I've started this article, stopped it, scrapped it, and come back to it three times -- partially because I want the Joe Maddon Saga to be over, and partially because I'm not thoroughly convinced of any wrong doing, and was waiting for news to prove otherwise. That hasn't happened, so let's dive in to what we know.
The question is tampering, and we'll get to that, but the more accurate question is as follows: When Joe Maddon's counter offer to the Rays for something more than $3M was denied and he left the club, did he already know where he was headed? Better yet, had the Cubs already made contact and informed him he'd have an opportunity at Wrigley Field?
There's reason to believe that's plausible, and it's not just the timeline of Thursday's opt out in St. Petersburg to Monday's press conference on the North Side. We've already been provided with the inside story from the beyond, but context is important, and even if you're like me and you don't believe there was foul play, the Rays might disagree.
First, from Marc Topkin:
The Rays remain convinced that the Cubs enticed Maddon to opt out of the final year of his contract last week rather than reaching out afterward. As a result, they are still considering filing tampering charges or a complaint to get Major League Baseball to investigate the matter, with any potential compensation (A fine? A player?) determined by the commissioner's office.
The idea is that the Rays should receive some sort of compensation for the change in managers, and Topkin sets the bar low, but his is just one opinion. There are two very different sorts of returns being discussed in the mainstream media.
Ken Rosenthal made waves Friday afternoon by suggesting the Rays could land one of Chicago's top-ranked prospects:
...if baseball could prove that tampering occurred, what type of penalty would even be appropriate? This is where it gets interesting. The Rays could claim that the Cubs' actions caused Maddon to opt out - and demand a player as compensation. A good player, too, considering that the Cubs value Maddon enough to give him what is certain to be a monster contract. Think Javier Baez. Or Addison Russell.
Such a return would be seen as a sort of punishment against the Cubs, and would be the result of Major League Baseball ruling some serious tampering occurred, and if there's a case to be made.
Meanwhile, over at ESPN Insider, Buster Olney suggested something more in line with recent history:
Maddon is not coming back, and the recompense that Major League Baseball would grant the Rays probably wouldn't be that great. When the Rays acquired Lou Piniella from the Mariners more than a decade ago, they gave up Randy Winn, a decent player who wasn't a star; when Theo Epstein went from the Red Sox to the Cubs, Boston got [relief] pitcher Chris Carpenter (after months of haggling), a Grade B prospect who made eight appearances for the Red Sox.
Reality bites, and history is not of the side of a ludicrous payout like a top-ten prospect (although I'd happily take Rand Winn).
There are also varying perspectives on how the Rays truly feel about the situation, and whether or why they want to drag it out. Ken Rosenthal writes the Rays are, "convinced that the Cubs brazenly tampered with Maddon while he was still under contract, according to major-league sources." Buster Olney suggests the new Rays front office simply wants to show they "aren't going to simply stand by and let themselves get pushed around without a fight."
We don't know exactly what new GM Matt Silverman is thinking, but I had the opportunity to listen in on his conference call with the media the day after Maddon opted out. His tone was a mix of shock and sadness when talking specifically, with a bit of frustration mixed in with the traditional, even-keeled Rays approach when speaking broadly.
In the statement released by Theo Epstein on Friday afternoon detailing the Cubs' interest in hiring Joe Maddon, he laid out a timeline that included when they heard Maddon was a free agent, when they made contact with the current manager, and when they made contact with the future manager.
Personally, I believe Maddon's agent could have had a bigger role in the scenario, but I don't believe the man himself participated in tampering. I truly thought Maddon was a Ray for life, and I believe he thought so as well, but the change of the guard resulted in an abrupt breakup between club and manager. I don't blame Maddon for testing the market, so maybe that's part of my belief in his personal innocence.
Let's let Topkin bring it back to basics:
The gist of the Rays' issue is the feeling that the Cubs reached out to Maddon (or his agent reached out to the Cubs) sometime after it was known that exec VP Andrew Friedman was leaving, which opened a 14-day window for Maddon to opt out. Maddon spoke strongly about wanting to stay on Oct. 14 when Friedman's departure was announced. In short, the Rays believe something changed before Maddon finalized his opt-out Oct. 23.
MLB does have power to request phone records from team employees, and the union, which has purview over agents, could conceivably get involved.
The Rays simply aren't convinced that Maddon or (more plausibly) Maddon's agent were not in communication with the Cubs at some point in time before Maddon opted out. Silverman and the new front office may also want to assert they are not to be trifled with, even if the relationship had turned for the worst and Maddon simply saw his exit and left for something new. If there's compensation, maybe that's nice too, but that's not what this is really about.