Your Offseason Roadmap

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Here at CTB we’re going to hit you with news, rumors and commentary all offseason, so if you want, you can simply lock the page in, hit “refresh” over and over again between now and April and never miss a thing.

But if you’re one of those types that just has to see what’s ahead, here’s a handy dandy schedule, courtesy of MLB.com, with which to structure the baseball-consuming portion of your winter:

Yesterday-November 19th:  Free agency filing period. Be sure to click over on the 20th to see which agents lost the paperwork and get sued for malpractice!

November 9th-11th: General Managers meetings in Chicago.  Not quite the bacchanalia as the owners meetings later in the month, but higher rent than the free-for-all Winter Meetings in December. I think they’re holding it in Chicago this year because Jim Hendry is worried if he leaves town someone will change the locks on his office. He’s right to worry.

November 11th-24th: Awards season.  Watch as the players and managers award Gold Gloves to all the wrong people!  Watch as writers try to make an argument that Ryan Howard deserved the award more than Pujols because of all of his RBIs! Behold someone complain about a 16-win pitcher taking the Cy Young Award while conveniently forgetting that his teammates couldn’t crack most Legion teams!

November 18th and 19th: Owners Meetings. Billionaires come together to figure out how to portray their mere millionaire employees as the greedy ones. Panda steaks will be consumed, cigars will be lit by flaming bearer bonds. Jamie McCourt will be barred by security.

November 30th: Executive Board of the Players’ Union meets.  It’ll be kinda like John L. Lewis addressing the coal miners, except with fewer references to silicosis and a better brand of beer filling the keg in the corner of the union hall.

December 1st: Deadline for teams to offer salary arbitration. This is the day we see if the Mets are all-in on Jeff Francoeur.  As a Braves fan, this will be like my Christmas. No matter what happens, the result will be hilarious.

December 7th-10th: The Winter Meetings. Usually these take place in warm and fun locations. A couple of years ago they were in Newport Beach or someplace like that. Next year: Disney World. This time around? Indianapolis. Of course, it stands to reason that I get to go this time.  But it won’t all be cold and dreary: I plan to stalk FOX’s Ken Rosenthal, and given how hard he works at these things, if I can keep up I’m going to get more fit on this trip than I would on a spa vacation.

Early December: Hall of Fame balloting.  New on the ballot: Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Fred McGriff and Edgar Martinez. I’m fans of all four of them, and any of them will be better selections than Jim Rice was last year. But in all honesty, I only think three of these guys should make the Hall. Feel free to guess who I think is unworthy in the comments.  Results will be announced January 6th. Complaining about the results will last until inductions happen in July.

Mid-January: More owners meetings.  Don’t these people have more important things to do with their time than to travel to posh resorts and talk about how rich they are?  Wait, of course they don’t. I forgot who I was talking about.

February 1st-21st: Salary arbitration hearings. As a lawyer, I take special interest in these. I mean, there’s enough baloney thrown around in courtrooms every day, but to see a player’s lawyer argue that Kevin Gregg is as valuable as a young Mariano Rivera, and to see an team’s lawyer argue that Nick Markakis is only worth the league minimum is to see lawyering at its highest level.

Mid-February: Pitchers and catchers report; next round of names leaks from the 2003 steroid list.

Ahhh, the rites of Spring!

Joe Maddon is on the hottest of hot seats

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Patrick Mooney and Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic have written a fantastically revealing article about the 2019 Chicago Cubs.

The story, on the surface anyway, might be confused for one of those pre-Opening Day team philosophy pieces in which a bunch of players and executives talk about how they need to “go about their business” a better way, focus on the little things and all of that common, cliche-driven material. And yes, there is a fair amount of that in there.

But the larger arc of it is more revealing than that. The whole thing reads like a warning shot from the front office toward the players and coaching staff, with Joe Maddon standing out as a particular subject of rebuke. Indeed, it’s hard to read the thing without believing that, absent a super fast start and a return to championship form, Maddon is gonna be fired this year.

The article has been shared on social media a lot since going live yesterday, and most of that sharing has focused on little things like the Cubs wanting players to eat less fast food this year and batting practice being mandatory a certain number of days a week. But it’s bigger than that. The article doesn’t contain any incendiary quotes or veiled threats, but it seems pretty clear that Maddon is taking blame for the team not being focused in the past.

Part of that comes from the structure of it. The idea here is that the 2018 season ended badly and that, in the offseason, the front office made a point to talk to the players. Theo Epstein talking to Jason Heyward in the batting cage after everyone else has gone home for the offseason. Epstein, Jed Hoyer and other front office officials visiting Jon Lester at his home in Georgia. Epstein and Hoyer going to Anthony Rizzo‘s wedding in Florida. There’s a lot of talk from all of them about hatching the new forward-looking philosophy but everything from Maddon comes from past quotes or quotes given in reaction to the new philosophy. It seems clear that the front office and the players are on the same page and that Maddon is kinda going along for the ride with it, even if he’s saying all the right things.

As far as the substance of the new 2019 philosophy goes, there is a lot of stuff couched in terms of “here’s a good thing we’re going to start doing this year” that come off like criticisms of Maddon for not doing them in the past.

For example, there is talk about how Maddon plans to talk to players and coach more which are hard to read, in context, as anything other than criticism of him being removed or aloof before. They plan to give players lineups several days in advance, characterized as a means of helping them plan, but there is reference to the sense that they were pressing to impress Maddon and not be written out of the lineup in the past. There’s stuff about how the players are “coddled” with clubhouse amenities and how Maddon’s office was too far away from them and how he talked to the press too much and to the players too little. Again, not explicitly stated as a current criticism but, rather, couched in terms of a “here are good things we’re going to do now.” It’s clear, though, that the unspoken idea is “. . . and we should’ve done it differently before.”

When put together with other things in the article — things like (a) Maddon not getting a contract extension and thus being a lame duck; (b) top executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer making a point to travel with the team more on road trips and show up more in the clubhouse at Wrigley; and (c) a Theo Epstein/Jon Lester-driven narrative that makes references to both the Chicken and Beer and Bobby Valentine-era Red Sox — it all puts one in mind of the late Terry Francona-era Boston Red Sox. To be sure, it’s reported and stated much more more artfully than that. This is not an anonymously-source hit piece driven by a Sox chairman or VP with an axe to grind or anything. It’s a good article. But it makes one think that a message is being sent to and/or about Joe Maddon, even if it’s being sent more subtly than the kind of message you might’ve seen sent in, say, the Boston Globe back in the day.

No matter what you think of it all, it strikes me that Maddon is on the hottest of seats right now and that, if and when he’s fired, this article will stand in hindsight as a pretty obvious harbinger of it.