LOS ANGELES -- Rays manager Joe Maddon on Friday opted out of his contract with Tampa Bay, ending his nine-year run in Florida.
Let the speculation begin.
Maddon was under contract with Tampa Bay through 2015, and said just last week he intended to remain with the Rays, despite obvious ties with new Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, who worked with Maddon the last nine years with the Rays.
"We tried diligently and aggressively to sign Joe to a third contract extension prior to his decision. As of yesterday afternoon, Joe enabled himself to explore opportunities throughout Major League Baseball," Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said in a statement. "He will not be managing the Rays in 2015."
Maddon, who was making $2 million per year in Tampa Bay, told Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times that he has no job lined up, and leaving the Rays was a combination of financial issues and wanting to see what other opportunities there are on the market.
"When am I going to get this opportunity to find out exactly what people think under these circumstances," Maddon told Topkin.
Maddon's opt-out clause was reportedly triggered with Friedman's departure, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Heyman also notes that "early word" is that the Dodgers are not an option for Maddon, which won't stop any speculation until Maddon actually has a deal in place to manage elsewhere.
One week ago, in his introductory news conference on Oct. 17, Friedman was asked directly if Don Mattingly would manage the Dodgers in 2017.
"Definitely," Friedman said. "We're aligned on a lot of things philosophically.
"I'm going into it with the mindset that we're going to work together for a long time. I've had one manager in the 10 years I've been doing this, and I look forward to working with Donnie for a long time."
That one manager, of course, was Maddon, with whom Friedman is extremely close.
Might Maddon, 60, instead join the Dodgers front office in some capacity instead? That would allow him to continue to work with Friedman, but it certainly wouldn't help stop the speculation that Maddon would eventually unseat Mattingly as manager.
A Dodgers source told Ramona Shelburne of ESPN that Maddon leaving "has nothing to do with us." A source told Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports that Maddon is not heading to the Dodgers. Jeff Passan of Yahoo also said the Dodgers are out on Maddon. Two sources told Joel Sherman of the New York Post the same thing.
Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times went for the more direct route:
Andrew Friedman: Don Mattingly will manage the #Dodgers next season. Joe Maddon's availability won't change that.— Dylan Hernandez (@dylanohernandez) October 24, 2014
"Nothing has changed on our end and Don Mattingly will be our manager next season and hopefully for a long time to come," Friedman told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
But until Maddon has a job managing somewhere in baseball, that speculation will never die. Hell, it may never die until Maddon is actually managing in Los Angeles. All we know is that there is one fewer impediment between Maddon and the Dodgers.