CHICAGO -- When Joe Maddon and the Tampa Bay Rays visited Wrigley Field in August, the manager raved about National League baseball and praised the iconic neighborhood ballpark.
Couple that with Maddon's impressive resume, and it's easy to see why the Chicago Cubs think this is going to be a successful partnership.
Maddon was introduced Monday as Chicago's fifth manager since the start of the 2010 season, replacing Rick Renteria. The sides agreed to a five-year contract through the 2019 season. Terms were not disclosed, but according to ESPN and media reports the deal is worth $25 million plus incentives tied to the postseason and does not include an opt-out clause.
"I'm gonna be talking playoffs next year," Maddon told reporters at The Cubby Bear, a bar across the street from Wrigley. "I'll tell you that right now. I can't go to spring training and say anything else. You have to set your goals high, because if you don't set them high enough you might hit your mark, and that's not a good thing. We're gonna talk World Series this year, and I'm gonna believe it. It's in our future."
The Cubs' brain trust of president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer had planned to bring back Renteria until Maddon opted out of his contract with the Rays last month. Then they decided to pounce on a free agent "who may be as well suited as anyone in the industry to manage the challenges that lie ahead of us,'' Epstein said in a release announcing Renteria's dismissal on Friday.
The 60-year-old Maddon had a 754-705 record in nine seasons in Tampa Bay, leading the club to four playoff appearances, two AL East titles and a five-game loss to Philadelphia in the 2008 World Series. The two-time AL Manager of the Year also was the bench coach for six seasons under Angels manager Mike Scioscia before he was hired by Tampa Bay in November 2005.
The Rays went 77-85 this year, and Maddon departed after Andrew Friedman left Tampa Bay's front office to take over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Oct. 14.
Chicago finished 73-89 in Renteria's only season in charge.
Maddon inherits an impressive group of prospects and a bigger payroll after his successful run with the small-market Rays. But he also gets a run of five consecutive losing seasons and a famous title drought that goes back to the Cubs' win in the 1908 World Series. Chicago hasn't made the playoffs since it won the NL Central in 2008 with Lou Piniella in the dugout.
"The challenge is so outstanding," Maddon said, "how could you not want to be in this seat?"
Epstein was hired after the Cubs went 71-91 in 2011, beginning a rebuilding process that included 101 losses in his first year in charge. But Epstein thinks the Cubs are ready to contend, and the bold move for Maddon shows he thinks the rebuilding process is far enough along that the manager could make a difference.
First baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro each made the NL All-Star team this year, and young sluggers Javier Baez and Jorge Soler had some positive moments in their first major league action. Maddon's biggest challenge is building on the development of Chicago's core group of young players while also paving the way for another wave of prospects that includes third baseman Kris Bryant and shortstop Addison Russell.
"The two things that stood out this past summer were this cathedral across the street and then the groupings of players, youthful, talented and really into the game," Maddon said. "They never quit and it was beautiful to watch.
"I heard all about it, you see it, you read about it. ... Then you see them first hand. When I'm watching all this the thing that strikes me is the player development program and the scouting. It has to be outstanding to get those guys out here. I was really impressed with all that from the other dugout."