Cubs manager Joe Maddon defended by GM Jed Hoyer

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon received a flurry of criticism for his bullpen management and other decisions late in the World Series, but he apparently hasn't lost any cachet with the team's front office as a result.

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, speaking to reporters Tuesday at the MLB GMs meetings, expressed support for the job Maddon did this season and said Maddon's performance adds to a portfolio that will eventually earn him a spot in Cooperstown.

"Joe is a world champion manager for the first time and he's going to be in the Hall of Fame someday,'' Hoyer said. "I think he's deserving of both.''

Critics piled on Maddon for using closer Aroldis Chapman for 1 1/3 innings and 20 pitches in World Series Game 6, even though the Cubs had the game in hand at the time and went on to beat Cleveland by a score of 9-3. Maddon was pilloried in Game 7 for lifting starter Kyle Hendricks after 4 1/3 innings and bringing in starter Jon Lester in relief with a runner on first base, even after saying he would summon Lester only with the bases empty.

Also, in the ninth inning of a tied Game 7, Javier Baez was called on to bunt with a 3-2 count and one out with the go-ahead run at third and the infield in. He fouled off the pitch and was out. The run didn't score.

The game was tied because Chapman, called upon to throw 35 pitches in Game 7, allowed a game-tying, two-run homer to Rajai Davis in the eighth inning.

The Cubs did recover, however, to beat the Indians 8-7 in 10 innings and capture their first title since 1908.

"By the time you got to the finish line, both teams were really tired and obviously that has a huge impact on what happened,'' Hoyer said. "We won the World Series, and I know there's a zero percent chance we win 200 games over two years and win the World Series without Joe. I think that's the nature of the postseason. The managers take on an almost oversized persona, because the cameras are on them the entire game and every move they make is going to be dissected.

"I had my own internal monologue I could rely on. It was an amazing game. Maybe even now, I'm sort of glad that's how we won the game. It's sort of an appropriate way to end a 108-year drought, when you stare into the abyss for 45 minutes or so and end up coming out the other side. I'll probably have more gray hairs now. I'll probably have ulcers and it might have taken some minutes off my life. But it was probably more appropriate.''

Hoyer, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and the rest of Chicago's front-office team are in Scottsdale to begin the process of preparing for 2017. The Cubs will have to deal with the potential loss of Chapman, who is a free agent, as well as center fielder Dexter Fowler, who hit the open market after declining a $9 million mutual option for next season. Hoyer said the team plans to engage in talks with agent Casey Close and has interest in retaining Fowler, who logged a .276/.393/.447 slash line as Chicago's primary leadoff hitter this season. The Cubs tendered Fowler a one-year, $17.2 million qualifying offer, but Fowler is expected to reject it and pursue free agency.

Chapman, 28, saved 16 games, logged a 1.01 ERA and struck out 46 batters in 26 2/3 innings with the Cubs after coming over from the New York Yankees by trade in late July. He joins Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon as one of three big-name closers on the market this winter.

Carl Edwards Jr., who struck out 52 batters in 36 relief innings for the Cubs this season, is one potential internal option to replace Chapman as closer. Hector Rondon recorded 18 saves before the end of July, but his performance fell off markedly after Chapman's arrival.

Hoyer said the Cubs' main objective this offseason will be to add pitching to catch up to the young position player core led by Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras.

"Our overarching focus is finding controllable pitching -- starting and relieving,'' Hoyer said. "I think I've said that a thousand times to our local writers, and that's probably going to be our same answer for the next 18-24 months. Our young position players are ahead of our pitchers both in volume and talent, so that's going to be the focus for a while.''