I wrote this when news broke that Joe Maddon was leaving the Rays, but never published it. With today’s news he’s joining the Cubs, some of the points seem appropriate.
Say what you will about John Gibbons, the Blue Jays’ managerial situation should not be anywhere close to a top priority to address this offseason.
And even if it were, I’d be hesitant to go tunnel vision on Joe Maddon.
With the news today that he’s opting out of his contract with the Tampa Bay Rays, many are jumping on the “replace Gibbons with Maddon” bandwagon. Maddon is clearly a superior manager, they say, and can only help the Jays in 2015, given their clearly inferior skipper, the aforementioned Gibbons.
First off, one more time, let’s ease off on the credit we give managers. The extent to which they “rally the troops” and “inspire the team” is overblown all the time. The fluidity with which managers rise and fall, only to rise again, is a testament that they really can’t have a huge hand in how a season plays out. Whatever influence they do have is something us lowly fans can’t even begin to measure. We can look at the actual in-game moves made, which most would argue old Gibbers does quite well, but all the inspirovational crap is something to which we literally have zero knowledge.
So the vast implications that Joe Maddon is “clearly superior” to John Gibbons is ridiculous.
In fact, I’d argue the measure of a manager isn’t his success improving a team, but his ability to hitch his post, so to speak, to an organization heading in the right direction. Everyone’s favourite Tony LaRussa did quite well to get in with the Athletics just as they were coming into form. He had some success, the success started to wane, and he was gone. He then went to St. Louis, a franchise most would agree is among the most well-run organizations in baseball. He, unsurprisingly, had success there.
Toronto’s own Cito Gaston had the good fortune to come on as manager when the Jays were becoming a force. He also had the good fortune of having a front office and ownership willing to go all out and give him every tool imaginable to put together a winning lineup.
And so it appears, this is what Maddon has done. He went to Tampa when the team still stunk, but when they were putting together a vaunted farm system with numerous top picks. It was little surprise when the team did break out, not because Maddon did something wonderful, but because it was only a matter of time before those draft picks turned into productive players.
Maddon reaped the benefits, and the team succeeded. But with success came the loss of No. 1 draft picks, making it more difficult to draft that super high end talent. And with a lack of financials resources that high end talent eventually left for greener pastures (well, mostly traded, but you get the point). The cracks began to show this year as the team struggled to its worst showing it first broke out.
This reeks to me of abandoning a sinking ship. It began with Andrew Friedman and has continued with Joe Maddon. I think both have realized that their stock is never going to be higher. Friedman is likely quite a good GM, but in past years many have ascribed God-status to him. However, he was largely the beneficiary of a decade of ineptitude. No matter how good a GM he was, it’s only a matter of time before Tampa receded back toward the bottom of the league.
With Maddon, I think it’s the same thing. He realizes this era is over or quickly coming to an end. What’s the point of waiting around and showing the league that you don’t actually have magical powers that turn shitty players into Walter Johnson and Nolan Ryan?
I don’t blame either one. They both, in their own ways, helped contribute to an unbelievable era of success in Tampa Bay.
However, I think the actions of these two, especially Maddon, underline precisely how little they impact things in the grand scheme of things. In the end a GM’s success comes down heavily to ownership’s willingness to spend and spend properly (not just on big league talent, but in scouting, analytics, development etc.), and the manager’s success comes down to the players he manages. Both Friedman and Maddon realized that, and with perpetually limited funds and a decreasing talent pool, both are heading for greener pastures.