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Jones: Decisions loom for Tampa Bay Rays, Matt Silverman (w/video)

ST. PETERSBURG

The most tumultuous offseason in Rays history began one year ago.

Team architect Andrew Friedman bolted for Los Angeles. Manager Joe Maddon followed him out the door to Chicago. And Matt Silverman was left to pick up the pieces of an organization left in shambles by their departures.

In a flash, Silverman had to put the front office back together. He had to round up managerial candidates, interview them then select one. Then, right away, he had to take his limited payroll and repair a fourth-place team so that it could compete with the big spenders of the American League East.

You can understand why Silverman's on-the-job training was a mixed bag.

Now here we are again, a year later, at the start of another offseason. The organization, following another fourth-place finish, is at a crossroads and, once again, Silverman is behind the wheel. But this time around, there are no excuses.

"We have our group in place,'' Silverman said, "and that's a great luxury this offseason. … That takes a significant load off and allows us to focus our energies on the club and the offseason.''

He has a manager. He has a roster of players. He has a tight budget, but there's always a tight budget around here.

Now let's see if Silverman has the right stuff. Now we will find out what he is made of.

This offseason, it's all on Silverman.

"It's going to be another busy offseason, certainly in terms of conversation,'' Silverman said Tuesday in his 2015 wrap-up news conference. "It's hard to predict if that turns into actions and activities, but we'll be very busy talking.''

He needs to get busy doing.

WATCH THE VIDEO.

Who is playing shortstop next season? Who are the catchers? Who is the DH?

Is Desmond Jennings still in the Rays' plans? How about Steven Souza Jr.? Tim Beckham? James Loney?

Are young kids such as Richie Shaffer and Mikie Mahtook the real deal or flashes-in-the-pan?

How much starting pitching is enough starting pitching? Should you trade one or horde them? Who is the closer? Is there a closer?

These are the questions Silverman needs to answer sooner rather than later. Why the urgency? Why the rush?

A small payroll forces careful planning. A decision at one position affects the choices at others. There is no margin for error. You can't swing big and miss.

If you do, you end up with Rene Rivera and his .178 batting average at catcher. You end up wondering if Souza is going to be better than his .225 average and 40 RBIs. These are mistakes that might have cost the Rays more than a handful of games.

The other big question facing Silverman is, how accurate are the results of the 2015 season?

The Rays finished 80-82. Not good at first glance, but not bad considering all the injuries, especially to the starting rotation.

But he must ask: Is this team better or worse than 80 wins?

"We try not to dwell on what could have been,'' Silverman said. "We do a little bit. We're human. If we win one game more a month than we did, we're having a very different (conversation) right now. That shows how close we were despite the injuries and the roller-coaster of the season.''

On the one hand, Silverman is right. One more win a month and the Rays go 87-75 and would have played the Yankees in Tuesday night's wild-card playoff game.

Then again, one more loss a month and the Rays would have the next-to-worst record in the American League.

What Silverman has to figure out is how competitive the Rays might be with their current roster and a healthy rotation of Matt Moore, Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi and either Erasmo Ramirez or Nathan Karns.

Here's what it ultimately comes down to: Does this Rays roster need just a little tinkering or some major moves?

The guess is Silverman will tinker and hope for the best. Hope that the starting pitchers stay healthy. Hope that Shaffer and Mahtook keep climbing. Hope that Souza turns into the player he is supposed to be. Hope that Kevin Kiermaier's stock keeps rising. Logan Forsythe's, too. Hope that Evan Longoria's power numbers rebound. And hope that he find a usable part or two at discount prices in the offseason.

"The talent level on this club and in the organization is higher than it was last year, higher than, I think, it has been in the last decade,'' Silverman said. "We have a lot of young players at the major-league level who have great upside. And we're going to need some of those upsides to hit for this club to reach the postseason next year and for years to come.

"But that's the good thing about young players. There is that opportunity for them to keep getting better to become even more valuable in the roles that they play.''

Funny, you can say the same thing about Silverman.

Jones: Decisions loom for Tampa Bay Rays, Matt Silverman (w/video) 10/06/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 7, 2015 9:18am]
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