LAKE BUENA VISTA — The latest obstacle keeping the Rays from contending in the American League East loomed even larger Monday afternoon in pinstripes.
The Yankees’ formal introduction of Giancarlo Stanton also could be an accelerant to the departure of Evan Longoria, and some familiar for-the-moment teammates, as the Rays acknowledge and accept that the gap between them and the best team in their division is now a gulf.
"It’s a challenge," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "They made it a little more challenging now with their latest acquisition."
Rays officials are already considering whether to deal away a number of veterans in taking a step back to rebuild with a younger, cheaper core geared to compete in what they hope will be a brighter, not-too-distant future.
Engaged in conversations on various fronts, they will soon start dealing at least to lower their payroll, with closer Alex Colome likely the first to go, probably sooner than later, with chatter Monday that the Rockies and Mets have joined the Cardinals and Cubs among those in hottest pursuit.
Starter Chris Archer also has been a hot topic. Over the coming weeks, Longoria, starter Jake Odorizzi, catcher Wilson Ramos, outfielder/DH Corey Dickerson, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, infielder Brad Miller and (least likely) Kevin Kiermaier are likely to all be in at least discussions.
Seeing what they are up against — the Yankees’ unveiling at the winter meetings providing the visual — should just expedite the Rays’ decisions.
"It impacts things," GM Erik Neander said. "It makes them a better team, and that has an effect on us as it does the other clubs in our division, league and so on. So it’s something. But I think at the end of the day we really have to stay focused on our roster, the talent we have and letting that play out."
Look at it this way: The Yankees were 11 games better than the Rays last season, have added the NL MVP in Stanton without giving up much and have money left to still get a top starting pitcher, with — touche — familiar face Alex Cobb among the possibilities.
Vegas oddsmakers are already impressed enough to move the Yankees to the top of the tote board, now 5-1 favorites to win the World Series, per Bovada.lv.
The Rays are going the other direction, with Cobb and eight others now free agents, a few other small pieces discarded and bigger deals coming.
"These are exciting times," Yankees GM Brian Cashman said. "Today’s a day of welcoming a new addition to our band of merry men."
Stanton, who flexed some of his muscle in steering the deal given a full no-trade clause, said the Yankees were an obvious choice.
"Just watching them from afar, seeing their young, dynamic group, the way they flow together on the field, how they never give up, never quit, the atmosphere, the storied franchise," he said. "There’s not much you can say about why you wouldn’t want to be there."
In looking at how the Yankees are improving, the Rays also can’t ignore the ugly reality of the Marlins’ side of the deal, given the basic similarities of a team with low attendance finding itself in the predicament of cutting payroll and trading its cornerstone player.
(Worse, for the Marlins, Stanton took shots on his way out with the 10 years and $295 million still owed, noting the "unprofessional, circus times" in Miami and suggesting remaining fans who want to stick with them through "more tough years" should "maybe watch from afar.")
Marlins CEO Derek Jeter spoke repeatedly on a conference call about the need for "financial flexibility" and patience in rebuilding the organization from the bottom up because "what’s been in place here has not been working."
Also, he said that the key to success depends on getting fans "engaged" again and "back in the stands" with a team they feel has "an opportunity to win."
The Rays can take some solace in that they aren’t in as bad a position as the Marlins — though without the newer stadium.
But they also have to realize how far they are from the Yankees and, presuming they make a counter move (J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Jose Abreu?), the Red Sox.
And that should tell them something.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.