FRED GOODALL, AP Baseball Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The reigning AL manager of the year isn’t going anywhere.

That is, unless you’re counting spring training, where Joe Maddon is eager to get to work after agreeing to a three-year contract extension that could keep him in Tampa Bay’s dugout through 2015.

The Rays formally announced the deal with the 58-year-old manager during a news conference at Tropicana Field on Wednesday.

Maddon has led the team to the playoffs three of the past four seasons and believes they have an excellent chance of getting back again this year.

Maddon said while he’s flattered by speculation that he would have been attractive to other teams if the Rays had not locked him up long-term that he had no desire to leave Tampa Bay, which has a talented young roster capable of contending for championships for years to come.

“I know the grass — the turf — is not any greener anywhere else,” Maddon said. “I wanted to be here.”

Maddon is 495-477 in six seasons with the Rays, who struggled through a decade of futility before finally posting the first winning record in franchise history in 2008, when they not only defied the odds by finishing ahead of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox for AL East title but made their first World Series appearance.

Tampa Bay won arguably baseball’s toughest division again in 2010, then overcame a nine-game deficit in September to edge Boston for the AL wild-card spot on the final night of last season.

Maddon has excelled despite fielding a team, whose payroll is among the lowest in baseball. A year ago, the Rays lost six key players to free agency and traded two others, yet won 91 games to finish second in the AL East, which traditionally has been dominated by the big spending Yankees and Red Sox.

“We’ve really grown a lot over the last several years,” said Maddon, who lost 101 games in 2006 — his first with Tampa Bay — and 96 the following seasons.

The Rays have averaged 92 wins the past four seasons. And with one of baseball’s youngest and deepest pitching rotations and what could be an improved offensive attack led by Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton, Ben Zobrist, Carlos Pena and Luke Scott, Maddon said the club has everything it takes to return to the postseason.

“We’ve come up short the last two years in the playoffs, but we did get there,” Maddon said, alluding losses to Texas in the divisional round in 2010 and 2011.

“We’ve got to extend that a little bit as we move forward. … It’s about winning. It is about getting to the last game of the season and winning it the next time we get a chance to be there.”

Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman lauded Maddon’s ability to connect with players, develop young talent and always “put the franchise first” in making decisions.

“I think one of his greatest strengths is something that isn’t talked about nearly enough,” Friedman said. “Everything Joe does is under the guise to make this organization better in both the short term and the long term.

“‘He takes the time to get to know each individual player and what their strengths are and what makes them tick,” Friedman added. “Hecreates an environment for the players that instills self-confidence and allow them to play up to their talent level.”

Maddon was entering the final season of a three-year extension he signed in May 2009. Prior to his arrival after spending more than three decades in the Angels organization, the Rays went 518-775 under the team’s three previous managers.

He is the only manager Friedman has worked with. He said the organization never doubted it hired the right manager to help turn the franchise around, even when the team can continued to struggle on the field in Maddon’s first two seasons.

“From top to bottom we’ve developed a common vision and a level of trust that is critical to the success we’ve had and anticipate having,” Friedman said.

“I think it’s the most interesting place to be involved in major league baseball,” Maddon added. “There’s a lot of freedom here. There’s freedom to get better, a lot of freedom to think. … and to try new ideas. … We enjoy the challenge of putting it all together.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.


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