Angels present a unique challenge for new manager Joe Maddon

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Once again, the Angels have won an important off-the-field competition. 

In December 2017, general manager Billy Eppler convinced Shohei Ohtani, the superstar two-way player from Japan, that his franchise was the best destination for his jump to MLB. Last spring, Eppler convinced superstar Mike Trout to sign a lucrative long-term extension to stay with the organization that drafted him instead of testing the free-agent waters. 

And on Wednesday, Eppler convinced Joe Maddon, the biggest name on the managerial free-agent market, to come back to where he began his coaching journey. The sides agreed to a reported three-year deal, terms undisclosed for the moment. 

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“We are thrilled that Joe is coming back home and bringing an exciting brand of baseball to our fans,” Eppler said in a release from the team. “Every stop he has made throughout his managerial career he has built a culture that is focused on winning while also allowing his players to thrive.”

Maddon has indeed won at his two previous stops, in Tampa Bay and in Chicago. The Angels, though, provide an entirely new challenge. Here's a breakdown of his stops so far. 


The situation: In the eight years of franchise existence before Maddon was hired by Andrew Friedman, the Devil Rays had failed to win more than 70 games even once. They’d finished in last place in the AL East seven times in those eight seasons and fewer than 28 games out of first place once. The front office brought in big-name veterans those first few seasons — native son Wade Boggs had his 3,000th hit in a Devil Rays uniform, which just looked weird, Fred McGriff (also a Tampa native) turned in three very McGriff-ish seasons and Jose Canseco hit 43 homers for the franchise — but that didn’t translate to wins on the field.  

Maddon’s biggest task wasn’t just about winning, it was about building a culture that didn’t expect to lose 90-plus games. When he was hired after the 2005 season, the years of high draft picks had given the organization a wealth of young talent, both in the majors and in the minor leagues. Maddon’s long track record with youngsters in the Angels’ organization was a primary reason he was the choice as Tampa Bay’s manager. There was heavy lifting to be done. 

The Maddon magic: The first two years looked like business as usual in the standings, as Tampa Bay lost 197 games in 2006-07. But in the clubhouse, the tide had shifted, dramatically.

Friedman brought in key veteran pieces — guys like Cliff Floyd, Troy Percival and Erik Hinske — to help the young core of rookies and budding stars — guys like Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton and Scott Kazmir, to name just a few — learn how to win. And win they did. The Rays — they dropped the “Devil” after the 2007 season, a symbolic change — went from 66 wins in 2007 to 97 wins in 2008. And they didn’t stop with the regular season; Tampa Bay knocked off the White Sox in the ALDS and Boston in the ALCS to advance to the World Series, where the Rays fell in five games to the Phillies. 

The culture shift was cemented. From 2008 to 2013, the Rays averaged 92 wins a season, made the playoffs four times and claimed two AL East titles. A clause in Maddon’s contract with the Rays allowed him to opt out of his contract if Friedman left, and when Friedman joined the Dodgers after the 2014 season, Maddon exercised that option.


The situation: Expectations for Maddon could not have been more different in Chicago then they were when he arrived in Tampa Bay. The Cubs parted ways with manager Rick Renteria — a respected baseball man who had been on the job just one year — solely because Maddon was available. Under front-office guru Theo Epstein, the Cubs had gone through a complete overhaul that resulted in two things: a lot of losses at the MLB level, and a lot of talent acquisition for the organization. And by 2015 season, the Cubs — and their fans — were ready to start winning. And win they did. 

The Maddon magic: The Cubs were five games over .500 (52-47) at the All-Star break, but had the NL’s best record in the second half, at 50-25, and finished with the third-most wins in baseball (97). They beat the Pirates in the NL wild card game, then knocked off the rival Cardinals in the NLDS before their run was stopped in the NLCS by the Mets. 

In 2016, as you know, the Cubs won 103 games — eight more than any other team in baseball — and more importantly, claimed the first World Series championship for the franchise since 1908. They won 92 games in 2017 and reached the NLCS again, then won 95 games in 2018. 


The situation: In many ways, the Angels present the most complicated, challenging situation of Maddon’s career. On one hand, Maddon gets to write future Hall of Famer Mike Trout’s name into his lineup for as long as the best player in baseball stays healthy. And he gets to watch Shohei Ohtani do things at the plate and on the mound that few have ever done. 

That’s a great place to start. 

But the Angels have been a top-heavy team in recent years. Even with Trout’s brilliance in the heart of the lineup, the Angels haven’t even finished .500 the past four years. Pitching injuries have been a huge part of the equation, of course — Trevor Cahill, a free agent-to-be, led the staff with a meager 102 1/3 innings in 2019 — but Maddon’s primary challenge will be getting all the pieces of the puzzle to fit. Oh, and Maddon has to figure out how Albert Pujols — who turns 40 this offseason and has a minus-0.9 bWAR over the past three seasons — fits into the picture.

The Maddon magic: Stay tuned. 

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