Andrew Friedman left the Tampa Bay Rays, and we thought that we be it. It would be difficult enough for the Rays to continue without the executive who had transformed for their team from a laughingstock to a perennial contender, but they would find a way to survive. However, as it turns out, Friedman leaving was only the start and the Rays will face another key departure.
Buster Olney of ESPN reported that Joe Maddon has opted out of his contract and will sever ties with the franchise immediately. Jon Heyman notes that Maddon had an opt-out clause in his contract in the event that Friedman left, and he chose to exercise it. A statement from Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg sheds more light on the situation.
"“Joe Maddon has exercised an opt-out in his current contract, a contract which was not scheduled to expire until after the 2015 season. 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. Joe has been our manager for nine seasons, and the foundation of success laid during his tenure endures. We thank him for all that he’s meant to the organization.”"
The Rays tried to extend Maddon, and they could not come to terms. That prompts a critical question: was the divide based on money or Maddon no longer believing in the direction of the team? Either way, everyone involved is in a state of disbelief.
Even Maddon himself can’t believe that it has come to this point.
What does this mean? Well, the obvious first answer is that the Tampa Bay Rays are entering a time of transition. Now two of the key people who turned around their franchise are gone, and the Rays will not be the same without them. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the team is about to fall apart. Friedman was special, but the Rays have plenty of talent left in their front office. And while Joe Maddon always seemed to be perfect for this team, they will find another manager who fits their analytic mindset and can lead this team effectively.
Most importantly, this is a Tampa Bay Rays team still possesses one of the best rotations in baseball and talent across the rest of their roster as well. They have work to do as they hope to rebound from this season’s results, but the losses of Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon does not mean that this team will suddenly need to rebuild. No matter who are left standing in the front office and coaching staff, the Rays will contend next season. A lot is up in the air, but do not that fact be clouded.