MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

An elite manager, Maddon still needs right players

Cubs showing new skipper they mean business by adding Lester, Montero

An elite manager, Maddon still needs right players

SAN DIEGO -- Walking through the lobby of the host hotel for the annual Winter Meetings, agent Tommy Tanzer proclaimed, "I got a $30 million deal for Joe Maddon."

Financial security is great.

But want to know what Maddon, who signed for five years to be the new manager of the Cubs, is more excited about right now? That the Cubs' front office got him a legitimate ace for the rotation. The Cubs signed free-agent left-hander Jon Lester to a six-year, $155 million deal, with an option that can turn it into a seven-year, $170 million package.

That deal was agreed upon just hours after the Cubs swung a deal with the D-backs to acquire catcher Miguel Montero, who had the top pitch-framing score from the 2014 season and is a left-handed threat at the plate.

Cubs acquire backstop Montero

Maddon has proven to be one of the game's elite managers.

But a manager can only do so much.

Financial security is great, but a manager has to have the players to get the job done.

And the Cubs know that.

A lot of fanfare accompanied Maddon opting out of his contract with the Rays to manage the Cubs, becoming the latest man given the challenge of getting the Cubs back into a World Series, where they have not been a participant since 1945, much less win a World Series, which they haven't done since 1908.

The Cubs have had more than 40 different full-time managers try to end that 106-year World Series championship drought, including two stints by Lou Klein and three by Charlie Grimm. They have combined for only 45 winning seasons over that stretch, advanced to the postseason only 13 times and have lost 13 of the 14 series in which they have played, winning the National League Division Series in 2003 before losing to the Marlins in seven games in the NL Championship Series.

Now it is Maddon's turn.

He has built his fame on the ability of the Rays to survive a tight budget and contend in the big-spending world of the American League East. He led the Rays to all of their six winning seasons (2008-13) in franchise history, and won the AL pennant in 2008. He also guided the Rays into the postseason in 2010, '11 and '13, and earned AL Manager of the Year honors in '08 and '11.

But he didn't win a World Series, losing to Philadelphia in five games in 2008.

That is the challenge he faces with the Cubs.

That is the challenge he must accomplish to fulfill a managerial legacy.

Ask anybody who coached for Gene Mauch or played for him, and they swear to his managerial genius. Mauch, however, has never gotten serious consideration for the Hall of Fame. He is haunted by the fact that in a 26-year managerial career he never appeared in a World Series, and a focus is on his 1,902-2,037 record.

Memories of Mauch aren't that he was handed a Phillies team in the midst of four consecutive last-place finishes, and by his fifth year in charge guided the Phils to 92 victories. That, however, is jaded in the memory of the fans by the fact that that team, the '64 Phillies, faded from first to a tie for second in the final days of the season.

Only three of the 22 men elected to the Hall of Fame as managers did not win a World Series, and in the case of Ned Hanlon, 15 of his 19 seasons as a manager were before there was a World Series. Al Lopez lost both World Series in which he managed, but his .584 winning percentage over 17 seasons as a manager is the ninth highest in Major League history. Wilbert Robinson was 1,399-1,398 in his 19 seasons as a manager of the Brooklyn Robins/Dodgers, but also served five years as the team's president, adding to his distinction.

Robinson and Casey Stengel are the only Hall of Fame managers with a winning percentage lower than the .517 that Maddon compiled with the Rays. Stengel's teams compiled a .508 percentage with him at the helm, but he did manage the Yankees to seven World Series championships.

Nobody underscores the importance of the ability of the team to earn a manager recognition than Joe Torre, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame this past summer along with managers Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox.

His hiring by the Yankees for the 1996 season was greeted by the tabloid headline, "Ordinary Joe." He already had been dismissed by the Mets, Braves and Cardinals, for whom he had a composite 894-1,003 record, and had not been to the postseason in 14 years.

All of that, however, became a footnote when he led the Yankees to 12 consecutive winning seasons, compiling a .605 winning percentage, advancing to the postseason each year and winning six AL pennants and four World Series championships.

Bob Lemon is in the Hall of Fame as a pitcher, but he also managed in the big leagues. He was the AL Manager of the Year in 1977 with the White Sox, was dismissed 74 games into the '78 season and was then hired by the Yankees shortly thereafter. The Yankees won 48 of the 68 games he managed that season, including beating Boston in a playoff for the AL East title, and won a World Series championship.

Lemon was selected the AL Manager of the Year again, for his work with the Yankees in 1978, only to be dismissed 65 games into the '79 season with a 34-31 record.

"I took a lot of dumb pills over the winter," said Lemon.

He laughed.

It, however, is not a laughing matter.

From a historical perspective, a manager's skills are tied directly to wins and losses on the field, the product of player production more than managerial expertise.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.