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Daily Archives: November 5, 2011

Mike Maddux: The Next Great MLB Manager and the End of the Rangers

Saturday November 5, 2011

 

MLB reports – Jonathan Hacohen:  I rarely get excited about coaches in the game.  Not for the reasons that you may think.  Many coaches are great at their craft.  But most MLB coaches work behind the scenes and are rarely heard from or spoken to.  In the MLB revolving door game, it seems that many players, as well as coaches, are seen be teams as interchangeable commodities.  When teams hit slumps or fail to meet expectations, it is easier to change the coach(es)/manager than it is to replace twenty-five players on the roster.  So when a coach stands out and gets me excited, you know that he is a game-changer in my opinion.  Two such coaches currently exist in the ranks.  Both are pitching coaches and both are being reviewed for changes in employment.  The first is Dave Duncan in St. Louis and the second is Mike Maddux in Texas.

With the retirement of Tony La Russa in St. Louis, many have wondered as to the future of his former pitching coach, Dave Duncan.  Widely seen as one of the best in the business, Duncan’s control and shaping of his pitching staff is seen as one of the overriding factors in helping Tony La Russa achieve his success in the game.  No Duncan = inferior pitching = no championships.  This is the man who took Jeff Weaver and Joel Pineiro and made them into the second coming of Cy Young.  Ok…so many Duncan isn’t such an effective miracle worker.  But the man is damn good at what he does and all else being equal, there would be 29 other teams that would love to discuss employment if he was available.  But rather than seek a managerial position, Duncan- who start coaching in the late 1970s with Cleveland, has indicated that he will be honoring his contract and remain the pitching coach in St. Louis.  The man clearly knows his strengths and his goals in the game.  For the future manager of St. Louis, he will be inheriting a right-hand man to guide his pitchers like no others.

Well…with the exception of one man perhaps.  While Duncan is seen as one of the game’s greatest pitching coaches of all time- Mike Maddux has grown into the being the next best coach, if not “the” best.  In his 9 seasons as pitching coach, Maddux has successfully transformed the Brewers pitching staff (during his time in Milwaukee) into one of the best in the game.  From there, Maddux has taken a Rangers squad that has been known seemingly forever as being all bats and no arms.  The Rangers have had one of the worst statistical pitching staffs for much of its stay in Texas.  Maddux has successfully lowered the team ERA every year in the past three years and has helped transform the Rangers pitchers into stars.  C.J. has gone from middle reliever/occasional closer into the staff ace.  Alexi Ogando excelled in the rotation, as has Neftali Feliz as closer.  Some may argue that the Rangers have more pitching talent in the history of organization.  That may be true on many levels, but the team still plays half of its games in one of the most dangerous hitters’ ballparks in baseball.  By working his magic with the Rangers pitching staff, considering its home ballpark, Mike Maddux is a miracle worker to me.

It is my understanding that Mike Maddux is the highest, or one of the highest paid pitching coaches in the game.  To get him to leave his status in Texas, he would need to be offered a strong position that presented a challenging and rewarding opportunity in the game.  As the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox both come calling this week, Mike Maddux will likely be choosing soon whether he is ready to take on the top leadership on the field of one of the two top franchises in the game.  The Rangers have already granted Maddux permission, as Nolan Ryan and company do not wish to stand in the way of Mike Maddux’s success.  With Ron Washington leading the Rangers to two straight World Series appearances, the managerial position was unlikely to be offered to Maddux any time soon in Texas.  So the draw will likely come down to Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer in Chicago convincing Maddux to lead the Cubs, while Ben Cherington does the same in Boston.

Is Mike Maddux up for the role?  Hard to say.  A great pitching coach won’t necessarily lead to success as a manager.  But Maddux has many of the essential intangibles for success.  He is known as a hard worker, dependable, well liked but respected by his players.  For all the years I have watched him, he always seemed to be a calming influence over his pitchers.  If he can exercise that same attitude for the other coaches of a team and its players, we may be forming the next great MLB manager.  Other managerial positions may open up, but for the time being, it appears that the Cubs and Red Sox have the edge in luring him away from Texas.  Both are major markets and present the chance to build/groom winning ball clubs.  The Red Sox have more talent, but also have the older squad with referenced difficult players and personalities to manage.  The Cubs, while younger and less talented, may be more moldeable for Maddux if named manager.

Mike Maddux did pitch for the Red Sox over two seasons.  While he never played in Chicago, he will know the Cubs and Wrigley well from his Brewers coaching days.  Mike’s younger brother, Greg was a star pitcher for many years for the Cubs and can give him much insight into the team.  The decision will boil down to fit.  Does Mike Maddux want to manage?  Likely, the answer is yes.  With his experience and reputation at the game, it will be difficult to not want to take on the job of a lifetime.  Money will be no object, as both squads could offer Maddux 3-5 year contracts at approximately $3 million per season.  So the answer will come down to where Maddux would most want to manage.  The answer will likely be Chicago.

Having coached in the division for some time and having his brother’s experiences as a strong influence, I see Mike Maddux being attracted to being a manager in Wrigley.  For all its talent and fandom, the mix of veterans and difficult personalities will likely be more than Maddux as a rookie manager will want to handle.  The Cubs, with more youth present a bigger challenge for Maddux.  Yet, the team will also likely be more moldeable under him.  Mike Maddux looks to me like a long-term thinker.  After taking the Rangers youngsters and turning their pitchers into stars, Maddux will likely want to do the same in Chicago.   Both teams will go aggressively after him, but at the end of the day, I expect Maddux to be wearing the “C” cap by opening day.  Theo Epstein started the groundwork for Mike Maddux while still running the Red Sox.  He seems to be a sharp guy and what Theo wants, he usually gets.  As the Jays denied the opportunity for John Farrell to be available, Epstein will now need to seek another former pitching coach turned manager.  Mike Maddux appears to be his man.

What does this all mean for the Texas Rangers?  I can’t say they will regress back to the old poor pitching squad of yesteryear, but I certainly think the team will suffer greatly if Mike Maddux departs.  As today’s MLB is strongly built on pitching, the Rangers would be losing their not-so-secret weapon if Mike Maddux was to jump ship.  This is a loss that the team most cannot afford to occur.  All else being equal, retaining Mike Maddux in my opinion is more important than having C.J. Wilson on the squad.  This is the value of Mike Maddux.  But after giving Maddux the biggest coach’s contract to come Texas, there is little the Rangers can do to keep Mike Maddux as they cannot offer him a promotion.  Nolan Ryan would need to be very creative if he had hoped to keep his pitching coach.  But at the end of the day, money is one factor.  Job title is another.  The Rangers clearly have realized this as they granted teams permission to talk to Mike Maddux.  While showing good faith in rewarding their pitching coach for a job well done, the team is likely shooting itself in the foot and risking its long-term viability if Mike Maddux does end up leaving.

I expect Mike Maddux to be successful wherever he goes.  If he joins the Cubs or Red Sox, it is almost guaranteed that the team will have a fantastic pitching staff.  Will the rest of the team excel and contend?  A good question, which will come down to whether Mike Maddux surrounds himself with smart coaches as a manager.  For the 50-year old Maddux with the younger brother who is a future hall-of-famer, he is clearly building his own legacy in the game.  My expectation is that we will have an announcement in the next 7-10 days,  confirming Mike Maddux as the new manager for either the Cubs or Red Sox.  If that is the case, expect those teams to be playoff regulars in the near future.  In the same token, expect the Rangers run of World Series appearances to end as soon as Mike Maddux to leave.  He may not have been their everything, but should he depart, the secret weapon of the Rangers will disappear as well.  Good luck to Mike Maddux:  he has exciting but difficult decisions to make in the near future.

Jonathan Hacohen is the Lead Baseball Columnist & Editor for MLB reports:  You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)

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