Maddon out to make Rays winners

Maddon out to make Rays winners

ST. PETERSBURG -- Joe Maddon is entering his third season as manager of the Rays, and he knows there is a buzz about his team. Fans are excited about the franchise's offseason moves, but Maddon knows the club still has a long ways to go. Maddon is also pleased that the additions of veterans Cliff Floyd and Troy Percival have brought a new attitude Tampa Bay's clubhouse.

MLB.com: You've been in baseball a long time. Is the game still fun for you?

Maddon: Absolutely. And honestly, particularly with the group the way it is this year, just driving up to the ballpark every day, it's always been a challenge. But when it's a fun challenge, it makes it entirely different. This group is a fun group and it's kind of invigorating.

MLB.com: When you began playing baseball, could you have ever envisioned being where you are now?

Maddon: Honestly, this is what I've been working toward all along. I wanted to be a player, [but] that didn't happen. I wanted to be a Minor League coach or manager. And that happened. Then I wanted to be a big league coach first, and, of course, that happened. Then I wanted to be a big league manager, and it's all worked. My method has always been the same -- the work ethic and the positive attitude, saying things before they happen. I've always maintained that belief system. So when this actually did occur -- I don't want to sound arrogant, but it didn't surprise me, because I'd seen it years in advance.

MLB.com: In past years with the Rays, the emphasis has been on evaluating and player development. While that will always be a part of any organization, how will your job as a manager change now that the emphasis is on winning games?

Maddon: I would say the difference would be that somebody is not going to have as much rope. My style won't change. ... You're not going to give someone as much rope.

MLB.com: The competition to fill the No. 4 and 5 slots in the starting rotation will be difficult this spring, with Andy Sonnanstine, Edwin Jackson, J.P. Howell, Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann as the front-runners. What will be the big factors for evaluating who gets those jobs?

Maddon: No. 1 stands out as strike-throwing ability. That's the first thing that comes to mind, the first thing that stands out. ... I think you're going to see poise out of all of these guys. ... The walks have to go away. ... We want guys that can get into the game a little bit, help the bullpen.

MLB.com: Evan Longoria is the organization's top prospect and will be competing for the starting third-base job. What will you be watching with him this spring to evaluate whether or not he makes the team?

Maddon: Just watching how he handles things, watching his general demeanor, obviously his defense, too. Handling situations in general. Of course, the hitting is a source of evaluation. Again, this guy has not spent much time in the Minor Leagues, and we have to consider that, too.

MLB.com: The team has added veteran players like Cliff Floyd and Troy Percival this offseason. How will having them affect the team?

Maddon: It presents a whole different attitude within this clubhouse. Percival is just going to bring a different level of professionalism. These are guys who have been in playoff situations, World Series play. They've had a bunch of experience and look at the world a little bit differently. I think they're going to help us get through some difficult moments and help us stay focused. ... It goes well beyond what they're actually going to do on the field. I'm looking for the impact in the clubhouse as being maybe even a bigger benefit for us.

MLB.com: Can you comment on the general excitement about the Rays heading into the coming season?

Maddon: I walk throughout the community now in the South Tampa area [where I live] and people are stopping me, talking to me about the team. It's very exciting. We're very happy with what we've done in the offseason. Now it's time to take the theory and try to put it into realistic terms. We still have a long ways to go, and we realize that, also. It's not just because we have new uniforms, a couple new guys and more experience that the tide will turn overnight. We don't expect that to happen -- it would be nice if it did, but it's not necessarily going to work that way. ... We feel good about this group and feel that good things are on the horizon.

MLB.com: Rocco Baldelli is a talented player with a history of injury. Having him healthy this season could mean a lot to the Rays. What will be your approach to him this spring?

Maddon: We're going to take it very slowly, so I don't have any strong, specific answers yet, but we've worked on all these variables to get him back on his feet. Getting him back is very big for us. Creating that triangle in right field with him, Cliff and Jon Gomes will be invaluable for us. We're going to play it very cautiously in the beginning, obviously.

MLB.com: What are some of the positional battles to watch this spring?

Maddon: Specifically, third base and utility infielder. At third base, if it's not Longoria, [we have to decide] how exactly we're going to work that out. The backup catcher is another position. Last year over in the dugout at Al Lang [Field], we were talking about how it would be when you know what 80 percent of your team's going to look like. I think we're at that point right now. We've talked about the two [starting pitchers] and there are five guys vying for two spots. And the bullpen is down to one or two guys right now. So coming into this, the competition's going to be brisk at a couple of spots, I believe. But overall, we have a pretty good idea of what we're going to look like, barring injuries.

MLB.com: What areas will you and the coaching staff address this spring?

Maddon: We've got to get better at the little things. After addressing our coaching staff about it, I think we're at the point right now where we have a bunch of guys who are ready to take this and go to the next level with it and actually get it.

MLB.com: In short, what do you want the team to accomplish this spring?

Maddon: The thing I want to get done is to play the game just as hard on March 14 as we're going to play on June 14, etc. That's the one concept I do like, because later in the season, when it comes to be playoff time, you just play your normal game. You want to play the game the same way regardless of whether you consider it meaningful or not, or meaningless or not.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.