Sunday, October 21, 2018
  • The Heater
  • Marc Topkin

What if the Rays actually have a good plan?

PORT CHARLOTTE — Going against popular opinion, here's an odd thought to ponder:

What if the Rays actually know what they're doing?

The deal agreed to Wednesday afternoon with veteran outfielder Carlos Gomez — one year for a hefty-for-them $4 million, pending a physical — doesn't make up for the jarring loss of 2017 team MVP Steven Souza Jr. being traded the night before..

But it did reverse the exit velocity from their clubhouse, after the weekend dumping of Jake Odorizzi and Corey Dickerson.

And it showed that team executives Erik Neander and Chaim Bloom meant what they said about being aggressive — and willing to spend some of that saved money — to replace Souza after Arizona made them a prospect-laden offer they couldn't refuse to further enhance their future. Next will be to see if they stick to their plan not to trade away any other big pieces, even if tempted for Chris Archer, Kevin Kiermaier or Alex Colome.

In Gomez, 32, the Rays get a player who profiles somewhat similar to Souza (and, for those counting beans, makes $450,000 more). He can hit, flash some power, play good defense and entertain with emotion and theatrics, plus the occasional brawl starting. Whether he cares as much as Souza, if he stays focused all season after a pay cut from $11.5 million with Texas last year, are different questions.

But, still, after what seemed like the next stage of a teardown following the December trade of franchise cornerstone Evan Longoria, the Rays took what looked to be a step away from the dire predictions of 100-plus losses and maybe even toward respectability.

The show C.J. Cron put on in batting practice Wednesday after his acquisition from the Angels, for one day anyway, looked to be another positive stroke.

As staggering as it is to count the percentage of last year's homers (75) and RBIs (70) supplied by players no longer around, the Rays lineup could be a little more dynamic and productive than you would think as they shift back to a more athletic style of play.

RELATED: Rays trade '17 MVP Souza in three-team deal for prospects

There are, of course, big ifs. Such has Matt Duffy staying healthy, Brad Miller hitting, Wilson Ramos starring, Mallex Smith being ready, Denard Span and Gomez defying age, and that they hit on some of the young arms to fill bullpen roles.

Equally important is the players buying into the underdog role, playing together and playing hard, showing — as Kiermaier said, "who has that dog in 'em."

In addition to the outrage from fans and snarky criticism from the national media, there was a seriously negative vibe in the clubhouse Monday morning, with players openly criticizing the Dickerson/Odorizzi moves.

Kiermaier stood in front of his locker saying he was "100 percent frustrated and very upset" by the moves, and Archer was across the room talking about how they now need everything to go right to even have a chance.

But Wednesday there was a much more conciliatory — even positive — tone. And that was without knowing the Gomez deal would be made a few hours later.

At first it seemed they were just inured to another loss. Or that the calls they got from their bosses Tuesday night explaining the Souza deal also included some coaching about the preferred message.

But the reality was the same two team leaders were now being force multipliers, spreading positivity and belief. The Kumbaya campfire was coming later.

"I'm going to try to and make sure everyone has the right mind-set," Kiermaier said. "There's no need to pout, to sit here and be stubborn about things."

Plus, Archer said, it's up to them — no matter how discouraged they might have felt personally over the moves — to be professional going forward.

"Baseball is a game where anything can happen," he said. "I'm hoping that other guys can step up and fill the void, fill the voids, that we're missing. I'm definitely going to be optimistic. And I'm going to go out and give everything I have and encourage other guys to do the same."

At the least, they have a plan and some hope. It might not be anywhere near enough to keep up with the Red Sox and Yankees, but it seems a lot more than they had the day before.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays

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