It was, of course, a winning bet, with the Cubs reaching the postseason in 2015, Maddon’s first season there, and winning the World Series — the franchise’s first title in 108 years — a year later.
The Los Angeles Angels, by hiring Maddon on Wednesday to be their manager for the next three years, appear to be placing a similar bet on the now-65-year-old skipper — minus the rebuild.
The Angels have eschewed the tear-down/build-up model, but the effect has been similar: The franchise has suffered through four straight losing seasons, five years without a playoff berth and 10 seasons without winning a postseason series — threatening to squander the prime years of center fielder Mike Trout, who at 28 is considered the premier player in the sport and was signed to a record $426.5 million contract in March.
The hiring of Maddon, who was let go by the Cubs by mutual agreement at the end of this season, represents a significant investment by Angels owner Arte Moreno — Maddon reportedly will be paid $4 million per year, a pay cut from his Cubs days but still among the highest-paid managers in the game — designed to give the franchise some needed credibility on the eve of an important offseason talent market.
The Angels are widely expected to lead the rush for soon-to-be free agent pitcher Gerrit Cole, who is serving as the ace of the Houston Astros as that team seeks to vanquish the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series and land a berth in the World Series. Cole, 29, probably will command the biggest contract ever handed to a free agent pitcher, a mark held by David Price ($217 million from the Boston Red Sox in 2015).
Would the hiring of Maddon, who replaces Brad Ausmus, have the desired effect on Cole’s ultimate choice? His Astros teammates believe he already prefers a team in Southern California — he is both a native and a resident of Orange County — but his market is expected to include, at minimum, both the Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers, plus the Yankees, San Francisco Giants and several other teams. Perhaps the Maddon hiring could push him over the top if there are multiple offers in the same range, but with Scott Boras as his agent, Cole probably won’t grant any discounts for his hometown team.
Back in 2014, the Cubs hired Maddon on Nov. 15, and a month later they signed free agent lefty Jon Lester to a six-year, $155 million deal — the move that more than any other signaled the end of the Cubs’ rebuild and the beginning of their win-now phase. In five years in Chicago, Maddon led the Cubs to four playoff appearances, two division titles and three consecutive trips to the National League Championship Series — in addition to the historic World Series title in 2016.
Maddon’s task with the Angels, however, could be even tougher. Not only are the Angels coming off their worst season (72-90) since 1999, but they are also embroiled in a messy investigation regarding the death by overdose of former pitcher Tyler Skaggs. Skaggs, 27, was found to have oxycodone and fentanyl in his system when he died at the team’s hotel in July in Texas.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is investigating Skaggs’s death, and a team media relations employee has told investigators he procured drugs and abused them with Skaggs for years. At least six current or former Angels players reportedly have been interviewed as part of the investigation.
Maddon is known for his irreverent style, outsized personality and hands-off approach in the clubhouse. His hiring by the Angels is a homecoming of sorts: He spent 31 years in the organization as a player, scout, minor league coach and major league coach under former manager Mike Scioscia before getting the Tampa Bay managing job in 2006. He became a managerial star with the Rays, taking the upstart franchise to the World Series in 2008 and posting six straight winning seasons there.
Maddon’s hiring was the first move of what will be a busy season of managerial hires. Seven other teams — the Cubs, Giants, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets, Kansas City Royals, San Diego Padres and Pittsburgh Pirates — are still looking for managers following a month of heavy turnover.
“We are thrilled Joe is coming back home and bringing an exciting brand of baseball to our fans,” Angels General Manager Billy Eppler said in a statement. “Every stop he has made throughout his managerial career he has built a culture that is focused on winning while also allowing his players to thrive. We believe Joe will be a great asset for our club and we look forward to him leading the team to another World Series championship.”