Setting aside his fill-in work with the Angels earlier in his career, Joe Maddon has managed 14 campaigns in the majors. His club has cracked at least 90 wins in nine of those seasons and reached the postseason eight times. Whatever one thinks about the influence of a manager on the win-loss column, Maddon has undeniably piloted many a high-flying aircraft.
Maddon oversaw two lean years with the Rays before leaping from 66 wins to 97 and helping to shape the team into a perennial contender. He was brought in somewhat later in the process with the Cubs. In Chicago, he was tasked with vaulting a club brimming with young talent — but coming off of five-straight fifth-place finishes — into a new stratosphere. In his first year, Maddon flipped a 73-89 record into 97-65.
There are similarities and differences in his new gig. Maddon’s marching orders are essentially the same: replicate those 31-win (Rays) and 24-win (Cubs) bounces with the Halos. It’ll take something nearly as dramatic to get the L.A. organization back into the postseason for the first time since 2014. The club limped to a 72-90 record in 2019 and has turned in four consecutive losing campaigns. In a stratified American League, it might take 95 or more wins to make the playoffs.
That’s not to say it’s deja vu all over again. Maddon’s new Halos team is already led by established superstars, including the game’s greatest player in Mike Trout, its most fascinating talent in Shohei Ohtani (who’ll be back on the bump in 2020), peerless defensive wizard Andrelton Simmons, and slugger Justin Upton. The L.A. organization figures to have some funds to work with this winter and has one of the game’s truly elite prospects (Jo Adell) waiting in the wings. To be sure, there are needs — all over the pitching staff and behind the dish, in particular — but there are also resources to work with and quite a lot of talent already in place.
There’ll also be expectations. Maddon is no stranger to those after five years in Chicago. But his charges fell shy in 2018 and especially 2019, the lone year in which the Maddon-led Cubs fell shy of the playoffs. Halos owner Arte Moreno is surely short on patience given what he has invested in this club. GM Billy Eppler is roster-managing for his job without a contract beyond 2020. And the clock is ticking on Trout’s twenties.
Obviously this question involves considerations that go well beyond Maddon’s managerial acumen. But his hiring begins a consequential epoch for an organization that has endured disappointment as well as recent tragedy. Maddon will be a high-profile franchise face. He’ll start out with a three-year deal at a $12MM price tag — a significant commitment, but not quite the five-year, $25MM pact that drew him to Chicago.
So … how do you think it’ll turn out? (Poll link for app users.)