Rumors that surfaced immediately after Joe Maddon left the Rays last week that he was headed to the Cubs apparently are about to become reality.
Though agent Alan Nero told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday night there was "not a done deal," there were indications and several reports that something could be finalized between Maddon and the Cubs and announced as soon as Friday.
If it is, the Rays might be upset enough to file a tampering complaint with Major League Baseball over the hiring, though it's not clear what that could lead to in terms of a decision or any potential damages.
Despite the flurry of reports hours before Wednesday's first pitch of World Series Game 7, Nero insisted Maddon was still considering several options, with offers for at least one managing job, front-office roles and a TV gig.
"The bottom line is this is not a done deal," Nero said. "We're continuing to talk to several clubs. We're very close. Joe is trying to make a decision. We might have a deal in the next few days."
Maddon unexpectedly took advantage of an opt-out clause to walk away from the final year of his deal with the Rays and a $1.85 million salary. He said at the time he had nothing lined up, but Rays officials suspected otherwise, and a quick deal in Chicago might validate that.
Maddon did say at the time he was seeking a better financial opportunity. With top managers getting $5 million a year, he could be line for a mega-deal in Chicago, as much as or more than $25 million over five years.
Maddon, who headed west in his RV after Friday's announcement, was not available for comment as his 727-based Rays-paid cellphone was no longer in service. (Also, his @RaysJoeMaddon twitter handle was changed to @Maddonini with a generic photo as his avatar.)
The Cubs, as they have since Maddon left the Rays, had nothing to say. Not only would completing a contract during the Series finale have angered MLB officials, but the Cubs have to deal with the somewhat sensitive issue of already having a manager, Rick Renteria, who is signed through 2016.
Renteria issued a statement Monday saying he remained focused on his job, and agent Ken Solomon said Wednesday, "Nothing's changed since Rick's statement."
Nero, who is based in Chicago, said he felt bad about the situation: "All this speculation with the Cubs has stabbed Renteria right in the heart."
The Rays continue to work toward hiring Maddon's replacement, closing in on what qualifications and characteristics they seek. They plan to identity candidates and begin interviews before the Nov. 11-13 general manager meetings and have a hire, at the latest, by the Dec. 7 start of the winter meetings.
"We are not going to force a timetable on the process," president of baseball operations Matt Silverman said Wednesday. "We expect to solidify a candidate list in the coming days and begin scheduling interviews soon thereafter."
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Also pressing is managing their roster. The offseason officially begins today with the 9 a.m. opening of free agency, though no deals can be made until after 11:59 p.m. Monday.
Though the Rays don't have any free agents, they do have to decide by Monday night on player options on infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist (a certain yes at $7.5 million) and reliever Joel Peralta (uncertain at $2.5 million). They also have nine players eligible for arbitration, and the accompanying raises, and plans to reduce their payroll from a franchise record $80 million.
A primary focus will be roster management. The Rays have all 40 spots filled, plus two players, Matt Moore and Jerry Sands, who have to come off the 60-day disabled list, and need to make room for several prospects who have to be added by Nov. 20 to be protected from Rule 5 draft eligibility.
"The offseason is always our busy season," Silverman said, "and this one in particular is heavily front-loaded with a manager search and the challenge of a full roster."
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com.