PORT CHARLOTTE — It was another morning after at Charlotte Sports Park and Rays Bargain Clearance Barn. This time it's Steven Souza Jr., man of a thousand faces. He gone.
What else is new at the incredible shrinking baseball team?
It's spring training and the Rays are one big split-squad.
Say hello to 60 wins.
This is one heck of a way to get a baseball park built.
At least Rays owner Stu Sternberg is trying to save some money in construction. New concept: no home clubhouse.
I wouldn't be surprised if irate Rays fans stay away from Tropicana Field in droves this season in protest, but how could we tell?
This is no way to build community goodwill in the name of a new stadium in this community, assuming Trader Stu wants one.
This is ill will hunting.
Rick Stroud says he feels bad for Rays fans, as many of their favorite players have left the team, including Evan Longoria, Steven Souza Jr., Corey Dickerson, Jake Odorizzi and more.#Rays @TB_Times @NFLSTROUD #SpringTraining https://t.co/hrokyjRhfi— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) February 21, 2018
The word now is the great salary dump is over. Rays general manager Erik Neander has done Sternberg's bidding, the deeds are done. What started with bye-bye to Evan Longoria mushroomed into true franchise gutting. Manager Kevin Cash has himself a handful of nothing, which I suppose is a weird kind of job security.
Now it's just a matter of Chris Archer and Kevin Kiermaier choosing up to see who's team leader. But give it a week. Mallex Smith could be the leader by then. Hold all tickets.
Back to K.K.
"We're being tested right now," Kiermaier said. "We're going to see who has that dog in him."
I don't know what's worse, the Triple-Rays or their South Florida counterpart. Is it worse for the Marlins to hold a city hostage to build a new ballpark, or is it worse the Ray Way, to dump and slash and then ask for a new ballpark?
Okay, it's not as if they're breaking up the '27 Yankees. Jake Odorizzi and Steven Souza weren't Bob Gibson and Roberto Clemente. This dismantling might have been something the Rays should have considered last season. Like, what in the world was bringing in Lucas Duda about?
New Rays rightfielder Carlos Gomez is no stranger to benches-clearing brawls. #Rays @TB_Times @MikeSherman #Astros #Brewers #Braves #Pirates #Yankees #Nationals https://t.co/us31TtDogK— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) February 21, 2018
I don't think there's much blood on Neander's hands. It's not as if he woke up one recent morning and decided to plant satchel charges around this roster. No, this is Sternberg's show, totally, all the giveaways and cost-cutting.
My possible solution?
Play the kids.
I mean, the Rays had better.
Look, the world champion Astros once lost a million games while playing their prospects.
Enough of worrying about starting the major-league-service clock on youngsters such as Willy Adames, Brent Honeywell and Jake Bauers.
Clock? Take the clock and toss it in Charlotte Harbor.
I'd rather watch their baby steps than some middle-of-the-road foofs try to put together 70 wins. It's just a matter of deciding how much to leave under Adames' pillow when he loses his first tooth.
A quick word about Souza. I liked the big galoot. He was entertaining, whether he swung and missed, or swung and hit, or dove for a liner that landed 30 feet away. Souza was seen in the parking lot Wednesday morning, hugging Rays employees. He even stopped to turn in his parking pass.
The Rays have never done anything close to this ghost ship. In the old days, the Ray Way always prevailed, smartest guys in the room and all that. But the room isn't what it once was, and these are different guys.
Rays marketing officials now have to decide what to do with the spot Steven Souza Jr. held in their lineup, having scheduled a giveaway of a Hugging Steven Souza Jr. doll. #Rays @RaysBaseball @TB_Times @SouzaJr @TBTimes_Rays https://t.co/qxOHU55EkN— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) February 21, 2018
Then again, a big thanks to former GM Andrew Friedman, who put together a bunch of cruddy drafts that put the Rays in a developing pickle, and he knew it even as he left to be boy genius with the Dodgers.
There are a lot of fingerprints on this fire sale. I don't know if there's a Ray Way out of it.
I'm sure Rays fans are beside themselves, a novel idea, seeing as it would double attendance. Their team just quit on this season, and maybe next season, too.
No parking pass is safe.
No stadium, either.
Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] Follow @mjfennelly