That’s the next level of our success. I think a lot of it is going to be commanded by how well we command the strike zone, how well we attack the baseball, how well we utilize the whole field, move the ball in situations.

Q. How do you feel about becoming a free agent manager?
JOE MADDON: I’ve been there before. I’ve been there before. No, it’s all good. We’ve had some really good conversations. I totally understand where he’s coming from. I am not offended. I don’t feel badly about it. I get it.

I’m excited. I’m really excited about all this. If you have a lot of self-confidence, things like that do not bother you, and I do. I’m going to do my job. I might alter it a little bit like getting out on the field more often.

What we’ve done over the last four years I feel pretty good about, feel strongly about, and I think you’ll see that trend continue. The whole objective now, and we want to put the emphasis on us and winning. And I definitely don’t want the emphasis on me. I want to get beyond all this.

I am very happy with my stature and my status. The Cubs have taken extremely good care of me and my family to the point where I could never repay them enough.

So regardless of your label attachment, your moniker right now, it doesn’t matter. I’m going to do the same job, and I feel very confident moving forward that I’m going to be a big part of the Cub organization.

Q. And you have a choice, as well?
JOE MADDON: Of course I will. And let’s just win the World Series and see how that plays out. I love the city of Chicago. I love the fans. I mean that sincerely. You’ve heard me say this all the time, the interaction is spectacular. To be able to report to Wrigley Field daily I consider an honor. And again, my whole life has changed over the last four years based on this opportunity. There’s no ill will.

And furthermore, the concept that Theo and I have any kind of a disengagement or a lack of philosophical sameness is untrue. We have great conversations. And we’re definitely almost a hundred percent on the same page all the time. It’s a great conversation. When you hear things like that, and I’m not going to defend myself, because I think that’s a boring method when you have to defend yourself against something like that, just know that we are on the same page. And philosophically really aligned well. So when I have to answer those questions to my mom, that makes it more difficult. That’s what bums me out a little bit.

Q. You said you want to stay in Chicago. Do you expect this will work out and 2020 you’ll be the manager of the Cubs?
JOE MADDON: I’d like to believe so. Absolutely. That’s my plan. Again, how could you not love that opportunity or the gig. The gig is the best. My players, the people I work with, I could not ask for more, it’s impossible. Facilities, if you need something you get it the next day or the next week. It’s an incredible situation. I think it’s the best in the Major Leagues. And I’ve often talked about Wrigley being the best professional facility in all the world, and I mean that sincerely.

So for me, of course I want to be able to maintain this method and I do believe that will happen.

Q. When you look around your division, the Brewers got to the other side of their rebuild pretty quick, the Cardinals added Goldschmidt.
JOE MADDON: I don’t like the Diamondbacks right now at all, I really don’t.

Q. Now the Reds have totally changed things.
JOE MADDON: I’ve been saying it all year: I think we have the best division in baseball, I really do. Team for team I think we’re the best because of the ascension of these other groups. Playing the Cardinals is no fun again. And the Pirates continue to get better, they made some really good deals. Milwaukee showed their mettle last year. Cincinnati, we’ve had decent success against them. They’ve had a lot of good players come through the door.

Our division is going to be very difficult this year. You’ve got to win your division overall. You’ve got to build up some spread there. And it’s not going away.

I’ve argued this last year: There’s no parity in the Big Leagues right now. I’m seeing it, talking about our division, but the ascension of the Braves, you’ve seen what the Mets are going to do, the Phillies. The whole thing has gotten tougher. NL West, I really appreciate their pitching a lot.

So the overall, it’s not an easy thing to do. And that’s the point, when you win 90 or 90-plus games, winning just one Major League Baseball game is really difficult to do. So, again, with all the negative stream that’s attached to the fact that we had a pretty good season last year but not get deeply into the playoffs, there’s a lot to love about our group, which I do, and I’m proud of what we’ve done over the last couple of years.

Q. How do you think Goldschmidt improves the Cardinals?
JOE MADDON: Did you ever see them play against us? Against everybody (laughter). This guy is a really good defender, and he’s a good baserunner, too. I have a total appreciation for this guy’s game. You put him in the lineup and Ozuna is another guy. Carpenter had a great year last year. Bader is ascending right now also. They’re very offensive. And they’ve got young pitching now. They’ve gotten really good. He’s kind of like, when he sashays into the clubhouse and everybody sees him walking in there, they all become better. That definitely makes them much more difficult to beat next year.

Q. What do you think of the potential of the shifts being eliminated or outlawed?
JOE MADDON: That’s the one — I’ve talked about I really want to be more acquiescent involving change. I’m primarily talking about a pitch clock. Shifting changes, I’m not on board with the fact that you’d eliminate that, legislate no shifting.

I still contend that there’s a part of the game that we don’t like that you want to make better or change, to really focus on that in the Minor Leagues, those are our next Big League players. You could easily identify, the heavy left-handed hitter that, with all the analytics, that he’s going to be in trouble. Really work on him learning how to bunt, hit the ball on the ground to the shortstop. I think that’s where it needs to begin. It’s more a technique-driven kind of situation to adjust.

Having said that, to get your guys that have been in the Big Leagues for four, five or seven years to change, it’s almost impossible. And when you ask them to do that, it looks easy, sitting up top, the game looks slower, it looks easier, but standing sideways at home plate at 95, and try to do something you’re totally uncomfortable with is very hard to do.

My answer is no, I would not legislate against the shift. The shift should be organically maneuvered. But if you really want your hitters to be more of a liberal arts method of hitting, work on that in the Minor Leagues. If the guy is big in — you never punt in the Minor League, and you never try to say, hit and run. You never did that with them. Those are the kind of things that need to be nurtured there so the shift becomes moot and not such a big issue.

Q. (Inaudible.)
JOE MADDON: I know I’m not — just the libertarian perspective — I see both sides. But really, I’m so anti-legislation, as you well know.

Q. Back to your team a little bit. Front office as recently as yesterday sort of intimated there’s maybe a little lack of leadership in one quality. Did you see that as you look back at it? Is it an edge you need to get back?
JOE MADDON: That’s something I’d like to have every year. You look at a couple years ago when the Royals got really good, Houston added a couple of vets in their locker room, catcher — McCann — they made a huge difference down there.

This is something that is very difficult to analytically prescribe regarding how important this is. It’s one of the most important things you could possibly do, to get that right kind of mix in your clubhouse. Whereas a manager, you should not be privy to a lot of the trivial conversations that occur. And if I am, that means I’ve got a stool pigeon; I don’t want one. If you’re this veteran leader and you hear this really inane conversation going on that you know is counterproductive and if you do not intervene, then you are not doing your job as a veteran player, as a leader in the clubhouse.

So people would say why doesn’t the manager, of course you’re the leader, you’re the overall leader of the group, but there are certain things you are not privy to and you shouldn’t be. That’s where these guys really make a difference in the fabric. David was unusual, because Dave would grab guys walking off the field after a play. And I would be entertained in my corner watching this whole thing unfold. I would address it afterwards. There’s nothing wrong with that. I know that some of the guys were afraid to come in the dugout. And still that’s okay, because they knew David was on their side.

Yes, we want that. I would say that every team out here wants that and they’re hard to find.

Q. (Inaudible.)
JOE MADDON: They’re more conversational. No, they do a nice job. Absolutely they do a nice job. It’s just different. A little bit edgier dude. Johnny Lackey, he had that edge all the time, didn’t he? We’ve had that within our group. I love it. I love it. It makes my job easier in a good way.

But also the young players benefit. This is a beneficial component to the younger players. It’s just something that is not as readily found as maybe as it had been. Even when I was in the Minor Leagues, we wanted to get a vet, like a guy that was a Triple-A player, place him in the A-ball club. Just to do these kind of things. It’s a concept that’s been utilized for years on a Major League level, love it.

Q. Can you kind of put your finger on why (inaudible)?
JOE MADDON: You know, I’m not often into mechanical panaceas, but I do believe it might be more mechanical than anything. I know he’s working on stuff right now. I’m looking forward to talking with him when I get back down to Tampa. Still when you miss an entire year it still has an impact. He missed an entire year. And he’s still playing catchup regarding at-bats. And then I consider all that stuff.

So him, Happi is the same guy, Ian is the same way. We need to nurture methods, thought process at the plate, self-awareness. These are the kind of things that make you a good situational hitter. And you want to get done. Schwarb has got all the ability in the world and who cares more than he does. That needs to be patiently worked with, I believe. I believe it’s mechanically — there’s some mechanical things that may be tweaked a bit and to really reduce, reduce, go up with a simple plan. But I can say that with anybody.

Q. So when people ask you about teams spending money, but can you understand certain consternation from the fan base or from the media people saying, well, you have this window here, why wouldn’t you spend that extra money to go for the biggest free agent out there?
JOE MADDON: Obviously I understand the conversation, absolutely I do. But from our perspective, we feel like we have a lot of that stuff already there that we’ve got to get more out of. It’s my job to extract Schwarber’s line drive, left center, two outs, RBI single. Ian Happ, running around third base, infield bat, one out, to be able to hit that ground ball to second base. We have it. These guys are that level of a player. They’re going to show that within the next couple of years.

So from our perspective, and I totally agree with this, we have what we need. They’re going to go out and do a couple of things. But we’ve got to extract from the group that we believe are their potentials. And I’m in agreement.

Q. One of your coaches, Brandon Hyde has been interviewed for the Orioles job, and you were in a similar position in Tampa Bay that the Orioles are now in. What kind of advice would you give him or any manager taking over a situation like that?
JOE MADDON: Well, you’ve got to — okay, tell you me, I’m going to bore you guys, you guys hear my crap all the time — I mean everybody wants the, well, we’re going to be tougher. We’re going to run plays, whatever. You’ve got to build relationships from the ground up. You’ve got to get to know people first. And they’ve got to get to know you. When you do that, you start trusting each other. And once you trust each other, I promise you the ideas flow more freely. And then when you’re constructively critical of one another you’re not pushing back.

It starts right there. It’s not complicated. And then after that you have to have a specific plan when you go out to practice, I believe in simplicity, you go out and create a simple plan that’s easy to follow and make sure that it’s adhered to. And if there’s anybody there that doesn’t belong there, they need to be gone. Early. So they’re the group that’s going to drag you down, drag your program down. When the program is being dragged down and they inflict these little wounds constantly, it’s difficult to get this thing to fly.

It’s not complicated, it’s not sexy, the explanation, but you’ve got to pay attention to those kind of things there before you really get your program running, and then you start playing right, you get the right dudes out there. Talking about the guys in the clubhouse, this team camaraderie and the sameness or this oneness about how you go about your business, that’s what matters.

Q. (Inaudible.)
JOE MADDON: I don’t know him that well. I knew obviously him and Longo were buds, and I’ve never really — I think I’ve talked to him one time by the batting cage. So I don’t know that answer. I don’t know health-wise where he’s at.

Q. If he’s got anything left on the field?
JOE MADDON: He was fabulous. When he was in Denver I loved what I saw. That’s been a while ago. I know the health has been an issue lately. I know Longo likes him a lot, which is good enough for me. That’s hard for me to assess.

Q. Relievers generally in their year-to-year volatility, why do you think that happens and what challenges does this present if building the bullpen?
JOE MADDON: Volatility, a lot of it has to do with feel. Some might have to do from the previous year. Some may have to do with feel. Just purely — and that’s hard to describe.

Sometimes, I mean if a guy’s done well and there’s greater expectations, maybe that’s an issue. So there’s a lot of little things going on. I think primarily would be two things, I would think, would be the usage from the year before and then how you match them up. I mean, you take a bullpen dude and you put him on the wrong guys all the time, he’s not going to pitch that well. So it’s a matter of how you set it up.

Stay away from injury, not running them into the ground the year before and how you match them up. I think that plays big into continued success. So I really pay attention to that.

A lot of it again is conversational. But there’s things that I believe in that you can’t necessarily mathematically indicate. It is feel. It is injury. It is what’s this guy thinking, the look in his eyeballs, are you setting him up right.

Q. Midway through the season (inaudible)?
JOE MADDON: I’m with you, man, and I was loud. And I totally believed it. I really thought once he made the All-Star Team, I thought that was going to take off. He’s going to be this guy. But for whatever reason the offense never came to fruition and he became really difficult on himself, and I think he dragged himself down a bit. We need to get him to continue to work on his defense to the point he understands the catcher’s responsibility regarding guiding his pitching staff.

Physically at the plate, you saw him two years ago, that last part of the season was phenomenal. So I just think he got in a bad rut and couldn’t get out of it. We’ve got to talk to him soon early on and get things straightened out with him mentally and how you approach this whole thing. I like that he plays with his hair on fire, but you can’t get too emotional. These are things we’ll talk about him. But talent-wise I meant that. I thought he was on the verge of becoming or was the best catcher in the National League.

Q. It seemed like he always had different setups.
JOE MADDON: Behind the plate?

Q. Is it important, at least this year, to have some semblance of consistency?
JOE MADDON: Sure. Always is. Yes. He was searching, he’s always searching for different methods. And when you have to search constantly, normally that means something is not quite right. We do have to arrive at a moment he’s most comfortable with and most functional. And sometimes you have to sacrifice comfort for function.

Even in the batter’s box, you have to sacrifice comfort for function, and then that becomes more comfortable as you get into this originally an uncomfortable spot. All of these things we’ve got to deal with with him.

The guy is an incredible talent. Strong, the way he throws, blocks the ball. There’s so much good right there. So we’ve got to, again, extract it out of him, start over a little bit this year, try to build into this method that he doesn’t become so emotional that he gets in his own way and permits this talent to take over.

Q. Talking about managing the Millennials and how that’s different now compared to when you started managing.
JOE MADDON: It’s a great read, “Managing Millennials for Dummies.” I’m in the middle of that right now. And you always think this for dummy’s thing is really rudimentary written, it’s really well written and researched. I’m learning about traditionalists, Baby Boomers, the X’ers, the Millennials. And I’m really starting to understand this a little bit better.

I think it’s important for me as a manager obviously, whether anybody here agrees or disagrees with the generation and how they process things, it doesn’t matter, because that’s the way it is. And if that’s the way it is, just like my dad, that generation, thought we were a bunch of babies, the Boomers, the traditionalist thought, they’re all soft. It doesn’t matter. You have to figure out how to communicate and extract the best out of this group and make sure that you’re always on the same page.

That’s what I’ve been studying. I’ve been studying that a lot. I’ve been studying social media a lot. A great book “Antisocial Media,” which I always thought there’s a strong component of that.

These are the kind of things we in this business today, football, baseball, whatever, again, regardless if you agree or not doesn’t matter, this is the way it is. And you have to make your adjustments. And that’s what I’m working on right now is to understand better how to better serve these guys.

Q. You’re reading something on Millennials?
JOE MADDON: “Managing Millennials for Dummies.”

Q. How much was symbolic moving from where the Cubs were before to a greater thing and maybe how a team can signal that with a big free agent sign?
JOE MADDON: You have to have short-term victories before you can have this long-term or reach your eventual goal. Short-term victories were to sign Jon Lester originally, and what Jon brought to the table. The Dexter Fowler addition was big. The ascension of KB. There’s so many short-term victories that eventually led us to the 2016 World Series victory.

Everybody wants to get things done right now. It doesn’t happen that way. You’ve got to be somewhat patient. You dog it in regards to how you’re going to go about it. But if you do that the reward is there. But everybody wants it right now, brother, and it just doesn’t play that way. But Jon Lester was probably the cornerstone of that ascension.

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Thomas Derlan worked directly in the online casino industry for a number of years as an affiliate manager at a large online casino and writes about the global gambling industry for Rouletters.com