Cubs hire Maddon as 54th manager

CHICAGO -- The Cubs will announce the hiring of former Tampa Bay Rays skipper Joe Maddon as the 54th manager in franchise history on Monday, the team announced in a release.

The team set the stage for Maddon's hiring by firing current skipper Rick Renteria earlier Friday.

Team president Theo Epstein released a statement praising Renteria while indicating Maddon's availability was too enticing to pass up.

"Last Thursday, we learned that Joe Maddon -- who may be as well suited as anyone in the industry to manage the challenges that lie ahead of us -- had become a free agent," Epstein said. "We saw it as a unique opportunity and faced a clear dilemma: be loyal to Rick or be loyal to the organization. In this business of trying to win a world championship for the first time in 107 years, the organization has priority over any one individual. We decided to pursue Joe."

According to the Cubs, general manager Jed Hoyer flew to San Diego late last week to inform Renteria of the team's pursuit of Maddon and told him on Friday a change was being made.

"Rick deserved to come back for another season as Cubs manager, and we said as much when we announced that he would be returning in 2015," Epstein said. "We met with Rick two weeks ago for a long end-of-season evaluation and discussed plans for next season. We praised Rick to the media and to our season-ticket holders. These actions were made in good faith."

The pursuit of Maddon was the worst-kept secret in baseball over the past seven days as many teams publicly backed their managers while the Cubs remained silent. Epstein reportedly almost hired Maddon in 2003 to manage the Boston Red Sox, choosing Terry Francona instead. The Red Sox won two world championships under the leadership of Epstein and Francona.

Renteria took over the Cubs after the team fired Dale Sveum at the end of the 2013 season. He was tasked with overseeing a team in transition and by all accounts provided a positive atmosphere for young players to develop. Core players like Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro both rebounded from subpar seasons in 2013 to make the All-Star team in 2014. The Cubs finished 73-89, 17 games out of first place; still, at the end of the year, Epstein made it clear that Renteria would be returning for a second season.

That changed when Maddon suddenly opted out of his contract after former Rays general manager Andrew Friedman left Tampa Bay for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Maddon reportedly wanted to "test free agency" for the first time in his managerial career. The Cubs immediately pounced, despite having Renteria under contract for two more seasons.

According to a source, the team will retain most of the coaching staff employed for Renteria's one year as manager, with only small changes.

"He has a mind for the National League game," former Cub and current RayDavid DeJesussaid of Maddon last week. "And he puts players in positions to succeed. He's as good as they come."

The Cubs are entering another phase of their stated rebuilding process as the team hasn't won a title in 106 years. Signing Maddon to a long-term deal is another indication the organization is getting serious about contending, as most observers believe the Cubs have the best position player prospect in the game -- and now one of the best managers.

After the season, Epstein indicated the Cubs would be involved in the pursuit of free-agent pitching both this winter and next. The Cubs last made the playoffs in 2008 and have finished in last place the past two seasons while ridding themselves of older veterans and costly contracts. After restocking their farm system with high draft picks and acquiring talent through trades, they finished 2014 with the youngest team in baseball. Maddon's ability to connect with young players while keeping a loose but intense atmosphere is cited as one of the reasons for his success.

"He's relatable," DeJesus said. "He understands us [players] more than most. He lets the players be themselves. He wants two things: run the ball out at first and be yourself in the field while having fun playing baseball."

Said Epstein: "We have clung to two important ideals during our three years in Chicago. The first is to always be loyal to our mission of building the Cubs into a championship organization that can sustain success. The second is to be transparent with our fans. As painful as the last week was at times, we believe we stayed true to these two ideals in handling a sensitive situation."

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