Future with Maddon excites Rays

An extension signals the club's belief he can lead it to new heights.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 9, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - The Devil Rays haven't won much under manager Joe Maddon.

But it's the work Maddon has done to prepare them for future success, and the potential he has shown to win when they're ready, that led to what executive vice president Andrew Friedman said Saturday "really wasn't a difficult decision" to exercise a two-year option that keeps Maddon under contract through 2009.

"These last two years have been very important in terms of building a foundation, and we feel like Joe has been an integral part of that," Friedman said. "And now that we believe that foundation is in place, it's all of our jobs to build a team that not only can compete but can win the American League East, and we feel like Joe is the right person for the job."

Maddon, 53, was expectedly thrilled and predictably confident the Rays will be a success.

"I know it's a two-year extension, but I really want to be here for many years to come. I see this as being one of the prime places to be in Major League Baseball over the course of the next decade," said Maddon, who is 120-184 .395 so far.

"I can see the growth. You're already seeing in a year and-a-half the positive changes that have occurred, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. It's just going to keep getting better."

Several Rays players said they liked the progress the team has made under Maddon, including a 21-18 mark since July 29, and expect it to continue.

"He can't throw for us, he can't hit for us, but he brings the best out of us," first baseman Carlos Pena said. "He's the one who sets the tone as far as getting the best out of his players with his words of encouragement, with his constructive criticism, with his suggestions and his overall attitude."

Leftfielder Carl Crawford said things have been "fine so far" with Maddon and hopes even better things are ahead: "That's who they chose, so I'm hoping. You want to think that's the case. We're going to saddle up behind Joe and try to go to the next level."

Maddon's extensive background in player development made him a logical hire in November 2005 when the new Rays ownership group wanted someone to develop its young players and change the organization's losing culture.

But Friedman said they are now convinced Maddon is also the manager who can lead them to a championship.

"Some people would ask that question ... did we feel like he could be the right person to transition us into a winning team?" Friedman said. "And now after seeing him for two years and appreciating what he's about, we're extremely confident that he's the right person to get us to that point."

Friedman cited several reasons, starting with Maddon's ability to consider what's best for the development of the entire organization. Other plusses are Maddon's ways of making players confident they can win, of understanding and relating to young players and of teaching the nuances of the game.

The Rays also like how he has done his job, showing patience, refraining from criticizing his players publicly and maintaining his perpetually positive attitude. "It's who he is," Friedman said, "but it's absolutely something we view as a positive."

Though Maddon has raised eyebrows with some in-game moves, much of his decision-making has been the product of organizational philosophy, such as holding young starters to strict pitch count limits. Working the first half of this season with a bad bullpen didn't help.

Maddon said Saturday that he feels his in-game decision-making and strategy are good enough to win, and he welcomes the opportunity, when the Rays progress enough, to be judged on his record.

"The win-loss record is probably the only negative about this whole thing to this point, but that is miniscule compared to all the positives that have occurred over the course of the last two years," he said. "So for me, if I can remain consistent, which I plan on, and we keep the work ethic as it is, and we continue to give these people experience with their athletic abilities and let them become more efficient major-league baseball players, good things are going to happen."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/rays.