This past Friday, Joe Maddon added to his mystique as a perplexing member of the MLB community by opting out of his contract as manager of the Tampa Bay Rays and catching most of the baseball world off guard. Joe Maddon has been helming the franchise since 2006 with an impressive record of 754-705, four playoff appearances and one World Series appearance in 2008. It could be argued that the results on the field are not even his greatest achievement, but rather that he has left an indelible mark on the franchise over the course of those nine years in the sense that the team has seemingly adopted his persona as an intelligent and energetic team that relies on its savvy and gamesmanship rather than through sheer volume of talent obtained through free agency.
Not many baseball managers are given the label of “genius,” but it is one that is constantly applied to Joe Maddon by analysts and baseball insiders due to his unorthodox views and managerial style as well as his ability to transform a franchise that was once a punchline into a perennial contender. In the eight seasons before Maddon arrived, the (Devil) Rays had one non-last place finish and an underwhelming roster. However, over the course of the next decade, General Manager Andrew Friedman matched up keen player acquisition and development with Maddon’s managerial acumen, use of advanced metrics, and ability to get the best out of his players to create one of baseball’s best environments, even if Tropicana Field was sparsely occupied by Rays fans.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Maddon’s resignation is the fact that he is now the rarest of breeds: a managerial free agent with a sterling reputation and resume. In baseball, it is usually the case that a manager will be fired or retire, but very seldom does one simply walk away from the job in such a position of strength. It seems like Joe Maddon will sit out the 2015 season and it would behoove him to do so since only one MLB team (Minnesota Twins) has a managerial vacancy. When considering this, it makes his decision seem more cunning than impulsive; much like his decision-making as a manager.
It is not unfathomable to expect to see Joe Maddon entering next year’s offseason with large contract demands and an enormous amount of interest from multiple clubs. Already, he has been linked to the Los Angeles Dodgers due to their front office addition of Friedman, his partner in Tampa, as well as the Chicago Cubs. (The rumors regarding Maddon, Friedman and the Dodgers are important and are not without substance. Maddon’s contract was written in such a way that if Friedman left the organization it would trigger the opt-out clause.) It also wouldn’t be a surprise if the New York Yankees or Toronto Blue Jays decided to fire their skippers, if they suffer disappointing seasons, in the hope of wooing their one-time American League East rival. Regardless, Maddon isn’t saying much and is being as vague as one would expect him to be.
Whatever the future holds for Joe Maddon it will almost certainly include a competitive, young team molded in his image and infused with his personality, though the location is anyone’s guess. This past Friday, if nothing else, Maddon verified his status as baseball’s resident enigma.