BY GORDON WITTENMYER October 24, 2014 10:35PM
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 19: Manager Joe Maddon #70 of the Tampa Bay Rays looks on from the dugout during the first inning of a game against the Chicago White Sox on September 19, 2014 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
GIANTS vs. ROYALS
Royals lead series 2-1
All games on Fox-32, 1000-AM
at 7:07 p.m., x-if necessary
Game 1: Giants 7, at Royals 1
Game 2: at Royals 7, Giants 2
Friday: Royals 3, at Giants 2
Saturday: Royals (Vargas 11-10)
at Giants (Vogelsong 8-13)
Sunday : Royals at Giants
x-Tuesday: Giants at Royals
x-Wednesday: Giants at Royals
Updated: October 25, 2014 12:45AM
SAN FRANCISCO ? How close are the Cubs to a World Series?
On Friday, they were a big part of the buzz at AT&T Park that overshadowed the pivotal Game 3 between the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals ? with all indications pointing to Joe Maddon heading to Chicago after his sudden resignation as the Tampa Bay Rays manager early in the day.
Multiple sources close to Maddon and the Cubs suggest the Cubs are the front-runners for the services a guy who became the top free agent manager ? by far ? when he exercised an opt-out clause in his contract in the wake of general manager Andrew Friedman’s departure to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
One industry source with first-hand knowledge of the Dodgers and Maddon said a speculated reunion of Maddon and Friedman was unlikely at this time ? putting the Cubs, with all their fast-rising young talent, at the top of the list of ideal fits and desired destinations for Maddon.
The Dodgers and New York Mets ? both of which also were early speculated destinations for the two-time American League manager of the year ? both issued statements Friday sticking by their current managers.
Meanwhile, Cubs executives remained conspicuously silent throughout the day, despite numerous attempts to reach them, including Theo Epstein, who nearly hired Maddon to manage the Red Sox 11 years ago before hiring Terry Francona.
Maddon, a longtime coach on the Angels’ staff, was hired by the Rays a year later and has had five 90-win seasons since.
A source from inside the organization said an opportunity to hire Maddon would be welcomed ? even if it would mean a fifth manager for the Cubs in six years and a likely reassignment of first-year manager Rick Renteria, who has two years left on his contract.
The Rays seem to believe enough in the Cubs’ interest ? a year after their high-stakes, back-channel courting of the Yankees’ Joe Girardi ? that ESPN’s Buster Olney reported the Rays intend to pursue a tampering investigation.
Joe Torre, the former Yankees manager who oversees MLB discipline issues, said Friday it’s not uncommon for such allegations to be made and internal investigations done with any penalties, in rarer cases, also handled internally.
A source close to Maddon said the Cubs would be among the top three or four desired destinations for the 60-year-old manager, because of the “challenge” it would present as well as the fit for a team starting to get a lot of it’s touted young talent to the big leagues.
“He has a way of relating to players and a way of relating to young players,” said Royals ace James Shields, who spent the first seven years of his career playing for Maddon in Tampa Bay, a run that included a victorious World Series start for Shields in 2008.
“Anywhere he goes he’s going to be a good fit, the type of manager he is,” added Shields, a pending free agent, who’s expected to be targeted by the Cubs. “He’s really easy to play for, really laid back, and he’s very, very intelligent. I enjoyed playing for him. Whether you have good years or not, he’s always had your back. The one thing I really love about him is he believes in his players.”
The timing could fit the Cubs’ rebuilding process almost perfectly with top prospects such as Jorge Soler and Javy Baez already are in the big leagues, and Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Albert Almore projected to be coming right behind them.
Maddon guided a worst-to-first finish and World Series appearance for a young, talented and unproven Rays team in 2008 ? eliminating the defending-champion Red Sox in the process.
Maddon is said to be seeking a five-year deal worth more than $20 million ? still short of what the Cubs were believed to be willing to pay Girardi a year ago, but well north of what the low-budget Rays historically are able to do.
It would mean a harsh and swift exit from the manager’s seat for Renteria, who drew questions and criticism from both inside and outside the organization in his first year as a big-league manager for in-game decisions and handling of the roster.
Cubs president Theo Epstein said earlier this month he expects the Cubs to be talented enough next season to start to compete as the Cubs shift from a nearly full-time prospect-acquisition phase of the rebuilding process into a stage of building the big-league roster.
Maddon’s hiring could accelerate the process in terms of his leadership as an innovative thinker and communicator as well as stature when it comes to attracting free agents.
“Honestly, I haven’t really thought about it,” Shields said of his impending free agency. “But I feel like when the time comes and I have to make a decision this offseason, I think the fit will be right.”
“My phone has been ringing off the hook,” said Maddon’s Chicago-based agent, Alan Nero, who would not talk about potential destinations. “This is a chance for Joe to really see what possibilities are out there. We’re excited for the opportunity.”
Email: [email protected]