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Cubs' Theo Epstein acknowledges 'differences' with Joe Maddon

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MESA, Ariz. -- Chicago Cubs boss Theo Epstein was diplomatic when it came to former manager Joe Maddon's assertion that he wanted to leave the team after his contract was up, regardless of whether the front office wanted him back.

"That would conflict with some of the things that he and his agent were saying and doing toward the end of the season," Epstein said from Cubs camp on Tuesday. "If that's how he feels, I'm not going to dispute it. That doesn't reflect the conversations we were having."

Added Epstein later: "I love Joe. Nothing is going to get in the way of that. I don't think he meant any ill will with his comments."

In a wide-ranging interview with ESPN, Maddon opened up about the end of his tenure as Cubs manager. Under his leadership, the Cubs made the playoffs four straight years and won the 2016 World Series -- the organization's first championship in 108 years. However, the Cubs won 11 fewer games in 2019 than they did in 2018, missing the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.

After leaving the Cubs, Maddon signed a four-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels, the organization that previously employed him for decades as a player and then a coach.

"Philosophically, Theo needed to do what he needed to do separately," Maddon said. "At some point, I began to interfere with his train of thought a little bit. And it's not that I'm hardheaded. I'm inclusive. But when I started there -- '15, '16, '17 -- it was pretty much my methods. And then all of a sudden, after '18 going into '19, they wanted to change everything."

What were those changes? At first, Epstein said he preferred to take the high road but then got into specifics.

"Joe and I aren't exactly the same," Epstein said. "His approach was more 'Things will work themselves out. These are great players. Let them play. This will work out.' From my perspective, there was a little bit more cause for concern."

Before his final season, the team challenged Maddon to be more hands-on and to change some work habits for his players. The "less is more" mantra, which was so effective when Maddon arrived in Chicago, might not have been the best way forward.

"There was just, you can say, philosophical differences," Maddon said. "But he and I are still good friends. And I like the man a lot. It was just time for him to get someone else, and time for me to work somewhere else. That's all. A five-year shelf life in Chicago is almost equivalent to five to 10 somewhere else.

"At the end of the day, man, there's nothing to lament there. That was the most successful five years that the Cubs have ever had."

Epstein made it clear the front office wasn't interested in taking on more control of clubhouse matters, but he said there were times going into and through Maddon's final season that it became necessary.

"In 18 years, there have only been two instances where those organizational standards for work, preparation and behavior were not getting met and I had to get involved and give feedback and remind about expectations," Epstein said. "But it doesn't work best that way."

Epstein was asked if Maddon's Cubs were one of those instances.

"I'll hold those two instances to myself, but I guess Joe indirectly alluded to it with his comments today," Epstein said.