Cubs

Why Joe Maddon doesn't need an iPad in Cubs dugout

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Why Joe Maddon doesn't need an iPad in Cubs dugout

MESA, Ariz. – Joe Maddon snapped his fingers, a reminder about the rhythm of the game and how you need to have a feel for the moment that can’t be found on an iPad in the dugout.

“That’s why I have that card in my back pocket,” Maddon said.

It’s always about the players. Maddon could have signed into Netflix and watched episodes of “The Office” during the games Jake Arrieta pitched in the second half of last season and still looked like a Manager of the Year.

But the Cubs are also an organization, packing up the Sloan Park clubhouse on Wednesday and leaving Arizona as a World Series favorite built around old-school talent evaluations, under-the-radar scouting finds, a sophisticated game-planning network, the Ivy computer system and the personality of their progressive manager.

Yet by the end of spring training – even one as colorful as Camp Maddon – the Cubs manager didn’t have much practical interest in Major League Baseball’s new marketing agreement with Apple that will equip coaching staffs with iPad Pro tablets. Commissioner Rob Manfred also told The Wall Street Journal that the deal coincides with laptops, tablets and smartphones no longer being prohibited in dugouts. 

“This might sound nuts to you, but it might slow down the process,” Maddon said. “Those things are wonderful to access information. But when you need it very quickly, I think you almost have to wait for artificial intelligence to take over where it actually moves at the speed of your thought.

“I really should know in advance of the moment based on the information I gather prior to the game – and then all the information I want on that card in my back pocket during the game – because it’s so fast.

“If I have to start typing on stuff or pushing buttons…that’s where the piece of paper has it all over the computer in that moment.”

[MORE: Jake Arrieta ready to put his game face on]

Maddon is 62 years old, but he carries himself like a much younger man. He already keeps an iPad Pro in his office, using it to control his speakers, send e-mails and check his Twitter account.

Maddon remembers doing all the grunt work himself as an Angels coach in the mid-90s, getting to the ballpark around lunchtime for a night game and studying the stat sheets to prepare for meetings with players.

Maddon then spent nine years managing a small-market Rays team influenced by Wall Street thinking, at a time when the entire industry began to embrace Big Data.

“I’m not denigrating Apple or anything else right now,” Maddon said. “I’m just telling you that when you’re trying to get something done quickly in a dugout, I want to believe that all stuff should be in place prior to, and I’ve been doing this for a while.

“I’m not putting it down. I’m just curious as to the relevancy and how it actually does (work) in the course of the game.

“I got to see it to know that it’s going to actually benefit me in the dugout, whereas I’m pretty comfortable with my system right now.

“That’s the old-school component of me just bleeding right now.”

[MORE: How Cubs see Neil Ramirez contributing to bullpen]

Maddon also actively seeks out information from “The Geek Department,” posing questions and testing theories, trying to fuse his observations after all those years as a scout, minor-league manager and hitting instructor.

“I’m into trends,” Maddon said. “Beyond the big bucket of information everybody talks about – the larger sample size – which everybody is so into. I am, too. But I also like the small bucket of trends. Tell me what’s trending right now. I need to know that also, because people change.

“The number is a number – I understand that – but during the course of the season there are trends that you have to pay attention to. A guy makes an adjustment – all of a sudden the guy’s just good. When a bad guy gets good and a good guy gets bad, you got to know that, like now.”

That combination of people skills and intellectual curiosity helps explain why the Cubs went from being a last-place team to a 97-win playoff contender last year. You can’t look everything up on an iPad.

“That’s the kind of stuff you try to compile before the game begins,” Maddon said. “If you’re waiting for it happen, you’re way behind.”

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

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USA TODAY

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Luke Stuckmeyer and Tony Andracki discuss the comments Chili Davis made after being fired as Cubs hitting coach, ask if the Cubs struggles on offense were Davis' fault or the players and what Anthony Iapoce will be walking into as he tries to gets the team back on track a the plate.

 

Listen to the entire podcast here, or in the embedded player below: