Joe Maddon sees new clubhouse leaders emerging for Cubs after David Ross

Joe Maddon sees new clubhouse leaders emerging for Cubs after David Ross

After the Braves fired Fredi Gonzalez last month, Cubs players joked David Ross was in line to take over as manager in Atlanta in 2017.

Those jokes actually have an element of truth, as Ross has been widely praised for his clubhouse leadership and charisma throughout his career. Cubs skipper Joe Maddon has said on several occasions that he could see Ross becoming a manager someday.

The veteran catcher has carved out a journeyman-type career, but his longest stop was from 2009-12 in Atlanta, where the Cubs continued their three-game series against the last-place Braves on Saturday afternoon and Ross helped nurture Jason Heyward during the outfielder's first few years in The Show.

But regardless of where "Grandpa Rossy" goes or what he does after this season, his departure will leave a void in the Cubs clubhouse.

Maddon may very well be the best manager in the game, but he's also hands-off when it comes to policing the clubhouse and lets his players set - and enforce - the guidelines. He doesn't believe in appointing a captain.

"It's an organic situation," Maddon said. "Leadership is taken. You can't give leadership. (That’s) just the way it happens. You just can't anoint a leader.

"You can maybe, through politics, by having people vote for you, I guess. I've often thought that's a fabricated way of anointing a leader sometimes.

"But when you're within a group setting like this with us, there's no real hierarchy set up specifically. So if somebody wants to emerge as the leader, they have to, like, take that.

"Players have to want to follow this particular person. I just can't say, 'I'm gonna put a 'C' on your chest and all of a sudden, people are going to listen to you.'"

The Cubs have clearly taken on Anthony Rizzo’s personality, watching the All-Star first baseman grow up and find his voice around the team. Rizzo knows how to have fun, play hard and represent the franchise.

Each season, Maddon has his "Lead Bulls" meeting with a group of about 10 veterans who get together in spring training to set guidelines and ground rules for the clubhouse. Moving forward, Maddon expects the Cubs to continue to have a "leadership by committee" type of approach.

Of the Cubs' young everyday core, only Rizzo and Heyward have played full seasons in the big leagues, and both will be 27 this August.

"That's something that's become really obvious to me over the last 10 or 15, 20 years: Watching young guys attempt to be leaders," Maddon said. "Again, you can't try to be a leader. Either you are or you're not. Either you have the bells and whistles or you don't.

"And I don't think batting average or home runs or 20 wins indicate that you're a leader. Those are all misleading reasons why somebody is appointed a leader.

"You get veteran players from one group to your team and the guy's had a nice career for 10 years. And automatically, the exterior believes that this guy is gonna be the leader in that clubhouse. It could be the farthest thing from the truth."

Ross embodies Maddon's sentiment that the back of a guy's baseball card doesn't qualify him as a leader.

The 39-year-old catcher has played 15 years in the big leagues, but has a career .228 average and has hit double-digit homers in a season three times. In fact, he's only played more than 90 games in a season one time.

Ross has made a career out of being a backup catcher and it's his personality, relatable nature and sense of humor that has helped him earn the respect of his peers.

"For me, leadership, a lot of it has to do with what you are more willing to give to somebody else as opposed to being worried about yourself on a daily basis," Maddon said. "I think when you're a good leader, you are really sensitive and have a lot of empathy towards everybody else around you.

"If you're looking at guys within clubhouses, I would look for empathy as much as anything, regarding whether or not you believe somebody's a leader. Also, listening skills, somebody that's not always pontificating. That leads you in the wrong direction."

Joe Maddon already has a new job, signs on with Angels

Joe Maddon already has a new job, signs on with Angels

Barring a Cubs-Angels World Series, the Wrigley Field faithful might not have much of an opportunity to welcome Joe Maddon back to The Friendly Confines.

It didn't take long for Maddon to find a job, as he reportedly agreed this week to join the Los Angeles Angels as their next manager. This was a widely speculated move after the Angels let go of manager Brad Ausmus just one year into a three-year contract immediately after the Cubs announced they were parting ways with Maddon. 

According to ESPN's Jesse Rogers, Maddon's deal will likely be for three years at $4-5 million a season:

Maddon came up as a coach in the Angels system, referencing his three decades there often during the course of his five years in Chicago.

Once the Cubs got rid of Maddon, it was obvious he would have plenty of suitors, as just about any team with a managerial vacancy would be interested in the future Hall of Famer. But instead of going to an up-and-coming team like the Padres or a squad on the cusp of the playoffs like the Phillies, Maddon opted to return to his baseball home.

That means he will most likely not face off against the Cubs over the next couple of seasons, as the Cubs hosted the Angels in 2019 and are not slated to play each other again until 2021 (which will take place in L.A.). Barring the aforementioned World Series meeting, Maddon and the Cubs likely won’t cross paths in Chicago for the next few seasons.

It also means Maddon will get to team up with the best player in the game (Mike Trout) and an exciting young two-way star (Shohei Ohtani) while inheriting a roster that otherwise has some major flaws. The Angels have struggled to build up a roster around Trout over his nine seasons, making the playoffs just once in 2014 and getting bounced from the ALDS by the Kansas City Royals that season.

But the Angels do have some intriguing prospects coming up the system — led by outfielder Jo Adell — and Maddon has experience taking a team and elevating them to contender status immediately. He also carries immediate clout that will help draw free agents to L.A., as he did in Chicago with Jon Lester.

Maddon will be reunited with former Cubs fan favorite Tommy La Stella, who was starring for the Angels earlier this season before a leg injury sent him to the shelf for several months.

In many ways, this is an ideal fit for Maddon, who will get to stay in a big market with a team willing to spend and a roster that at least has some incredible talent from Day 1. It would obviously be a difficult task to try to overtake the juggernaut Houston Astros in the AL West, but he accomplished a similar feat in Chicago when he led the Cubs past the Cardinals in Year 1 (and kept the Cards out of the playoffs for the next three years until their return to October baseball this fall).

The Cubs, meanwhile, have not yet announced a new manager, though David Ross still looms as the favorite to take over Maddon's former gig. Theo Epstein's front office interviewed Mark Loretta, Will Venable, Joe Girardi and Ross earlier this month and also planned to talk to Joe Espada and Gabe Kapler this week.

Epstein said the Cubs are "full speed ahead" to hire a new manager, so expect them to move quickly to finalize Maddon's heir.

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.