ST. PETERSBURG — The official announcement will come soon, probably this weekend in Miami. But as word spread Wednesday that the Rays and manager Joe Maddon had agreed to a three-year contract extension, the deal was already getting positive reviews where it matters most: in the clubhouse.
"It's the best move this organization can make," first baseman Carlos Peña said. "To me, he's the best in the game."
Maddon, 55, is in his fourth season with the Rays but, despite last season's improbable run, is in the final year of his contract. The Rays declined to address his status during the winter and were expected to wait until near the end of the season but apparently changed their thinking — perhaps because of the team's slow start — and approached Maddon within the past week.
The new deal will run through the 2012 season and includes a raise, with only some contract language to be worked out. The St. Petersburg Times first reported the agreement Wednesday on its Web site, tampabay.com.
Maddon has been very open about wanting to stay with the Rays — "I want to be here for many years," he said last month — but was limited Wednesday in what he could say about the deal.
"Officially, I have no comment because it's an ongoing matter, and it's our team policy to not really comment on those things," he said. "At the appropriate time we will, obviously, but it's just not the appropriate time yet."
The team said even less. Executive vice president Andrew Friedman, off scouting draft prospects, issued a statement saying it's not team policy to "comment on rumors or unconfirmed reports."
Maddon is known for his serial positivity, creative — and sometimes controversial — strategy and an emphasis on relationships and communication to create a relaxed atmosphere. The Rays finished last his first two seasons, losing 101 and 96 games, then staged a remarkable turnaround in 2008, winning 97 and reaching the Series. He was voted AL manager of the year.
Maddon is in the second of the two-year option that was part of the original two-year deal he signed when the Rays gave him his first full-time managing job. He has a 244-284 record with the Rays, 271-308 including interim stints with the Angels.
As players heard the news from a reporter before Wednesday's game, they seemed genuinely happy and a few surprised it hadn't happened sooner.
"Too bad it had to take this long,'' Troy Percival said. "He's deserved it. He's put in a lot of hard work here.''
"You tell me that, I'm like, 'Man, I can't tell you how much I would love to just play for him all my life,' " Peña said.
"You basically assumed that was going to be the move. Why wouldn't it be? Sometimes I think we forget where we have come from a few years ago. I think it's good to know this was built from scratch, from last place to first place to a World Series ballclub to a team now that everyone here expects to be at a high level at the end of the year.
"How did that happen? Joe started it. … His attitude, his mentality and then it trickles down to everyone. He started this culture. He built it."
"That's awesome," pitcher James Shields said. "It's hard to come into this organization the way he did with the position we were in. He's done a tremendous job. … He's done great with us and how young we are, and his approach to the game has been amazing. For him to get rewarded like that is a great thing.''
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.