After discussions on a new deal bogged down with the Rays, Maddon is now free to listen to offers from any club — a prospect the manager apparently found too difficult to resist.
Tampa Bay announced Friday that Maddon had exercised an opt-out clause in his contract. The Rays had expected to have him in their dugout at least through 2015, when his contract was due expire.
"We are turning the page to begin a process to look for a new manager," Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman said. "It's going to be a deliberate and comprehensive search, including both internal and external candidates."
Maddon managed the Rays for nine seasons, compiling a 754-705 record. Tampa Bay made the playoffs four times, won two AL East titles and appeared in the 2008 World Series.
He did not immediately return a telephone message from The Associated Press.
The 60-year-old did tell the Tampa Bay Times that leaving the Rays after nine seasons was a gut-wrenching decision.
"I have been doing this for a long time," Maddon told the newspaper. "I have never had this opportunity to research my employment on my terms. Never, never, never. And I think anybody given the same set of circumstances would do the same thing."
The departure is second major loss for the team in less than two weeks. Executive vice-president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman left for the Los Angeles Dodgers on Oct. 14.
Friedman assembled the teams that Maddon guided in transforming the Rays from perennial losers into a club that had six consecutive winning seasons before finishing 77-85 this year.
"There's a lot of work to be done this off-season, and this certainly adds to all that's on our plate," Silverman said.
"The last time we went looking for a manager was nine years ago and we did a pretty good job finding Joe," Silverman added. "There's no timetable. It will take us as long as we need to get the right guy. There's no shortcuts here."
Silverman, who took over for Friedman after serving as team president for a decade, said Maddon's contract contained a clause that allowed to opt-out under certain conditions, including Friedman leaving the Rays.
Friedman's exit raised immediate questions about whether he might try to lure Maddon to the Dodgers when the manager's contract expired after next season.
Friedman said last week that Don Mattingly will remain in Los Angeles to manage the Dodgers in 2015.
He reiterated that stance Friday after learning Maddon had become available earlier than anticipated.
"As I said last week, Joe and I enjoyed a tremendous relationship working together in Tampa Bay and I wish him nothing but the best wherever his next stop will be," Friedman said in a statement. " However, nothing has changed on our end. Don Mattingly will be our manager next season and hopefully for a long time to come."
Silverman described himself as "surprised" and "disappointed" by Maddon's decision, adding he and Sternberg were optimistic about the chances of retaining the manager when talks began.
"I believe Joe wanted to be the manager of the Rays long term. That was my intention and Stu's intention. We dove head-first into discussions, but it takes two parties to reach an agreement," Silverman said.
"I'm very comfortable with the financial offers that we made Joe. They were very generous," Silverman added. "He listened to those and chose to opt-out."