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Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon "very confident" of contract extension; Andrew Friedman says no to Astros job

Slugger Josh Willingham, who hit 29 homers for the A’s last season, appears to be a target for the Rays.

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Slugger Josh Willingham, who hit 29 homers for the A’s last season, appears to be a target for the Rays.

DALLAS — The Rays had a busy first day at the winter meetings, talking trade with several teams and negotiating with free agents including outfielder/DH Josh Willingham.

While no deals were considered imminent, it did appear by Monday night that their top two decision-makers would be sticking around.

Manager Joe Maddon said talks on an extension to his contract, which runs only through the 2012 season, have begun and he was "very confident" a new deal would be struck. "I'm sure it's going to be all worked out in due time," Maddon said.

And executive vice president Andrew Friedman eliminated any possibility — albeit extremely slim anyway — that he would leave for a job with his hometown Astros.

"Andrew chose not to be a part of the Astros' process," team president Matt Silverman said in a statement. "It is in no way a reflection on the Houston organization."

The Rays' top offseason goal is improving their offense, with Willingham, a free agent with a solid record of success, emerging Monday as a possibility.

Willingham, a right-handed hitter who turns 33 in February, hit a career-high 29 homers for Oakland last year, with a .246 average, .332 on-base percentage and .477 slugging percentage. He can play left and right, but the Rays likely would use him primarily as a DH, a significant power upgrade over free agent Johnny Damon, who hit 16 homers.

But the number of other teams interested — reportedly at least three others — and the amount they'd be willing to spend may dictate the direction of the talks. Willingham made $6 million last season, with his agent reportedly seeking a three-year deal.

Another option is trading with one of the numerous teams that have expressed interest in their stable of starting pitchers, primarily James Shields and Wade Davis. The Royals, Marlins and Reds — who all have young hitters — are among those in the conversations.

Overall, Friedman said of the first day: "It's been busy." As for the possibilities of a deal? "It's something that kind of vacillates by the minute. There were times (Monday) where I was pretty optimistic about certain things and then different times where I was a lot more pessimistic."

Maddon has been optimistic about staying with the Rays past the coming season, but Monday was the first indication there have been discussions.

Maddon, who just won his second AL manager of the year award, would seem to be in line to at least double his current salary of about $1.3 million, which is in the bottom third of current managers.

"We've been talking a little bit in general, it's just basic stuff," Maddon said. "I'm a Ray. I have a lot of faith in being a Ray as I continue along. I've talked about that this for me is the best place to work in major-league baseball. Of course, everybody is looking for security, we all want security.

"For me it's just about having an open conversation. We never would negotiate in public, anything like that. It's just about an ongoing conversation right now, and we'll see how it all or when it plays out. But I'm not worried about anything."

Friedman, per policy, wouldn't discuss the status of negotiations, but said, "My expectation is to work with Joe for a long time."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@tampabay.com.

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon "very confident" of contract extension; Andrew Friedman says no to Astros job 12/05/11 [Last modified: Monday, December 5, 2011 10:36pm]

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