Maddon opens up at Winter Meetings

Maddon opens up at Winter Meetings

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Wading into the gray waters of fending off rumors and speculation about one's team is part of a manager's job at the Winter Meetings.

Joe Maddon met with the media on Tuesday and did plenty of the above. But if there was one subject the Devil Rays manager addressed in black and white, it was the team's differential between success at home and on the road.

The 2006 Rays became the first team in Major League history to lose 100 or more games and have a winning record at home. The Rays finished their home season at 41-40 while posting a 20-61 road mark -- including just three road wins after the All-Star break.

"I'd like to see us get better at home, at least 10 wins better [in 2007]," Maddon said. "We just have to get much better on the road. That was abysmal. ... We could not make the same plays on the road that we did at home."

By the time Spring Training rolls around, Maddon said he and his staff will have spent a significant amount of time mulling over the root of the problem, a problem they also plan to address with the team rather than shying away from the subject.

Lurking in the shadows on the subject of the Rays' road woes was the fact the team wants to take one of its home series -- the May 15-17 series against the Rangers -- and move it to Orlando. It is a move that would be made in the name of expanding the team's fan base, but is also one that would ostensibly weaken a team that plays well at home. But Maddon did not blink an eye when he said he was "OK" with games in Orlando if such a scenario indeed comes to pass.

"I think it can be good for us," Maddon said, "good for the entire state of Florida."

Looking ahead to what team will be on the field trying to change the Rays' history, Maddon speculated when asked who would be in the lineup for Opening Day by rattling off the following: Carl Crawford, left field; Rocco Baldelli, center field; Delmon Young, right field; Ben Zobrist, shortstop; Jorge Cantu, second base; Ty Wigginton, first base; Greg Norton or Jonny Gomes, DH; and Akinori Iwamura, third base.

Of course the last player, Iwamura, must sign by Dec. 15 in order for the Rays to count him in their 2007 plans. Otherwise, he'll return to the Yakult Swallows in Japan's Central League. Maddon had dinner with Iwamura on Sunday night and liked the veteran third baseman. The skipper sounded confident the Rays would sign Iwamura, noting that Iwamura was an "outgoing fellow" before adding: "I think he'll be successful here."

Speculation for most of the current offseason and these Winter Meetings has suggested the Rays might be willing to part with one of their many talented outfielders such as Baldelli or Crawford. When asked to address this question, Maddon did not shy away.

"The one area where we are covered is the outfield," Maddon said of the Rays' depth at the position. "If something like that [trading one of their outfielders] were to happen, we could do something internally."

Maddon then teased that "most of [the outfield] will still be back" before adding that the Rays do not feel compelled to make a trade involving one of their outfielders.

"I'd be really happy [if they were all back]," he said. "It's a talented group to grow with."

One of the internal possibilities if the Rays do trade one of their outfielders would be to relocate B.J. Upton to the outfield, since he would be displaced from third base if Iwamura is signed. It's a possibility that has been long discussed because of Upton's inconsistency in the field, despite his athleticism that allows him to make any play in the infield.

While the Rays would like to have all of their outfielders return, they might have to part with one of them to help the team's pitching. If the season were to start tomorrow, the Rays would have a rotation that started with Scott Kazmir at the top and included James Shields, Casey Fossum and Jae Seo, with Brian Stokes, Jason Hammel and J.P. Howell vying for the fifth spot. Though Maddon sounded comfortable with that group, he did express the thought that the rotation could use some help.

"If you could add one crusty veteran in there, it would be a nice addition," he said.

Looking at the bullpen, Maddon said he was relatively comfortable with the trio of Shawn Camp, Ruddy Lugo and Dan Miceli. He does not expect Shinji Mori to be ready for Spring Training, citing the fact that the Japanese reliever has not yet regained his velocity after tearing his right labrum in Spring Training. Maddon complimented Seth McClung for doing some good work in the closing slot but added: "Just to say he's our closer, I'm not willing to say that."

Maddon explained he does not want to name McClung as the closer much like he does not want to hand out other positions.

By the start of the season, Maddon would like to have a bullpen equipped with a foursome he can comfortably use when the team has the lead or is tied in the late innings.

Maddon, as well as the entire new regime of the Rays, has worked hard during his first season to change the culture of the organization. Among the things he wants to instill is a Devil Rays' way of doing things, which players will begin to learn in rookie ball and continue to learn in a uniform fashion all the way to the Major Leagues. However, implementation is easier said than done.

"One of the things I did find out [during his first season] was it's difficult to [change things] in one year," Maddon said.

Maddon does not make excuses about the club's payroll, and he says he enjoys competing in the American League East. But he said if the organization is to be successful in that competition, it must adhere to the Rays' way of doing things. Which means a more disciplined approach at the plate, throwing to the right bases and other fundamentals.

"We need to do all the little things right," Maddon said.

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