SportsChump meets and greets Rays brass

I landed an invite to the 2015 Tampa Bay Rays Meet and Greet this week.  The players weren’t present as they had just finished beating up the Blue Jays in a pre-season game a few towns over.  Instead, those representing the organization were new manager Kevin Cash, President of Baseball Operations Matt Silverman and President Brian Auld.

That’s right.  Top brass was in the house and just in time for baseball season.

SportsChump, not Tango and Cash

Tango and (new Rays manager Kevin) Cash

In case you’ve been living a rock, Tampa Bay had itself quite a winter.  The Rays that take the field this year will look, shall we say, a tad different… and that might be a good thing considering last year’s finish.  Gone is the ever-reliable Ben Zobrist.  Also gone is the quirky Joe Maddon.  Matt Silverman took over Andrew Friedman’s responsibilities after he also flew out of town.  Returning are only the players the team could afford, a bargain basement package with high expectations and one of the lowest payrolls in baseball.

This year, the Rays will have a new manager, a new GM, pretty much a new everything, except of course for a new stadium.  More on that later.  Fortunately, they will still have solid starting pitching that, if healthy, is capable of keeping the Rays in AL East contention.  In addition to their rotation, the organization is also high on their farm system and off-season acquisitions.

The Rays are really excited about their new rightfielder

Those attending Wednesday’s meet and greet included local business leaders (and one ravishingly handsome bartender) who relished in the opportunity to walk through the clubhouse, partake in complimentary hors d’oeuvres, stroll the centerfield turf and mingle with those now in charge of Rays baseball.

The Q&A session began around 6pm with the three powers that be called up to the stage by local radio personality, Neil Solondz.

Their message was consistent throughout.  Despite the cards stacked against them, the Rays see no reason they shouldn’t field a competitive team.  Now more than ever, the organization is embracing the role of David versus the Goliaths of Toronto, Baltimore, Boston and New York.

Something the Rays are used to by now. Empty seats.

The Rays don’t apologize for anything, not their stadium, not their roster moves, not their payroll.  In fact, they’re proud of what they’ve done with such limited resources, pointing to the multiple banners that hang from the Trop ceiling.  Silverman and company have no choice but to sign “players who have value.”  As much as they miss David Price, they find just as much value in paying Drew Smyly half a million dollars for nearly as many wins.  (Note: David Price is set to make $20 million this year.  You’re welcome, Detroit.)

Both hitting and scoring have been a serious problem for the Rays.  Fans are hoping that will change with the new regime.  During the Q&A, one elder gentleman in a Rays jersey asked why they kept their oft-persecuted hitting coach, Derek Shelton.  After all, with the Rays hitting woes, he’s been an easy target.  Silverman and Cash both confirmed their confidence in Shelton, saying ultimately players have to take responsibility for their at-bats.  They even said they consulted the roster on which coaches should stay on payroll and that included the decision to hire Cash.  I guess that should put to rest any speculation whether the Lakers consult Kobe Bryant in their coaching hires.

Put me in, coach

While cordial, the entire event was quite, as my mother would say, nebbish.  The Rays seemed pleased with the attendance, however, had an event like this taken place in Boston or New York, you would have had to beat the fans away with a stick.  There couldn’t have been more than a couple hundred people there, all standing in deep centerfield, feeling the turf underneath their toes, anxious about the upcoming season but with expectations as tempered as those at the podium.

Even yours truly got in on the line of questioning.  I asked whether all the stadium talk, which has now gone on for years, serves as a distraction in the clubhouse.  As you all know, Tropicana Field is largely considered the worst in the league.  Rumors surface daily about when and whether the team will move either across the water or out of town for good.  All Silverman could do was reassure the crowd their objective was to win a World Series in that building this year.  So what if the Trop looks like it’s straight out of the 80s.

The Rays are convinced that nothing energizes a community quite like a championship baseball team and they’re doing everything in their power to make that a reality.  They’re convinced the team that takes the field this year will be title-worthy.  Make no mistake.  They are a glass half-full bunch.  In a few more months, we’ll find out exactly how full of it that glass is.

Me and Raymond

I asked the lady at the door which one of us was better-looking. She said Raymond. I guess I just lost that ten pounds for nothing.

23 thoughts on “SportsChump meets and greets Rays brass

  1. I’m surprised… They invited a Red Sox fan? LOL! Good for you Chris! I was damned sorry to see Joe Madden leave but if he wants a shot at a ring I believe he did the right thing…

    I like the Rays a lot but what a mess they are in! How many more years on that horrific stadium lease? I’d love to see them in a venue that regularly sells out. Then they might be able to compete financially. It would do the majority of baseball fans good to see them consistently whip up on the rest of the AL East…

  2. Dwin….

    I’ve got no choice now but to root for the Rays, as painful as that may be. Goodness, what did I sign up for?

    It’s like my buddy Croshere who recently just decided to become a Browns fan. I was like, why would you do that?

    My understanding is that the lease ends in 2027. There’s been some interesting back and forth here over the past few years as you know. They’re definitely dragging their feet but it’s not like Tampa Bay can just say hey, here’s a few hundred mil for a down payment on a new stadium.

    I’m confident it’ll happen eventually but it’ll take a few more years before any investors can successfully buy out the rest of that lease.

  3. Angels in the outfield ? Is there a chance you’ll be able to obtain a non roster invitee role for the team , this late a stage of Spring Training ? Cash and his managerial staff had better be up to the task this season .

  4. I don’t know about angel, Al, but that’s pretty damn funny as most of the time I listen to the guy on the other shoulder.

    Right now the Rays’ biggest concerns are the arms of Alex Cobb and Matt Moore. They’re going to need full seasons out of those guys if they want any hope of being relevant.

  5. Chris,

    Here in Sin City we predict the Rays to go 79w-83losses

    Matchup versus intra-state Marlins:
    These are Regular Season Wins(RSW)

    RAYS RSW vs MARLINS RSW
    Sun 3/22 11:00PM (EST)
    RAYS RSW +3½ +105
    MARLINS RSW -3½ -135

    Ps. You gotta nice invite. Somehow though, they twisted the old adage to read, “Hope is eternal in Spring Training”

  6. Chris

    We all know the Rays’ bread and butter remains their pitching , because we know as sure as hell the offense has always been inconsistent . Longoria is being paid like a King but how often has he led by example ?

    The AL East we know will be competitive and it’s likely to be a three=horse race , with the Orioles , Red Sox and Yankees towing the line throughout much of the season .

    Your thoughts on the upsets results in the NCAA Tournament so far ?

    What to make of Jim Boeheim’s apology for the repeated violations within the Orangemen’s program over the past few seasons and the sanctions likely to be meted out by the NCAA ?

  7. Bets…

    I’ll still take the Rays to have a better finish than the Marlins. Pound for pound, they’re the better team, especially with their pitching. I actually heard they took their number off the board for a second, unsure of how bad Alex Cobb’s tendinitis was.

    Made any money on the madness so far?

  8. Al…

    I still disagree with you on Longoria’s salary. Sure, he’s getting paid like a king HERE but if he were in any other market, he’d be getting paid twice that, despite his numbers.

    My thoughts on the tournament? I picked 27 of the 32 games right so far so aside from the Baylor and Iowa State upsets, I’m not too surprised by anything I’ve seen.

  9. Chris,

    Maddon’s loss was discounted more than any player . 2 to 3 games.

    The underdogs have been the way to go in all the tourneys. The oddsmakers have been slow to adjust to the new rules experimenting in the secondary tourneys. NIT,CBI and CIT. Shot clock 30second and pushing back the arc.
    Been making a living, but the windfall days are long gone. Generation X is light years ahead of the Boomers despite our experience.

  10. Damn algorithms, Bets, whilst you and I are still using our Texas Instruments calculators.

    I’ve got dogs later today so wish me luck.

    And let’s play a little devil’s advocate with ya’ on Maddon. Yes, he was synonymous with the franchise but the team had been underachieving. And he was strictly a by the numbers coach. He wasn’t without criticism.

    Maybe a breath of fresh air was what we needed.

    Let’s hope so.

  11. I want to thank the Rays organization for allowing Ichiro Suzuki to prosper, to become a good addition to the Miami Marlins lineup.
    I’m sorry that the Rays are convinced of that, because nothing energizes our community quite like a championship hockey team does. You ought to have an article about the miraculous plays that recently occurred against the Blackhawks and Red Wings.

  12. Chris,

    The thing that puzzled me with Maddon was his alleged use of sabermetrics yet he led the AL in sacrifice bunts. That’s a no-no in the quant community.

    Will eventually get down your way to Tampa/Clearwater area, but unfortunately it might be for a funeral. So I hope it’s not too soon.

  13. Greg…

    The Lightning are sniffing a Stanley Cup championship, that’s for sure. I was at the game today. They pummeled Boston.

    This comes on the heels of taking down both Montreal and Detroit as well.

    But what’s up with the Ichiro comments? Were the Rays interested in acquiring him? I don’t recall that.

  14. Bets…

    If you have spare time while you’re here, let me know. Perhaps we can grab a coffee and talk some sports.

    But where did you get that sacrifice information from on the sac bunts? Maddon generally wouldn’t do that, as you suggest, because it goes against his metricism.

    Was it sacrifice bunts you saw a stat on or just sacrifices? Remember, some sac flies can be unintentional. It’s not unlike the Rays lineup to make contact and just have it not go deep enough. In fact, they do that all the damn time.

  15. Chris

    Based on the numbers put up by Evan Longoria by comparison to other players at the position, do you believe his salary much less the contract is justified ? I mean it’s not as if the general managers around baseball have shown themselves to be all that astute to begin with .

    Market value in baseball when it comes to players’ salaries and then based on potential , remains a joke. So don’t be too o overawed and impressed with this all , concerning Longoria . He’s not type of leader by any stretch of the imagination .

  16. I researched it at mlb.com and pointed it out to a busted out poker player nicknamed “The Worm”. Sacrifice bunts.

  17. Al…

    I disagree with you on the leadership role. I think Longo is more of a leader in that clubhouse than we probably know. Particularly this year, he’s going to have to step into even more of that role as the Rays main guy. Let’s see if he can do that.

    Re: his salary, we’ve talked about this before. He’s on the back end of his contract so he’s going to get more and more money. He’s really the only expense they have and in any other market, he’d be making more than that.

  18. Yea, the reason I asked, Bets, is that he never really sacrifice bunted.

    Hey, I grew up with the sac bunt. Old school. If you can move a guy over to scoring position with no outs to allow a base hit to score the guy, why wouldn’t you do that?

    Someone get Bill James on the phone. Heck, a conversation with him might cure my insomnia.

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