Thursday, February 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Maddon's departure from Rays to Cubs feels shady

This whole thing stinks to high heaven.

It smells rotten and it looks shady and it feels dirty.

No matter how you slice it, it all just feels wrong.

Joe Maddon is gone. It's official now. The Cubs introduced him as their manager Monday.

He put on their hat. He put on their jersey. And that's when it truly sunk in.

He isn't coming back to Tampa Bay next season. It's over. He belongs to someone else now.

That alone, of course, is sobering news for Rays fans who remember how long summers used to be before Maddon arrived.

On Monday, he talked about young talent and promise for the future and winning pennants and, naturally, he did it in his oddball and charming way. Except, this time, he wasn't talking about your team.

But, you know, Maddon leaving is not the awkward part. It's how he left. That's the part that's hard to swallow.

As far as leaving, who can blame him? He wanted more money and the Cubs gave him more money.

Maybe he thought the Cubs gave him a better chance than the Rays to win a World Series. Maybe he wants to work with Cubs president Theo Epstein. Heck, maybe he prefers Chicago-style deep dish pizza to Cuban sandwiches.

Whatever the reason, Maddon has every right to live his life how he wants.

Wanting more financial security, wanting to call Wrigley Field his office, wanting the challenge of turning baseball's lovable losers into champs doesn't make him a traitor. He gave the Rays nine good years and left the organization in far better shape than he found it. He's not, suddenly, a bad guy.

This was strictly business. And you could bet your bottom dollar that the Rays would have had no problem firing Maddon if he started losing more games than he was winning.

But it's how Maddon left that feels a little slimy.

Let's start with the moment Andrew Friedman, the Rays vice president of baseball operations, left to join the Dodgers. At the time, Maddon told Tampa Bay Times baseball writer Marc Topkin, "I'm a Ray, I've said it all along, I want to continue to be one. I still believe … it's the best place in all of baseball to work, but I also stand by the fact that the ballpark needs to be improved."

Fair enough. The Rays need a new ballpark. But other than that, Maddon said right here was the best place in all of baseball. He was signed through next season, and the Rays were trying to sign him to an extension. All seemed hunky-dory.

But then came the stunning news that Maddon had a brief opt-out clause in his contract that was activated when Friedman left the organization. Maddon took advantage of that window and, before you know it, he's putting on a Cubs hat.

This is where the story gets a little more messy.

Maddon said he didn't even know he had an out clause until his agent, Alan Nero, told him. The Cubs and Nero claim that there was no tampering, that the Cubs didn't start negotiating with Maddon while he was still an employee of the Rays. Seems hard to believe that Maddon left the Rays and walked away with no idea that the Cubs were willing to fire their manager and give him $5 million a year for five years.

Nero says the tampering charges are "silly'' and "insulting.'' No, what's silly and insulting is expecting reasonably intelligent people to buy that Maddon left the Rays with no job lined up, especially when rumors that he was headed to the Cubs cropped up almost immediately.

And, by the way, Nero calling the Rays' accusations "really sad'' as his client is walking out the door? That's just poor form. Allow the Rays to pout for a moment and leave it at that.

Meantime, there's the ugly business that Maddon appeared to have gone after a job that was already filled by someone else. It's hard to blame the Cubs. Epstein correctly pointed out that he had an obligation to do what was best for the Cubs and, in his mind, firing first-year manager Rick Renteria and hiring Maddon was the best thing to do. Frankly, you can't argue with that.

But did Maddon break some sort of code? Did he betray a member of the fraternity?

Yeah, it feels like it. Put it this way: I'm guessing Maddon would not have appreciated someone going after his job when he lost 101 games in his first season as a major-league manager.

If you're a Rays fan, it's easy to feel like a jilted lover. If you watched Monday's news conference, it felt like Maddon had already forgotten about you.

It took him until the 36th and last minute on the podium to finally get around to thanking the Rays. He spoke almost exclusively about his future with the Cubs and very little about his past with the Rays. There were no apologies, no regrets, not even an acknowledgement that many Rays fans are upset to see him go.

He has clearly moved on and now the Rays must move on, too.

In the end, it's hard to blame anyone. The Cubs just wanted a good manager. Maddon just wanted financial security and the chance to manage a legendary club. The Rays were fiscally responsible.

Everyone tried to do the right thing. Maybe they even did the right thing.

Still, the whole thing just feels wrong.

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