There has been a lot of mystery surrounding the Tampa Bay Rays this offseason. It all started with the announcement that Andrew Friedman was leaving the Rays to become president of baseball operations for the Los Angles Dodgers. This was a shocker to Rays’ fans, but it shouldn’t have been. It was going to happen sooner or later and you don’t turn down an offer to be the leader of a storied, big market team such as the Dodgers at a salary of $35 million over five years.
However, it was from there that things really got crazy. Joe Maddon sat down with Matt Silverman to pleasantly discuss a contract extension and left the meeting as the ex-manager of the Rays. How did this happen? Well, Silverman apparently told Maddon about an opt-out clause in his contract that was triggered when Friedman left (although agent Alan Nero may have known beforehand). At any rate, it supposedly changed the entire negotiation process and turned it from a formality into a slugfest. The Rays did not meet Maddon’s terms and he left.
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The leading rumor is that Maddon wanted $25 million over five years. That’s a lot of money for a manager of a small market team. Joe Girardi of the Yankees is the highest paid manager in baseball at $16 million over four years. So how did Maddon think he was going to get $25 million? Did a team (maybe the Chicago Cubs) whisper in his agent’s ear that $25 million was out there? We may never know.
Then there is the question of why Maddon left his contract with the Rays to enter a questionable market for managers. Right now, just one team in baseball is without a skipper, the Minnesota Twins, and they have never paid a manager more than $2 million. They also seem to be set on longtime Twins hero Paul Molitor as their manager.
Maybe someone like the Cubs would pursue Maddon despite the presence of current manager Rick Renteria, but how many other teams will risk alienating their current skipper by pursuing Maddon? If there is going to be a bidding war to get Maddon his record deal, who is going to be bidding? Instead of being paid $2 million to manage the Rays in 2015, Maddon could very well find himself being a TV commentator all season.
Maddon’s departure also, of course, opens the search for a new Tampa Bay Rays manager. There are plenty of candidates available including current Rays bench coach Dave Martinez. The strange thing, though, was that the Rays said they will have an open search for the best manager, but then announced that they will be retaining all of their coaches. It’s a long baseball tradition that new managers bring in their own coaches so what is going on here? I can see retaining Jim Hickey as the key to the Rays dominant pitching staff or Tom Foley as an old China hand, but Derek Shelton and George Hendrick? Have the Rays already decided on Martinez as their manager? Something doesn’t make sense about this whole situation.
There are a lot of moving parts here and that may or may not be good news. Did management think that there were flaws in the organization and it was time for a change of on-field management? Did Maddon think that he could not work with Silverman? Is Silverman in over his head as president of baseball operations and botch the negotiations with Maddon and his agent? In the short-term we won’t know, but for better or worse, baseball will never be the same in Tampa Bay.