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With Joe Maddon having his best year, no way Cubs could rationalize his removal

Cubs manager Joe Maddon is on the hot seat, according to USA Today.

Forget for a moment whether you believe that the Cubs would benefit from having a new manager next season. Let’s deal with the practical.

How would you rationalize getting rid of Joe Maddon? How would you explain away the fact that he has done his best managing this season, his fourth with the club? How would you justify dismissing a man who helped bring the franchise its first World Series title since 1908? A man who is trying to get the team to its fourth straight National League Championship Series?

You couldn’t rationalize it. But if a USA Today story is to be believed, Maddon is on the hot seat and can’t afford an early exit in the postseason. I don’t know if the report is true, but I do know that if team president Theo Epstein were ever harboring ideas of jettisoning Joe and his wacky fun house, he’d probably be on the least solid footing now to justify such a move.

Epstein brought in big-ticket pitchers Yu Darvish and Brandon Morrow, who have been injured, and Tyler Chatwood, who can’t use injuries as an excuse for his struggles. Yet Maddon has carried on, one foot on a dugout step like a captain surveying choppy seas. His team has the best record in the NL, even though star Kris Bryant has been out for a significant period with a shoulder injury.

You can say that he drives you crazy with his gimmicks, his ”Wheel of Fortune” lineup spins, his look-at-me approach to the game. You can say that he refuses to admit mistakes and that his legal name should be Joe “Never Wrong’’ Maddon. I certainly have done all of that.

But I don’t see how anyone could burn a hand on Maddon’s seat at this point. There have been other times when he has looked vulnerable, including June 2017, when the talent-loaded Cubs were playing poorly. But even then — fire a coach coming off a World Series season?

Back to the practical side of things. Epstein is as keen and calculating as they come, and I don’t for a minute think he’d be afraid to make a radical change if he thought it would help the franchise. But how would he stand in front of a fan base that worships anybody who had anything to do with the 2016 World Series and announce that someone as prominent as Maddon would not be back after this season?

He certainly wouldn’t be able to make the argument that the Cubs underachieved this season, not with all those injuries. He’d be able to say that Joe’s act got old, and some segment of the fan base would agree. Perhaps some players would think the same thing, though there has been no hint of a mutiny. The total of Maddon’s sins, most stemming from pride, don’t outweigh his record.

And yet … hmm. Sun-Times writer Gordon Wittenmyer asked Epstein for a comment after the USA Today story came out. His response, via text, sounded more like a prepared statement than anything from the heart:

‘‘Joe is a terrific leader and partner, and we are thrilled with his job performance the last four years. Since 2015, the Cubs have the most regular-season wins and the most postseason wins in all of baseball; it’s hard to have a better track record than that.


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‘‘Joe is clearly in good standing with the organization. We are focused on trying to win another championship and will not address Joe’s contract status until there is reason to do so.’’

The semicolon: grammar’s impersonal stop sign.

Maddon’s contract expires after next season, but discussions for a new deal would begin well before the 2019 season started.

There’d be practical reasons to discuss Maddon’s future that have nothing to do with his strategic struggles in the World Series or his inability to accept blame. He’ll be 65 when his contract is up. The Cubs will be heading into a different phase, with their competitive window not quite as wide open as it has been the last four years. They’ll likely lose some of their high-profile players. Do you want to continue paying Maddon $6 million a year during a possible transition period for the organization? That question has nothing to do with whether you think he’s a good manager or not.

In June, I wrote a playful column imagining a wild scenario: the Cubs parting ways with Maddon and the White Sox hiring him to do for their rebuild what he did for the North Side version. I somehow passed the ensuing drug test.

I’ve rolled my eyes at Maddon’s see-no-evil approach to his team and at his need to be the center of attention. I’ve had my fill of mimes and magicians.

But this is the oddest time to start a Joe Must Go chant.