Maddon had been signed to a three-year deal that was to run through next season.
"Joe Maddon has exercised an opt-out in his current contract, a contract which was not scheduled to expire until after the 2015 season," principal owner Stuart Sternberg said in a statement issued by the club on Friday. "We tried diligently and aggressively to sign Joe to a third contract extension prior to his decision.
"As of [Thursday] afternoon, Joe enabled himself to explore opportunities throughout Major League Baseball. He will not be managing the Rays in 2015. Joe has been our manager for nine seasons, and the foundation of success laid during his tenure endures. We thank him for all that he's meant to the organization."
The news came as a surprise, since Maddon told reporters at the end of the season that he wanted to stay with the Rays for the final year of his contract.
"I'm surprised by it and disappointed," said Matt Silverman, president of Rays baseball operations. "I believed that Joe wanted to be the manager of the Rays long-term. That was my intention and Stu's intention, and we dove headfirst into discussions about an extension. But it takes two parties to reach an agreement, and we weren't able to reach an agreement. And that's how we got to this day."
Silverman explained Maddon's opt-out clause.
"In Joe's contract, he had the ability to opt out if certain events took place, and one of those was if Andrew Friedman wasn't an employee of the club," Silverman said. "And the last several days, we worked with Joe to try and figure out a contract extension. And we engaged and made many offers, and it became clear from his responses that it was not an exercise that was going to lead to an outcome, so he opted out yesterday. And we are turning the page to begin the process to look for a new manager."
Maddon spoke about events leading to his decision.
"I didn't know anything about [the opt-out clause] until Andrew left, because it wasn't even on my radar," Maddon said. "And I didn't even remember or realize that I had this opt-out clause until I was informed of it. There was a two-week window [to make a decision].
"The word is 'agonizing' in trying to come to the terms with the Rays negotiating-wise, and I could just see that it wasn't going to get to the point where I thought it was necessary to get to. And with that I thought it was the right thing to exercise the option to get out there and explore this opportunity, which is really unique and something that I've never had before."
Maddon allowed that the decision was made more difficult because he was dealing with friends.
"Tough decision, absolutely," Maddon said. "These are friends and partners. We had a great partnership. But it's about my family, it's about my future, and about all the other things I do with my charities, our charities. All those things are considered in my decision."
After Los Angeles hired Friedman, Maddon dismissed the notion that he would become the manager of the Dodgers, who currently have a manager -- Don Mattingly -- under contract. Maddon's departure from Tampa Bay will no doubt reignite that speculation along with rumors about him possibly joining other organizations.
Over nine seasons with the Rays, Maddon accumulated a record of 754-705 and led the team to two first-place finishes, four postseason berths and the American League pennant in 2008. He was named the AL Manager of the Year in '08 and '11.
The Rays will now embark on a search to find a new manager.
"It's going to be a deliberate and comprehensive search and will include both internal and external candidates," Silverman said. "That's as far as we've gotten in our approach. We're going to begin that process today, and I expect it to take a good bit of time for us to go through that process."
When asked about the biggest challenge moving forward, Silverman said "there's a lot of work to be done this offseason, and this certainly adds to all that is on our plate."
"The last time we went through a manager's search was nine years ago," said Silverman, who was part of the original decision to hire Maddon. "And we did a pretty good job finding Joe. I hope that we can be that successful with this next search, and that's why it's imperative for us to be deliberate and be comprehensive to make sure that we get the right guy."