Much of the focus of this week's Joe Maddon escapades centers around the benefit to the Cubs and the hose job to Rick Renteria, the (now) former Cubs manager displaced by Maddon. Personally, I can't blame the Cubs for what they did and I think they handled things with Renteria the best they could. The thing is, thus far, this has been a Cubs story. But what about the Tampa Bay Rays?
Joe Maddon became a "free agent" due to the jumping ship of Andrew Friedman to the Dodgers. The two associated geniuses are given much of the credit for building the Rays to a perennially contending team using smarts and research. They were the modern twosome superheroes of the information age of baseball.
Looking at the decisions both made at face value, you could call this a salary grab. The Rays do not have deep pockets and neither Friedman or Maddon were likely to make the kind of money staying in St. Pete than they receive with their new ventures. We could just leave it there if we want since so many of us consider money the most important consideration to humanity.
How many of us have made a truly financial decision without considering the situations we are leaving and the ones we are heading to? Would most of us take a salary leap if we had to work in a no-win situation? I think most of us would hesitate. Would we pause if we were really happy where we were? Many of us would. It's not always about money. The important goals of anyone's pyramid of needs are complex once you get beyond the survival block at the bottom of the pyramid.
All that said, perhaps it can be stated that Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman jumped ship at the right time. The losing record put up by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2014 after a handful of 90+ win seasons could indicate that baseball has caught up to the Rays. The Rays have made hay because they were smarter than most teams and had to be because they could not pay high priced talent. The pipeline of talent from the minors, often enhanced by well-timed trades of expensive talent, may be drying up.
I remember earlier in the season when Maddon was asked about all the teams shifting infielders--something the Rays pioneered. Maddon said that things were getting harder because everyone is using information when the Rays were one of the few in the past to do so.
Friedman and Maddon had to be somewhat discouraged of having to trade away their best talent all the time. David Price had to be particularly galling to jettison due to money reasons. Constantly having to retool after moving talent that gets too expensive had to be exhausting and frustrating.
Friedman can take what he learned in St. Pete and now has unlimited pockets in Los Angeles. That has to feel really good. The chance to turn the Cubs around with so much talent in the system and the Cubs' willingness to spend to get to the next step had to be appealing to Maddon. Plus, it has to be any manager's dream to be the one to break the 107 year drought in Chicago.
My totally speculative suggestion is that perhaps both Friedman and Maddon knew that they had taken the Rays as far as they could take them and that a drought is about to begin anew for the Rays. Ben Zobrist is getting too expensive and a decision will have to be made there and the minor leagues look thinner than at any point in the past five years.
I am not saying that talented people still do not sit in positions of authority for the Rays. There is every indication that Michael Silverman, Chaim Bloom and Erik Neander are talented executives. What I am saying is that financial limitations will always exist for the Rays with their current stadium situation and that they currently have less talent to cull from than in years past.
The Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon years in St. Pete were exciting and fun. Perhaps both men knew the fun would be harder to come by in the next few years and this might be the best time to sell their abilities to new teams. They have sold themselves at the highest peak of their financial worth to teams which could blossom in the next few seasons.
That potential along with what seems to be a sinking of the Rays' current situation make the timing of these moves. The Rays should be watched closely in the next couple of seasons. As for Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman, they have parlayed their success for the Rays to set themselves up for life.