PORT CHARLOTTE — Rays GM Erik Neander, senior VP Chaim Bloom and manager Kevin Cash will take their seats on the Charlotte Sports Park boardwalk under a spotlight sun just after noon Tuesday for the annual pre-spring training ritual — talking, answering and dodging questions about the upcoming season.
They will tell you in general they are confident overall in the boys, despite coming off a third straight losing season on their watch.
That they like the mix of talent and depth among the starting pitchers and at most positions. How they expect to play a better defensive and more athletic game after relying on the long ball the past couple of years. That they feel good about the veterans, even after trading Evan Longoria and losing Alex Cobb to free agency. And how really, truly excited they are by the core of advanced young prospects rising through their system.
Specifically, they will talk about how Matt Duffy is — finally — healthy, and will replace Longoria at third.
That Nathan Eovaldi looks in great form to bolster the rotation after rehabbing from his second Tommy John surgery. How Brad Miller figures to play either first or second on an admittedly unsettled right side. That pretty much anyone asked about, from Chris Archer to Steven Souza Jr., is in great shape and has good reason to have a great year.
But here are some things they can't — or won't — tell you:
Which veterans are going to be traded, and when?
Assuming something hasn't happened before they take their seats, it really could be any moment.
Unable during baseball's frozen winter to cede ownership's request to cut salary despite trading Longoria (since they took back Denard Span), the Rays are working hard through the spring thaw to make a deal reducing what now projects to be a $75-million payroll.
Even though closer Alex Colome appeared their most tradeable asset, especially with the big bucks free-agent relievers were getting, starter Jake Odorizzi now seems most likely to be dealt.
With interest in Odorizzi from the Brewers, Twins and others, the Rays are working to try to make it a package deal, attaching either veteran OF/DH Corey Dickerson ($5.95 million) or Span ($9 million, plus a $4 million 2019 buyout) to cut a bigger chunk. Doing so obviously complicates the transaction.
With teams still chasing Archer, it seems fair to wonder — even as much as the Rays don't really want to trade their top starter — if they'd lower their justifiably hefty price, given four years of control at a modest $34 million, to instead move him just to get something done.
Colome could still go, too — now, if a team such as the Cardinals wants to fill its need for a closer, or later. (And they now have Sergio Romo back to replace him.)
Another option if they can't make any deals with a return is to release a player on a non-guaranteed contract, such as Dickerson or Miller ($4.5-million), paying only one-sixth or one-fourth of his salary. (Span's salary is guaranteed.)
Which of those promising prospects are likely to make the opening-day roster?
As confident as Rays officials are that starter Brent Honeywell and infielders Willy Adames, Christian Arroyo (also acquired for Longoria) and Jake Bauers will do great things in the majors, don't expect to see them in April, or even May.
Injuries to others or trades could impact that, but the Rays typically wait at least a few months into the season — ostensibly for both baseball and business (read: service time) reasons — to start careers, and arbitration eligibility clocks.
Bauers may have the best chance to break through at first, though it still seems they're more likely to go with Miller or sign a desperate free agent at a low price. Similarly, expect a veteran placeholder (Micah Johnson, Ryan Schimpf, Joey Wendle) at second.
Why do they think they can still win?
Having already dealt Longoria and lost Cobb, first baseman Logan Morrison and several veteran relievers to free agency, the Rays would seem to be giving up if they then traded Odorizzi, Dickerson or any of the others.
But — and this requires a bit of trust in their evaluations — they look at it that they have enough depth that the dropoff won't be that great, the same as if they lost a couple veterans to injury.
If Odorizzi goes, that means both Jake Faria and Matt Andriese make the rotation behind Archer, Blake Snell and Eovaldi, with Honeywell and other prospects such as Ryan Yarbrough and Yonny Chirinos in the wings. If Dickerson (or Span) is dealt, it opens time for Mallex Smith, as well as an outfielder they could get back in trade.
As usual, the Rays have lots to talk about.