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Manager Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay Rays officials seem unconcerned about lack of a long-term deal

PORT CHARLOTTE — The Marlins guy just had his contract extended after a third-place finish.

The manager in Minnesota recently picked up two more years on his contract. Back in Anaheim, the skipper essentially got himself a lifetime deal. And the other World Series manager? His contract was already set through 2010, but the Phillies went ahead and added another year in 2011, with a raise in the $3 million range.

Which brings us to the spring training office of the American League manager of the year. There is no multimillion-dollar contract extension in Joe Maddon's desk drawer, but his dry cleaning just arrived and he is told to put his wallet away.

"Now you want to talk about something cool," Maddon grins, "how about getting your dry cleaning done for free."

He has no contract beyond this October. No promises, no guarantees, no commitments.

And, at the moment, Joe Maddon also has no worries.

He always has been a low-maintenance sort of guy and, contract extension or not, has no reason to worry about his future. Entering the fourth, and final, season of his original contract, Maddon says he could not be happier with Rays management.

If you don't believe that, you may want to check out Maddon as he leaves the facility late Sunday afternoon. He is carrying an extra-large salad bowl because he is cooking dinner for more than a dozen Rays officials at his rented spring condo.

"There's a lot of trust flowing back and forth right now. I believe I could work somewhere else if I chose to but, the point is, I don't want to," Maddon, 55, said. "This is the perfect place for me. I don't want to go anywhere else.

"I know, going back to conventional wisdom, that I'm supposed to be clamoring for a contract right now based on what's happened in the past. I could talk about lame duck status and how that can impact the group. I could say all that kind of stuff. But I don't necessarily believe that. I'm very confident — very confident — that I'm going to be here for years to come."

You could say he is too trusting. You could suggest he is a bit naive. You could say, coming off one of the greatest turnarounds in baseball history, Maddon should have been lobbying for a new deal the moment the lights finally went out at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia in late October.

Because, let's face it, his stock may never be higher. Bargaining position may never be better for a manager whose salary, in the $750,000 range, is on the very low end of the big-league scale.

You have to figure the odds of winning a second AL pennant and a second manager of the year award are not real strong. Yet, Maddon trusts the Rays will ultimately do right by him before his contract expires in eight months or so.

"The way we look at it, is we all have a great working relationship," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "The backroom dealings are something that obviously we keep private. It's not something we feel like a blow-by-blow account is helpful. We expect all of us to be working together for a long time, and that's what is most important."

To be fair, Maddon is not alone. More managers than you would think are in the final year of a contract. Maddon is one of at least nine who have neither guarantees, nor club options, for 2010. Some are Hall of Fame candidates such as Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox. Others are hot seat candidates such as Cecil Cooper and Bud Black.

"You're always looking for security, but I have worked primarily since 1981, with one-year contracts. I don't lose any sleep about it. I don't overanalyze it," Maddon said. "I understand why people would ask me the question, but I have zero concern. I believe, if there was any question about it, Stu (Sternberg) would have brought that to my attention.

"I have had no conversations about this with Andrew, Matt (Silverman) or Stu. And I'm good with that."

You could argue the Rays are being prudent. That there is no reason to rush into another deal while the current contract remains valid. And you could point out Friedman and Silverman, the team president, operate without the security of contracts.

But it does look odd when you consider how willing the Rays have been to secure key assets with long-term deals. They love the cost certainty, and the idea of taking free agency out of the picture. So they have tied up the third baseman. The leftfielder. Two of the starting pitchers. Even a utility infielder.

As for the manager, I would say he is pretty high up the list of potential free agents. His time for a long-term deal has not yet come, but I would hope it will soon.

For the Rays' sake, as much as his.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Manager Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay Rays officials seem unconcerned about lack of a long-term deal 02/22/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 12:27pm]
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