Carlos Pena remembered a saying free-spirit manager Joe Maddon put up for the Tampa Bay Rays on a big board in the locker room: “Fortune favors the bold.”
Remember that because there is no safe or obvious or popular pick here. That door slammed shut when Joe Girardi decided to stay with the New York Yankees. The Cubs will be taking a big risk whenever they hire their next manager.
Cubs executives interviewed Tampa Bay bench coach Dave Martinez on Thursday in Chicago, a major-league source confirmed. Maybe they were able to gain some insight into how the Rays have become a cutting-edge franchise, mixing a fearless attitude with Big Data and Wall Street concepts.
Martinez is an intriguing name in a field of flawed candidates. Combined ESPN analyst Manny Acta and San Diego Padres executive A.J. Hinch have a .418 winning percentage (461-641) after getting fired by the Washington Nationals, Cleveland Indians and Arizona Diamondbacks. Padres bench coach Rick Renteria has never managed in the big leagues before. No one will check all the boxes like Girardi.
But Martinez, 49, has been there for six years next to Maddon, beginning with the 2008 World Series run, the first of five seasons with at least 90 wins as the Rays kept the assembly line of young talent rolling.
“The game is changing and what I’ve learned from Joe is that you have to change with the game or you’ll fall behind,” Martinez said last year during a Q&A with FanGraphs. “I do everything Joe does, except I don’t have to deal with the media and I don’t get credit for anything. I help manage the game the way I see fit. I’m very opinionated and give Joe my opinions. Ultimately, he makes the final decisions, but I do the best I can to manage the games alongside him.”
The Cubs can’t clone Maddon, who wears those trademark black-frame glasses, experiments with his hairstyles and tweets out observations to more than 138,000 followers.
Maddon’s the eccentric leader who brought a DJ and a 20-foot python into the clubhouse this season. He has organized those themed road trips: “White-Out” for Miami; “Grunge” for Seattle; and “Nerds!” for Boston.
But when Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein used buzzwords like “dynamic” and “energy” and “creativity” after firing Dale Sveum last month, it made you think of The Rays Way.
“Everything that we’re watching right now was laid a brick at a time,” Pena said in September 2011. “This team is so unconventional, so unafraid to be themselves. They’re not consumed by following rules that are not even there.
“Joe will be the guy who will bring six guys in the infield and (it’s like): What is he doing? And he doesn’t care if it doesn’t work.”
Near the end of another lost season at Wrigley Field, Pena stopped in the middle of the clubhouse and looked up at a TV screen, watching highlights of the Rays battling the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
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“To see the David and Goliath story unfold and materialize in real life is cool,” Pena said. “I get a kick out of that, seeing the underdog triumph over the mighty empire. You sit there and you want it to happen. I lived through that. I experienced it. I know how incredible it feels.”
The Cubs couldn’t tap into that Rays magic during Mike Quade’s one-and-done year in 2011. Pena’s “pillow contract” set off alarm bells about the franchise’s financials, a one-year, $10 million deal that was spread across three fiscal years with a signing bonus and deferred payment. Matt Garza – another big-name Ray acquired that winter – introduced the term “Crapshow” into the Cubs lexicon and spent too much of his two-and-a-half seasons here on the disabled list or blocking out trade rumors.
The Rays don’t have to deal with the burden of history or big-market scrutiny. They got to work with a blank canvas.
At least Martinez would know what he’s getting into after playing parts of four seasons on the North Side (1986-88, 2000) and three years with the White Sox (1995-97). He has history in Chicago, a city that burns through managers.
The Cubs are searching for their 53rd manager in franchise history and won’t be able to hire a sure thing. Two years and 197 losses into Epstein’s rebuild, it could be time for some outside-the-box thinking. As Maddon, Martinez and the Rays might say: Why not?