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Cubs manager Joe Maddon: “zero hard feelings” over Rays’ tampering charges

After a high-tech investigation that inexplicably took six months to conclude, Major League Baseball has cleared the Cubs and Joe Maddon of tampering allegations leveled by the Tampa Bay Rays.

“They did a thorough process,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “The entire time we encouraged them to be thorough. Obviously, there was no wrongdoing and we’re glad that was announced [Wednesday].”

Sources say the investigation involved forensic-level searches of cell phones and computers to determine whether the Cubs made inappropriate contact with Maddon or his agent before he had exercised his opt-out clause and become a free agent.

It was an unusually long process for such an investigation, with the expectation first that it would be concluded by the start of spring training — then in February commissioner Rob Manfred saying he expected a conclusion by Opening Day.

“Obviously, we had hoped sometime in spring training this would get resolved,” Hoyer said. “I think there were interviews to conduct. And it’s not the biggest department of all-time. So I do think they probably at times are stretched somewhat thin. I think that’s a big part of it. … I’m glad it’s behind us.”

Maddon, Chicago-based agent Alan Nero, and Cubs officials from the start emphatically denied any early or inappropriate contact.

On Wednesday MLB released the following statement:

“Major League Baseball has concluded its tampering investigation regarding Joe Maddon’s departure from the Tampa Bay Rays and his subsequent hiring as manager of the Chicago Cubs. The investigation produced no finding of a violation of Major League Rule 3(k) on Tampering.”

Maddon’s potential free agency began when Tampa Bay general manager Andrew Friedman’s hiring as president by the Los Angeles Dodgers in October triggered an opt-out clause that Maddon has said he didn’t know he had.

The Cubs have said they contacted MLB during that process to make sure they didn’t proceed with efforts to hire Maddon until he was officially declared a free agent.

The Rays alleged the Cubs made contact before anything was official, thereby hindering their own renegotiations to retain him.

Rays owner Stu Sternberg told Tampa-area media on Wednesday: “We make our decisions based on the facts at hand and the processes we trust. We can never be certain of the outcomes.”

Maddon said he negotiated in good faith with the Rays and was willing to sign an extension for less than the Cubs eventually offered.

Sources say the Rays declined to pay Maddon just over half the $5 million annual value of the five-year deal he signed with the Cubs. It was only after that, say Maddon and the Cubs, that Theo Epstein and his staff began pursuing Maddon.

“I’m just glad that we arrived at this point,” Maddon said Wednesday, adding that he retains strong relationships with many Rays officials.

“From my perspective, obviously, there’s zero hard feelings,” Maddon said. “These are my guys for many years. Without the opportunity that they gave me I would not be sitting here right now. And I’ll always be grateful for that.

“Believe me, man, when that reunion occurs 10 or 15 years from now, I definitely hope to be there.”

Maddon managed the Rays for nine seasons, winning 90 or more games five times and reaching the World Series in 2008.