Former Rays and current Cubs manager Joe Maddon took time during a charitable Thanksmas appearance today for his Respect 90 Foundation at the St. Vincent de Paul center in St. Petersburg to talk a little baseball, discussing a big change he will make for next season, the necessity for the Rays to get a new stadium in Tampa, his take on going into the last year of his contract and (briefly) on the departure of pitching coach Jim Hickey.
Among the topics:
• He plans a significant change for next year in his managing style with a shift to more on field coaching work, which is apparently tied to baseball ops president Theo Epstein saying he expects Maddon to be "re-energized" by the challenges after last season's disappointing finish.
"That will be the part that will be different," Maddon said. "I've always kind of stayed free of coaching because I really want to stay out of coaches' way so they can do their job. I've always felt that is the right way to do it. But this year I'm going to get a little more hands-on involved in actually coaching. I think that's where the comment came from. …. I actually want to do less before the game talking to the media and whatever and try to get on the field more often."
• Maddon said last week's departure of pitching coach Jim Hickey was not heath related but said he couldn't get into specifics of what the "personal reasons" were. "He's fine," Maddon said. "He's not ill. His health is fine."
• He reiterated his belief that the Rays need a new stadium – "a legitimate major-league ballpark" — on the Tampa side to survive as a franchise, saying he liked what he saw of the proposed $892 million facility in Ybor City.
"You really need to travel to other major-league venues to understand what you're missing," he said. "It's good for the community. It's good to have that kind of a jewel within the community that draws people to it. I know there's controversy or opinions on where this money is being spent, museums and the arts and education, which I'm all about. But I do believe that a legitimate major-league franchise in a city benefits everybody in that community. Even though you don't feel it directly indirectly you are benefiting from it.
"So I think for the survival of major-league baseball in this community, it needs to be built, it needs to be that nice and it needs to be over on the other side."
• He had no issues and an interesting to response to the Cubs' decision to not discuss a contract extension going into the last year of his five-year deal:
"Lame duck or free agent, are they synonymous terms? Players go into that year annually. Good players go into a season without a contract for the next year. Why would I feel any different as a manager than a good player does, a (Manny) Machado or a (Bryce) Harper, whatever. You could say "lame duck" or you could use "free agent." I think they are both the same term."
Maddon, 65 in February, said he definitely plans to keep managing beyond this season.
• He thought his former Rays team "did great" this season, he still keeps in touch with front office execs Erik Neander and Chaim Bloom as well as manager Kevin Cash, and felt they made several good trades, specifically getting Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows.
• He said he wasn't sure the "opener" concept used by the Rays is going to spread and be adopted by other teams given the impact on bullpen usage.