Free Agents Won’t Give Cubs the Maddon Discount
You’re going to see a lot of this sentiment in the coming days, weeks and months: Hiring Joe Maddon gives the Cubs a competitive advantage in recruiting, an inside track on free agents.
You’ll read that Maddon’s track record of success is irresistible, that he’s the ultimate players’ manager. You’ll watch the bottomless roster of SportsTalk Live panelists repeatedly point to his strong relationship with former players and speculate eagerly whether the Cubs should prioritize signing James Shields because “he has a history with Maddon.”
All of those things are true. Joe Maddon is one of the most effective tactical managers in baseball. He’ll squeeze out more runs from his offense and prevent more runs with his defense than just about anyone else in the game. He’s also easily among the league’s best at managing personalities. Present him with a frustrated, uptight clubhouse, and he’ll nimbly massage all that tension away. Not literally. I think.
Here’s what Joe Maddon won’t do: He won’t persuade Max Scherzer to leave maybe $40 million in Yankee Money on the table to come play on the North Side. He won’t be the reason Jon Lester spurns a megadeal from whichever franchise will be this year’s darkhorse spender, like the day Robinson Cano was greeted warmly at Seattle’s airport by a briefcase containing $250 million in sweet, sweet TV money. And he won’t convince Shields, much less Shields’ agent, to sign with the Cubs for significantly less money than what the highest bidder might offer.
None of this is to say there’s zero recruiting value in a first-rate manager. All things being equal, a successful, highly-regarded manager is obviously a better draw than Replacement-Level Dope in Baseball Pants. The same can be said for quality of city, quality of talent, quality of ballpark experience and the organization’s place in history. All of those facets represent sales-pitch tiebreakers, and in each of those facets, the Cubs organization ranks among the league’s best.
The Cubs could, and probably will, come out of this offseason with a pair of workhorse starters. Theo Epstein could very reasonably decide this offseason is the year for the kind of targeted splurging he knows is brutal on the back end but essential when it’s time to contend. It’s not even out of the realm of possibility, come April, to see a top of the rotation of Lester-Arrieta-Shields.
But there isn’t going to be a Maddon Discount helping the Cubs anytime soon, even if the charismatic, bespectacled one did enjoy a quality, bromantic relationship with a former pitcher in Tampa. The Cubs are aware of this, and within reason, they’ll readily tap into their actual top selling point: Lots of money.