The MLB off-season hasn't even commenced, yet the Tampa Bay Rays have been in the headlines often. It was just ten days ago that their highly-regarded general manager Andrew Friedman accepted a position with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and more troubling news surfaced on Friday. Tampa Bay's long-time manager Joe Maddon has exercised his opt-out clause, and will leave the team immediately.
Rumors that Maddon could be interested in leaving the Rays surfaced shortly after Friedman's departure. Maddon still had one year left on his contract, and many believed that Friedman would persuade Joe to join him in Los Angeles after next season. Those theories were quickly shot down, and Maddon expressed his desire to stay with the club that he helped resurrect from the ashes.
However, Maddon and the Rays couldn't come to terms on a contract extension, even though new GM Matt Silverman said his offers were "very generous". Due to the stipulations of Maddon's contract, he had the right to opt-out once Friedman left.
Maddon told Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times that his decision to leave was based on financial issues and curiosity over what opportunities will present themselves. Conjecture that he could join the Dodgers has obviously emerged once again, but Maddon stated that he doesn't have anything lined up for 2015 at this point, and Friedman is still adamant that Don Mattingly will manage the Dodgers next season.
"I have been doing this for a long time," Maddon said. "I have never had this opportunity to research my employment on my terms. Never, never, never. And I think anybody given the same set of circumstances would do the same thing" He went on to say that that his decision to leave the Rays was "gut wrenching, almost feeling sick".
Team owner Stuart Sternberg said about the situation: "We tried diligently and aggressively to sign Joe to a third contract extension prior to his decision. As of yesterday afternoon, Joe enabled himself to explore opportunities throughout Major League Baseball. He will not be managing the Rays in 2015."
This is yet another blow to the tremendous managing department that's resided in Tampa Bay for nearly ten years. Maddon is universally respected around MLB, and will be extremely difficult to replace. The most obvious candidate would be bench coach Dave Martinez. He's been part of the staff in Tampa Bay since 2008, and the players are already acquainted and comfortable with him. Other possibilities include Ron Gardenhire and Gabe Kapler.
It's still unclear where Maddon will end up, but his agent Alan Nero said that he expects his client to be managing somewhere in 2015. Maddon is already being linked to the Chicago Cubs, and they seem like the front runner as of now. According to Joel Sherman, the Dodgers and Mets, who were among the teams with reported interest, are not in the mix.
Maddon, 60, has enjoyed a tremendous run as skipper if the Rays. He owns a .517 winning percentage with the club, and he was named American League manger of the year on two separate occasions. As unsettling as this exit is, Maddon's outstanding work with a formerly-dreadful franchise cannot be forgotten. He will be missed.