MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Exceptional Maddon will excel wherever he lands

Former Rays skipper a master at gaining players' trust, creating positive culture

Exceptional Maddon will excel wherever he lands

Joe Maddon is curious about what else is out there. In the end, it's that simple. Don't pencil him in anywhere. You'd just be guessing.

Let's face it, he'd upgrade the managerial position with probably 29 teams. That's every single team other than the one managed by Bruce Bochy.

We'll now find out how committed those 29 teams are to their guy. The Dodgers are the most obvious choice for a variety of reasons, but Maddon's old boss with the Rays, Andrew Friedman, said he's committed to Don Mattingly.

Regardless, until Maddon is hired by another team, he will cast a gigantic shadow. If Maddon isn't managing on Opening Day 2015 -- and here's guessing he won't be -- his name will be in play every time there's a six-game losing streak.

The Cubs have high hopes and a ton of Major League-ready young talent. Maddon would absolutely own Chicago. The Mets appear to be close to winning, too. There aren't enough back pages to hold all the copy Maddon would generate.

Plenty of managers will not enjoy this guessing game. But it's a fair one. And these guys know how things work.

He's that good. When Maddon led the Rays to the American League pennant in 2008, Dodgers special advisor Gerry Hunsicker, who had a similar job with the Rays that season, said he never really understood the impact a manager can have on a season until he watched Maddon work his magic that year.

In terms of dealing with players, creating a positive environment and running a game, there's no one better. If you laugh at those trips where Maddon has his players dress up as, say, cowboys, don't. There's a method to the madness.

Maddon believes taking players out of their comfort zone is a good thing in that it forces them to think and to see the world differently. In the end, he believes it has an impact on self-confidence, too.

Last spring, when the Rays got their heads shaved to raise money for cancer research, young outfielder Wil Myers declined to go along. Instead, he contributed money. Maddon didn't like this. He said so, too. Maddon thought that Myers getting his head shaved -- trying something different, getting out of his comfort zone -- would have been good for the young man.

Maddon doesn't care how you wear your hair or how you dress or any of that stuff. He asks only that you be committed to winning.

One of the things the Rays do is celebrate. Every victory of the season. It's a short, intense celebration, and as Maddon said, "I never want to get to the point where I take it for granted."

After the Rays won the American League Wild Card Game a year ago, Maddon, wearing snow goggles and drenched in champagne, stuck his head through a plastic curtain and saw a group of reporters waiting outside the clubhouse for him.

"I'll be right out, " he said. "But give me a minute in here to celebrate with the boys. We want to enjoy this."

Sure, this sounds like small stuff, but at a time when front offices can supply managers with data on lineups, pitching matchups, defensive alignments, etc., managing a baseball team is about dealing with people.

It's about convincing every player that what's best for the team is what's best for each individual. In this way, Maddon is brilliant. Every player knows his manager only wants what's best for the team. The Rays have taken chances on players because they knew Maddon would get the best from them.

The Rays always knew Maddon would leave at some point -- that he'd want to try his hand with a big-payroll team. Is his own salary a factor? Let's not be silly. He's at the height of his earning ability, so why not explore what's out there?

He also has a variety of interests outside baseball. That's one of the things we love about him. When you're around him, the conversation will drift in all sorts of directions -- to books and wines and exploring various parts of America.

Last year, out of nowhere, Maddon mentioned he'd watched a CBS report on tiny Marfa, Texas, which has become a popular retreat for artists, celebrities, etc. Maddon said one of the things he wanted to do that offseason was to visit Marfa, to hang around the artists and see why they loved the place.

When he showed up at Spring Training last year, he came with a fancy roaster he'd bought on a shopping channel. So on plenty of days during the spring, the Rays would come off the field after morning workouts to find a hot roast awaiting them.

What goes with roast? Warm bread. Sure thing. Madden got a bread maker, too, because he liked the way baking bread makes a room smell. His players liked it, too.

Again, though, don't think this isn't all about creating a better environment for winning baseball. Maddon demands that players bust their tails for him and that they care about their teammates.

On the first day of Spring Training, Maddon lists two rules: 1. Run hard to first base. 2. Play defense. As simple as that sounds, those are the building blocks for winning baseball.

Maddon attempts to see the best in every player, but in return, he demands that players do their jobs, play unselfishly and maintain a singular focus: winning. He and Friedman were an amazing team with Tampa Bay, and they could be an amazing team again with the Dodgers.

So this brilliant man with the amazing mind -- this guy who is as good at creating the right environment as any man who has ever run a baseball team -- is available. While the Dodgers make the most sense, he surely can have his pick of plenty of different jobs. This we know: Maddon will not fail.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.