What better way for a manager to tell a general manager the bullpen sucks than expose one of the pitchers who comprise it?
That may be exactly what Cubs manager Joe Maddon did last Sunday when he brought in Carl Edwards Jr. with two outs and two on in the top of the ninth inning with the Padres trying to extend a 2-1 lead.
Why else would Maddon summon Edwards, a pitcher who had not thrown a live pitch for the Cubs since June 9th?
I was slack-jawed by the move at the time. Edwards looked nauseous as he toed a rubbed he had not sniffed for six weeks. After giving up a walk, hitting Greg Garcia with an 80-poo curve, and serving up a four-seam meatball to Fernando Tatis Jr., Cubs fans hopes for a win were snuffed, and the Cubs lost 5-1.
How did bringing in Edwards make any sense? Surely, Maddon saw the same thing I did – that Edwards look emotionally frail and likely to self-immolate. He must have. He’s a smart guy being paid a ton of money to see those things.
My mind went to the dark side – the place where conspiracies are hatched. I decided the tension and acrimony between Maddon and president Theo Epstein must have reached critical mass, and Maddon had gone rogue in a public way to expose Theo as the architect of a flawed bullpen.
I have no corroborative evidence to support my theory, but longtime Cubs fans are familiar with this scenario. In 2006, Dusty Baker used his bullpen as GM Jim Hendry designed it, and the results were disastrous. Three years after coming a Steve Bartman incident away from the World Series, Baker’s Cubs lost 96 games.
Baker fought for his job by trying to show that Hendry was a dunce. It failed miserably, and it was another three years until fans correctly concluded that Baker was onto something
Maddon is in a contract year, and would like to stay in Chicago for another five-year term. If his job retention strategy is to taint Epstein’s image as the best executive in baseball, it’s is as suspect as inserting Edwards into Sunday’s game.
The Cubs problems run deeper than the occasionally ineffective bullpen and Kyle Schwarber in the leadoff spot. When members of the management team are operating on different paths, everything else is going to seem out of kilter. And the Cubs are out of kilter.
Again, all of this is conspiracy theorist supposition, but when Maddon writes his book chronicling his improbable rise as one of baseball’s best managers of the last two decades, it’s wouldn’t surprise me in the least if his rift with Theo was as deep as the fractious Art Howe/Billy Beane non-relationship chronicled in Moneyball.
At the very least, pondering the unpleasantness between Maddon and Epstein is a lot more fun than watching the Cubs continue to slide toward mediocrity.