- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) - A year ago, Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman were in the middle of a miserable start for the Tampa Bay Rays. Fast forward to Monday night, and Maddon and Friedman were catching up in foul territory at Wrigley Field, and the Rays were in Florida.

This was no ordinary reunion.

Friedman left Tampa Bay to become president of baseball operations with the Dodgers in October, triggering an opt-out clause in Maddon’s contract that led to the manager leaving the Rays for the same position with the Chicago Cubs. Two of baseball’s biggest offseason moves have turned out quite well for everyone involved so far, with the Rays and Dodgers on top of their respective divisions and the Cubs contending in the NL Central.

Chicago’s 4-2 victory over Los Angeles was their first regular-season meeting since the duo left Florida.

“We text a lot. We were both in Arizona during spring training, so we got a chance to hang out with him some,” Friedman said, “but obviously both of our lives are pretty action-packed at this point.”

Maddon and Friedman had a successful partnership in Tampa Bay, leading the Rays to four playoff appearances and the 2008 AL pennant while working with one of the majors’ smallest payrolls. Friedman, 38, was a Wall Street analyst before he became the director of player development with Tampa Bay in 2004, and Maddon was the bench coach for six seasons under Angels manager Mike Scioscia before he was hired by the then-Devil Rays in November 2005.

“He’s well beyond his years,” the 61-year-old Maddon said. “I mean whatever his birth certificate says, I’m not even sure of that. He is really, really bright.”

Maddon had a 754-705 record in nine seasons in Tampa Bay. The two-time AL Manager of the Year got a $25 million, five-year contract from the Cubs, who wanted Maddon so badly that they fired Rick Renteria after just one year on the job.

With Maddon in the dugout, the Cubs (38-30) are eight games over .500 for their first time since they were 82-74 in 2009, according to STATS. They are trying to break a string of five consecutive losing seasons.

“He is a tremendous communicator,” Friedman said. “He’s really good at understanding the strengths and limitations of his players and putting them in a position to succeed. With his intellectual curiosity comes genuine desire to understand each and every player on his roster and what makes them tick.”

One of Friedman’s first big moves with the Dodgers was hiring Farhan Zaidi from Oakland to serve as general manager. Los Angeles has a one-game lead in the NL West over San Francisco despite a string of injuries to key players such as outfielder Carl Crawford and pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu.

“It’s been great. Tremendous group of guys,” Friedman said. “Like anything when there’s change, it takes some time to create those real personal relationships, but the fan base, the weather, the group of guys have made the transition really easy.”

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Jay Cohen can be reached at https://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

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