We're running down the top 19 questions surrounding the Cubs heading into Opening Day 2019.
Next up: How different will Joe Maddon be in 2019?
As you might've heard a time or two, Joe Maddon is in the final year of his contract with the Cubs.
You also might've heard Maddon is expected to change his style a bit in 2019, but how much change are we talkin' here?
The answer: Fans probably won't notice any difference.
Most of the change from Maddon will be behind the scenes. He spent more time than usual coaching the coaches in spring training, but don't expect to see him huddling up with Mark Loretta, Brian Butterfield and the rest of the staff on the Wrigley Field infield before batting practice every day.
During winter meetings, Maddon said he would be cutting down on some of his time chatting in front of the media, but that may not change all that much either. Even though his sessions can get long, cutting down a 20-minute press conference to only 10-15 minutes doesn't change the bottom line a whole lot for his managerial duties.
The biggest change from Maddon that would be perceptible from the outside is how he manages his lineups. Cubs players were honest last year in that a few of them were bothered by Maddon's constantly changing lineup.
He won't change his ways and stop playing the best matchups on a daily basis (especially with a roster perfectly conducive for that), but he has said he will try to plan out lineups an entire series in advance and try to communicate that to players so they can better prepare. It will also help reinforce the notion that regardless of a player's performance on a given day, the lineup is already pretty much set in stone for the next day based more on the opposing starter than a player's production from the day before.
But we also won't see that change. Maddon and the Cubs coaching staff won't divulge those lineups earlier than they have to (and they'll have to also send them to Vegas before releasing publicly), so this whole series-by-series lineup thing won't affect the fans in any way.
Maddon is not the type to get complacent and he's always pretty open to change. But he also has no need to go back to the drawing board and start from scratch.
The Cubs have built a pretty nice resume under Maddon: They've made the playoffs every single year, are coming off a 95-win season (even if the ending left a bad taste in everybody's mouth) and still boast one of the best on-paper rosters in the game. He also may have had his best all-around year as manager in 2018, when he helped maneuver through some big-time injuries (Kris Bryant, Yu Darvish, etc.) and managed the bullpen brilliantly for much of the season even as injuries and ineffectiveness struck (the Cubs led the NL in relief ERA in 2018).
Maddon can — and will — help keep everybody on track and stress that "urgency" and "edge" needed on a daily basis. He wants to get back to his roots of chatting with the players more often, so you'll probably see some of that, too. But these are all small deals in actuality.
As for his contract, that shouldn't really be a storyline that takes up too much attention or time throughout the year. You could make a strong case that any manager or coach nowadays is only hired to get fired, with so much turnover on the top step of the dugout. Maddon's contract situation will take care of itself when the season ends.
Joe Maddon is an acquired taste. On one hand (the larger hand, at that) here’s a guy whose record speaks for itself: three-time manager of the year (‘08, ‘11, ‘15) and two-time World Series Champion. He’s already in the Top-50 winningest managers of all time, both in terms of games won and winning percentage. His pièce de résistance may be bringing the North Side its first title in over a century, but the decade he spent treading water with a Tampa Bay team that had no business being relevant is the more impressive feat. He’s a players-manager, a great quote who’s pretty fan-friendly, and his slogans and T-shirt schtick is certainly appreciated in the 1000 apparel stores that line Clark Street.
On the other hand, he’s been known to baffle at times with some of his in-game decisions and is heading into the season after having his methods not-so-subtly questioned by both players and the front office. A manager is never going to get a fair shake when it’s World Series-or-Bust every year, but the ice Maddon’s standing on is clearly thinning. There were also some cringe-worthy bytes about Addison Russell, though he’s by no means alone there.
On the field, if you’re looking for an entirely different Joe Maddon this season, you’re wasting your time. For as grating as a costume party on the heels of a 2-8 homestand may be, Maddon’s methods do tend to work (also if you’re really *that* mad about his quirkiness, that’s probably not on him).
Still, Maddon’s decision to make lineups more series-based — in theory giving players more consistency in certain spots — is commendable. He’s also working with an almost entirely new staff this year. New hitting coach Anthony Iapoce had mixed results in Texas, though pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and bench coach Mark Loretta both come highly regarded. Maddon frequently talks about coaching his coaches more than he coaches his players, so it will be a fascinating first month or so to watch in that regards.
Will we see a new Joe Maddon this year? Probably not. Emotions were high at the end of last year, and this is still a team that’s won at least 90 games in each season he’s been at the helm. He’s 65, after all, and I can’t think of too many 65-year-olds that aren’t at least in some part set in their ways. Bullpen roles will be fluid, they won’t steal many bases, and they’ll have like 15 leadoff hitters.
The good news for the Cubs is that Maddon’s ways work. The bad news for they’ll also probably be what breaks them up. Maddon’s frequently talked about avoiding staying too long in any one place; this will be Year No. 5 in Chicago.
That said, I’ll end with a question worth coming back to throughout the summer: Can the Cubs actually do better than Maddon? Is there clearly a manager out there who's a better fit? What exactly would the Cubs be looking for if Maddon doesn’t fit the bill?
The complete 19 for '19 series:
19. Who will be the Cubs' leadoff hitter?
18. Who's more likely to bounce back - Tyler Chatwood, Brian Duensing or Brandon Kintzler?
17. How different will Joe Maddon be in 2019?
16. Can Cubs keep off-field issues from being a distraction?
15. How can Cubs avoid a late-season fade again?
14. Is this the year young pitchers *finally* come up through the system to help in Chicago?
13. How much will Cubs be able to count on Brandon Morrow?
12. How does the Addison Russell situation shake out?
11. Will Willson Contreras fulfill his potential as the best catcher on the planet?
10. Will the offseason focus on leadership and accountability translate into the season?
9. Will payroll issues bleed into the season?
8. Will Javy Baez put up another MVP-caliber season?
7. Will Jon Lester and Cole Hamels win the battle against Father Time for another season?
6. What should we expect from Kris Bryant Revenge SZN?
5. Do the Cubs have enough in the bullpen?
4. What does Yu Darvish have in store for Year 2?
3. Are the Cubs the class of the NL Central?
2. Is the offense going to be significantly better in 2019?
1. How do the Cubs stay on-mission all year?