After Angels waste no time hiring Joe Maddon, will Cubs be next to fill manager opening?

Insiders suggest it’s a two-man race for the Cubs job between presumptive favorite David Ross and Astros bench coach Joe Espada, who impressed in Monday’s interview, sources said.

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League Championship Series - New York Yankees v Houston Astros - Game Two

Joe Espada during pregame work Sunday in preparation for the Astros’ ALCS game against the Yankees.

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Cubs president Theo Epstein was right about one thing:

“There’s going to be a bidding war for his services, and there should be,” he said of Joe Maddon on the final day of the Cubs season, the day the manager’s firing became official. “He’s in a great position.”

Barely two weeks after that day, the most successful manager in Cubs history was the first name off the board as an eight-team carousel of managerial vacancies narrowed to seven with the announcement Wednesday by the Angels that they’ve hired Maddon to replace Brad Ausmus.

Now Epstein’s on the clock to get the rest of it right: That hiring David Ross, or possibly Astros bench coach Joe Espada, pays off enough to validate the decision to jettison Maddon after five straight winning seasons that included the most elusive and coveted championship in American team sports history.

After an interview Monday with Espada that sources say impressed Cubs executives, insiders suggest it’s a two-man race for the Cubs job, with in-house candidate Ross holding the edge.

Ross, a special assistant to the front office since retiring as a player after winning the 2016 World Series, has been the Cubs’ presumptive manager-in-waiting since Epstein tabled contract extension consideration for Maddon a year ago.

If the Cubs go with Ross, an announcement could come by Monday’s eve of the World Series opener.

If they go with Espada, that could get pushed back until the end of the month if Houston advances to the World Series.

The Cubs have interviewed three other candidates, including former Yankees manager Joe Girardi, one of only two on their interview list with any managing experience.

Girardi, the former Cubs catcher and a popular name among fans, is said to want the Mets job “badly,” according to reports out of New York. And the Cubs aren’t likely to engage in a bidding war for a manager who may have been no more than a strong second choice to Ross in the first place.

The other experienced candidate, recently fired Phillies manager Gabe Kapler, was scheduled to interview this week in what is widely viewed as a courtesy gesture for Kapler, who has a strong relationship with top Cubs execs from their days together in Boston.

Kapler, who also reportedly is also interviewing for the Giants vacancy, might better fit other Cubs’ organizational needs in the short-term if he doesn’t get the managing gig he seeks.

The Cubs also interviewed two members of the 2019 staff: bench coach Mark Loretta and first-base coach Will Venable.

Maddon, who made $6 million in the final year of his Cubs contract, reportedly agreed to a three-year, $12 million deal with the Angels — the organization he spent the first 30 years of his professional career with (originally signing as an undrafted free agent catcher out of Lafayette College).

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