The offseason free agent period begins Thursday, and the Cubs appear on the verge of finalizing the first of what they hope are several impact acquisitions.
The hiring of two-time American League manager of the year Joe Maddon seems imminent, according to a source familiar with the developments since Maddon opted out of his contract with the Rays on Friday.
The Cubs, however, remained silent Wednesday in response to a CBS Sports report that Maddon, 60, has agreed to become the next manager. Major League Baseball frowns on teams making announcements during the World Series.
Maddon led the Rays to their only American League pennant in 2008 and secured playoff berths in 2010, 2011 and 2013. He posted a .517 winning percentage (754-705) with them from 2006-14.
Maddon served as a short-term interim manager with the Angels in 1996 and 1999, going 27-24.
Maddon worked in the Angels organization for 31 years in various roles and was their director of player development in 1994 before joining the major league staff as a coach until he left for the Rays.
His impending hiring is as awkward as it is stunning because current manager Rick Renteria has two years left on his contract and received an endorsement from team officials as recently as three weeks ago.
"Nothing has changed since Rick's statement," Ken Solomon, Renteria's agent, said shortly after the CBS Sports report was posted.
Renteria's statement Monday re-stated his continuing goal of helping the Cubs win a championship and was issued in the wake of the Cubs' silence amid swelling Maddon speculation.
Maddon's twitter handle, @RaysJoeMaddon, was changed to @Maddonini. His agent, Alan Nero, didn't return several phone messages but told the Tampa Bay Times, "all this speculation with the Cubs has stabbed Renteria right in the heart."
Nevertheless, Maddon would bring a higher profile to a rebuilding franchise seeking impact pitching to elevate it to a championship level.
Under Maddon, there would be a transition period for a Cubs coaching staff with only one opening.
The Rays' coaches, including bench coach Dave Martinez who was a contender for the Cubs job last year, are signed for next year. Management wants them back regardless of who their next manager is.
Cubs coaches Chris Bosio (pitching), Lester Strode (bullpen) and Mike Borzello (catching) are holdovers dating back to manager Dale Sveum and Cubs management regards them highly, as it does bench coach Brandon Hyde.
Cubs new assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske hit 20 home runs and drove in 60 while playing for Maddon in 2008. Two weeks before Maddon became a free agent, the Cubs hired hitting coach John Mallee and first base coach Doug Dascenzo (on a one-year contract). Third base coach Gary Jones came from the Padres with Renteria. Quality assurance coach Jose Castro just left to become the assistant hitting coach with the Braves.
The hiring of Maddon would represent a springboard to free agency that starts at 8 a.m. Thursday, with teams not allowed to negotiate financial terms with free agents from other teams until Tuesday.
The Cubs' front office has an association with left-hander Jon Lester from their days together with the Red Sox, and one of Lester's former teammates believes he is a lock to sign with the Cubs.
Lester and Max Scherzer are the two top free agent pitchers on the market and primed to receive the largest contracts of their careers. The Cubs have reiterated their desire to acquire impact pitching over an 18-month window, which could cause them to add a mid-level starter (such as Jason Hammel or Jake Peavy) if they deem the price of a front-line starter too costly and elect to aim toward next winter's class (including Jordan Zimmerman, David Price, Mat Latos and Jeff Samardzija).
They also could take the same route with catching, as Russell Martin stands out in a shallow pool. The Pirates want to re-sign Martin. The Cubs could elect to stick with Welington Castillo but could pursue A.J. Pierzynski to upgrade production from the left side.
Adding a veteran outfielder like Chris Denorfia or Jonny Gomes would fortify the depth and provide leadership to a young roster.