Cubs: The power dynamic between Joe Maddon and Theo Epstein


Cubs: The power dynamic between Joe Maddon and Theo Epstein

NEW YORK – Joe Maddon and Theo Epstein have big egos, strong opinions and multimillion-dollar contracts. If they weren’t wired with that self-assuredness, the “celebrity” manager and the “rock star” president of baseball operations wouldn’t be running the Cubs right now.

There will inevitably be personality conflicts and creative tension between Maddon’s dugout and Epstein’s front office. But 77 games into Maddon’s first season, the Cubs definitely aren’t the same dysfunctional group that finished in fifth place for five years in a row, sweeping the New York Mets out of Citi Field with Thursday’s 6-1 victory.

That’s the high-end talent Epstein’s group has acquired – Jake Arrieta again looked like a frontline starter exactly two years after that trade with the Baltimore Orioles – and the relaxed-but-focused atmosphere Maddon’s coaching staff has created for a 42-35 team that limited the Mets to one run during this three-game series.

The dream sequence is Maddon sitting around an RV park in Navarre Beach, Florida, with Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer, drinking beers and talking baseball philosophy.

The nightmare is organizational chaos, the power play Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia – Maddon’s old boss – just made in Anaheim. That struggle for control forced general manager Jerry Dipoto to resign this week after a 98-win season last year.

“There should be disagreements,” Maddon said. “The healthy component is when you feel comfortable. How do you get to that point? You build a relationship and you trust each other – and then it becomes a healthy debate. If there’s not relationships and trust, then it becomes pushback on both sides, and therein lies the difference.

“If you truly want to have a healthy situation, you get to know each other. You trust each other, and now you can have a really good debate, so it’s not an argument. It’s not a disagreement. It’s a nice debate. It’s not about who’s right. It’s about getting it right at that point.

“Sometimes people skip over the relationship building and the trusting part. And when you do that, it’s just going to be a battle. The guy with the biggest ---- wants to be heard.”

[MORE: Cubs starting to believe in magic]

Scioscia’s resistance to analytics and next-level scouting – the kind of raw data Maddon would try to gather as the bench coach for the 2002 World Series champs – reportedly caused extreme friction with Dipoto.

That’s one area where Maddon’s outgoing nature and sense of curiosity have meshed well with Epstein’s intense desire to find any competitive advantage.

“I love the Geek Department,” Maddon said. “I seek out the Geek Department. I give them stuff all the time to work on. I want information. Jeremy (Greenhouse, the assistant director of research and development) and the boys have been great.

“Stuff I need that I don’t know – I ask them right down to pitch selection. Why is a guy struggling? Has his arm angle dropped a bit? Is it still in the same spot? All these different things that I can’t see with the naked eye – that we can (see) technologically speaking – I want to know.

“You could make a commercial out of that.”

[MORE: Addison Russell ready to handle the grind of a long season]

Maddon is a pitchman while being a face of the franchise sometimes makes the introverted Epstein uncomfortable. The big idea is they will balance each other out with their strengths and weaknesses.

Maddon lobbied hard for Javier Baez to make the team out of spring training – and constantly offers ideas about the roster – but he’s not demanding final say.

It helps that Maddon has a life outside those clubhouse walls – and that Epstein has the credibility that comes from those two World Series titles with the Boston Red Sox.

“I only want to do my job,” Maddon said. “I want to do my job and then leave and then go have a glass of wine. Or ride my bike in the morning and not worry about making a ton of phone calls and player-personnel decisions. I’d rather do what I do.”

Maddon already balanced old-school values and Wall Street ruthlessness during his nine years with the Tampa Bay Rays, overseeing an ascendant small-market team that produced five seasons with 90 or more wins.

Scioscia is an outlier at a time when franchises have diminished the importance of managers. Scioscia has three seasons left on a 10-year, $50 million contract and a seemingly direct report to owner Arte Moreno.

Maddon – who has a five-year, $25 million contract – might be one of the few managers left with the stature to tell his bosses: This is what I want. Give it to me.

“I would never say that,” Maddon said. “I will tell you what I think. I really believe in the executive, judicial, legislative branches. I believe in all that stuff.

“I believe in checks and balances. I want ‘em, because I know what I think and what I believe, but then you have to hear this other opinion also to really try to come to the correct conclusion. There’s so much going on out there. There are so many bright people out there. I want to hear what you have to say, man.

“The least attractive item would be for me to have so much power that I would not have to listen to these (people). That would be so unattractive to me.

“This is my job. Even though I feel qualified to do other things, it’s not my job.”

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Get a new Cubs hat right here]

New York tabloids already buried the Mets on the back pages – “MEET THE MESS” and “ZEROES!” – of the newspapers stacked neatly in piles on Thursday morning across a table in the visiting clubhouse.

Terry Collins – one of several managers Maddon had worked with during his 31 years in the Angels organization – is definitely on the hot seat.

Maddon sat in an office packed with reporters and rattled off the names of other managers who ran the Angels during that time: Gene Mauch, John McNamara, Cookie Rojas, Doug Rader, Buck Rodgers, Marcel Lachemann.

“There has to be a strong relationship between the front office and this seat,” Maddon said. “It’s changed dramatically over the last 15 or 20 (or 30 years) where there was this autocratic manager (whose) power exceeded everybody’s. He was almost in charge of all decision-making, and any time a team changed managers, you really changed everything.

“There were different organizations every couple of years. As a minor-league instructor, the thing that always stood out to me was that every couple years that you got a new manager, you’d have to go back to the minor leagues and teach an entirely different system, which I thought was insane.

“That’s where the confusion could pop up. So I always thought that there should be uniformity, obviously, between the manager’s seat and the front office: How do you want to work this as an organization? Because too many times they become two organizations – major and minor leagues.

“Why have the Dodgers been so good for so many years? Why have the Cardinals been so good for so many years? They have one organization. So that always baffled me (with the Angels).

“In today’s world, there’s got to be synergy between this seat and the front office to make it really resonate for years.”

The Cubs believe they now have that foundation in place – and not enough material for the next season of “Game of Thrones.” Stay tuned, because it will be fascinating to watch.

Bold predictions for the Cubs' 2019-20 offseason


Bold predictions for the Cubs' 2019-20 offseason

The Cubs are just a couple of weeks away from a pivotal offseason that could see a lot of change coming to Chicago's North Side.

Then again, we thought the same thing a year ago and it turned out Theo Epstein's biggest move last winter was signing Daniel Descalso to a two-year deal.

But after missing the playoffs in 2019, the Cubs are now at a crossroads as an organization. 

The NBC Sports Chicago crew previewed the offseason on the latest CubsTalk Podcast with some bold predictions for the winter.

Listen here and check out the fearless calls below:

(Note: Rationale and more context on each bold prediction in the podcast.)

David Kaplan

1. Cubs are going to take a page out of the Yankees' book and retool on the fly rather than go all-in to contend in 2020.
2. Jose Quintana has thrown his last pitch as a Cub.
3. This will be the second-to-last offseason for Theo Epstein as the Cubs president of baseball operations.

Kelly Crull 

1. Cubs re-sign Nick Castellanos and trade away Kyle Schwarber.
2. Tyler Chatwood will be in the 2020 rotation.
3. John Lackey will be named quality assurance coach on David Ross's coaching staff. (Kidding, but only kind of...)

Tony Andracki

1. Before the Cubs play a Spring Training game, Javy Baez will sign an extension that will keep him in Chicago through at least 2023.
2. Willson Contreras will be traded this winter and the Cubs will get some much-needed pitching help in return.
3. Cubs sign Howie Kendrick this winter as the professional bat and lefty-masher they craved in 2019.
4. Ben Zobrist will return on a one-year deal and finish his playing career in a Cubs uniform.
5. David Bote, Albert Almora Jr. and Addison Russell will all be traded or non-tendered this winter as the Cubs remake their bench/depth.

Jeff Nelson

1. Willson Contreras will sign a contract extension.
2. Ben Zobrist will return as a player/coach.
3. Jose Quintana will be traded for minor league depth.
4. Terrance Gore will be signed to be the 26th man on the roster under the new rules.

Theo Epstein’s dog damages Arizona rental property with excessive urine

USA Today

Theo Epstein’s dog damages Arizona rental property with excessive urine

In the midst of an intensive hiring process for the new Cubs manager, Theo Epstein is being sued by an Arizona couple claiming Epstein’s dog, Winston, damaged their house. The cause of damage? Peeing excessively inside the property Epstein rented for spring training in 2015.

Yes, you read that right, Epstein’s dog peed so much he’s being sued.

The lawsuit was filed this Tuesday in Maricopa County, according to the Phoenix New Times, citing Epstein’s dog left “a terrible odor and urine-stained carpeting” in the Paradise Valley, Ariz., home where he and his family stayed.

Winston is a rescue mutt, weighing in at around ten pounds. He can’t pee that much, right?

The lawsuit states the dog "peed prolifically in the $1 million house, staining tile and stone flooring, wood door jams, cabinets, and furniture."

John and Mary Valentino referenced a 2017 quote by Epstein as proof that Winston had a peeing problem. When asked about being named the world’s greatest leader by Fortune magazine after the Cubs 2016 World Series win, Epstein said: “I can’t even get my dog to stop peeing in the house.”

Epstein left the rental property two weeks early due to a scorpion infestation later was shown a repair estimate of $51,405, according to the report.

Julian Green, the Cubs vice president of communications, told the New Times the lawsuit was “baseless.” He also said that an exterminator discovered 45 scorpions on the property that “put (Epstein’s) family at risk every time they put their children to sleep.” The Epsteins moved into a different house for the last two weeks of spring training.

The owners kept the $5,000 security deposit, and according to a source the Epsteins did not hear from them again for more than four years until the suit was filed Tuesday.

When asked about the lawsuit, Epstein replied, “As I said, we have no untouchables. Winston is definitely available in the right trade.”

We’ll be keeping tabs on this story as it unfolds. In the meantime, it’s good to see Epstein still has a sense of humor, even with a dog urine lawsuit and a Cubs managerial search on the line.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream