Neander says Rays surveying market, considering moves both ways

Rays officials senior VP Chaim Bloom, GM Erik Neander and manager Kevin Cash are all smiles on Feb. 13 anyway. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Rays officials senior VP Chaim Bloom, GM Erik Neander and manager Kevin Cash are all smiles on Feb. 13 anyway. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published February 13 2018
Updated February 13 2018

Rays officials had plenty of talk about at today's pre-spring media session, though no hard news.

Among the topics:

* GM Erik Neander said the key to being competitive will be the health of the Rays' veterans and how much their younger players contribute. Also, that the "unique" off-season has created a lot of "uncertainty" over rosters throughout the game, and it is their job to "make the most of it.''

* Asked if they were rebuilding, Neander said, "how to label the year I'm not so sure what would be most appropriate," but the Rays are excited to see what the young players can do. "The talent is there. Whether it can mature fast enough for this to be a really successful year remains to be seen,'' he said.

* Manager Kevin Cash acknowledged the obvious, that it's "very" weird to not have veteran leaders 3B Evan Longoria, who was traded, and RHP Alex Cobb, who left as a free agent, around. "I'd be denying if it wasn't, even today going around with the physicals,'' he said.

* Cash and senior VP Chaim Bloom noted the enthusiasm and excitement of having the young players around.

* In wanting to focus on little things that win games and attention to detail, Cash said that, with all the young players in camp, the Rays will focus more on fundamentals and defense, though more through the "messaging" than actual additional drill work — balancing to practice at a high level and close to game speed without risking  injury.

* RHP Jose De Leon has impressed the staff after a lost 2017 season following his acquisition from the Dodgers, both in terms of conditioning and performance thus far. "Watching his bullpen, he certainly seems like a different pitcher,'' Cash said, noting the way DeLeon had changed his physique.

* Cash said "the best day of the off-season so far" was seeing the smile on 3B Matt Duffy's face after his Monday workout in which he took about 50 ground balls, a tangible reinforcement of the talk that he is ready to go after missing 2017 with left foot issues. Cash did say they will try to manage Duffy's spring action, getting him reps in shorter bursts, though overall there are no limitations.

* Neander said "this is the reality" that the market is still unsettled and unfolding and there could be players dealt and/or added to their roster, that it is their job "to do the best we can with what's available and make sure we are considering all possibilities.''

* With clear starters set at third (Duffy), short (Adeiny Hechavarria), catcher (Wilson Ramos), center (Kevin Kiermaier) and right (Steven Souza Jr.), Cash said in leftfield the Rays are looking at Corey Dickerson, Denard Span and Mallex Smith; that they have "a lot of candidates who are going to get tons of reps at second base,'' that Brad Miller will play both first and second; that Daniel Robertson can play anywhere on the infield and may get a look in the outfield as well.

* Neander said the re-signing of Sergio Romo adds not just pitching skill, especially in some tough right-on-right matchups, but experience and leadership that can help the other young relievers.

* 2017 top draft pick Brendan McKay will continue as a two-way player, pitching and playing first and DH, first in minor-league camp and then at the Class A level, either with Bowling Green or Charlotte, though details are still being discussed.

* Bloom said the Rays are eager to see the young starters in camp, such as Yonny Chirinos, Brent Honeywell, Jose Mujica, Ryan Yarbrough.

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