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Joe Maddon is still the Cubs’ manager; for how long is still unsettled

I didn’t keep track of how many times Cubs president Theo Epstein started a sentence Wednesday with, “If we’re being honest here,’’ but it was a lot.

So in the face of rumors, innuendo and vague rumblings about Joe Maddon’s status, let’s take at face value all the things Epstein said about him at a news conference:

† Maddon remains the team’s manager.

† Epstein really likes Maddon.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon, left, talks with team president Theo Epstein while pitcher Yu Darvish pitches a simulated game in June. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

† The two men have yet to talk about a contract extension for Maddon, whose current deal runs out after next season.

† Epstein doesn’t seem to think that allowing a manager to work through the final year of his contract is necessarily a bad thing or that lame-duck status points to a manager not eventually getting a new contract.

Is that enough clarity for you?

I didn’t think so.

If you’re looking for something a little meatier, well, you — and Maddon — might have to wait awhile. The day after the abrupt end to the Cubs’ season, a 13-inning loss to the Rockies in the National League wild-card game, Epstein couldn’t or wouldn’t address Maddon’s long-term future.

“We just finished playing, so I have not turned to that,’’ Epstein said. “I certainly haven’t talked to Joe about it yet, but I think we still have to think about that part of it internally first, then talk about it with Joe, and if there’s an appropriate time to discuss it with you all, we will. But it certainly will happen in that order.’’

Does that clear things up for you?

I didn’t think so.

It’s hard to see how Epstein could rationalize getting rid of a manager who has won a World Series, been to three NL Championship Series and won 90 or more games four seasons in a row in Chicago. But stranger things have happened.

Maddon went into this season under pressure. His team had followed its 2016 World Series title with a slow start in 2017 and spent the rest of the season pulling itself out of it. Maddon responded this year with his best managing performance to date in Chicago, leading a team that struggled with injuries to 95 victories.

Perhaps Epstein isn’t averse to having Maddon go through another prove-it season before offering him a new contract.

One factor could be Maddon’s salary. He makes $6 million a year, a huge amount at a time when managers’ salaries are going down. If you give him an extension, that likely will mean a raise. Do the Cubs still have an appetite for paying that much money to a manager?

Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is solely the Cubs’ decision. Maddon would be the frontrunner for just about any managerial opening.

I’d ask if that clears up his employment status for you, but I think I know your answer.

What is clear is that Epstein wanted to make it clear that he likes Maddon.

“I enjoy having Joe around personally, and I like having him as the manager of this club, and I really like having the most wins in baseball the last four years,’’ he said. “I don’t like going home the first day of October. That’s not on Joe. That’s not. I look forward to him coming back next year with some unfinished business, as we all have.’’

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A lot of people had spent the previous days and weeks trying to read the job-status tea leaves. They parsed Epstein’s most recent comments, looking at what words he chose to use when talking about Maddon and which ones he avoided. Epstein wasn’t pleased with a story by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal that suggested there was tension between the two.

“I know there was a sort of high-profile report [Wednesday] morning that was not accurate,’’ Epstein said. “I didn’t read the whole thing, but I saw in there that there were some claims that he and I had personal friction. Not true at all. We have a terrific working relationship.

“We don’t agree all the time about baseball issues, and that’s the way it should be. I don’t want a yes man as the manager, and I don’t want it working as a yes-man relationship the other way, either. I think there should be discourse and debate and healthy, trusting relationships where you work together to make the organization better. And that’s the way it is.’’

Is it possible to make a case for getting rid of Maddon? If you clashed with his look-at-me personality, sure. But you can’t answer that question without asking another: What manager out there would be better? That would seem like a juicy fastball: Nobody.

And yet, the next time Epstein strikes anyone as unwilling to make changes would be the first.

One argument I’ve heard is that you can’t jettison Maddon for his failings without jettisoning Epstein for his, including the disastrous signings of Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood. It’s a tidy argument, but it’s also one that would have almost no chance of happening. The guess here is that the Ricketts family, comfortable with the Cubs’ cuddly game-day “experience,’’ wouldn’t want to get rid of Maddon, a fan favorite. To think that they’d want to go through the effort of looking for a new team president and a new manager is hard to envision.

We’re left to wait and see. Run us through how you’ll decide on a direction with your manager again, Theo.

“Step 1 is get away from the emotion of the season a little bit, get some perspective on everything, process it and start thinking, with all the personnel — playing and not playing — what the best course of action for the organization is and then communicate,’’ he said.

Got that?

I didn’t think so.