As the Andrew Friedman-presidented Dodgers compete this week with the Joe Maddon-managed Cubs to see who wins the National League pennant, it's hard to not see the Rays as the big losers.
It was a long two years ago when Friedman, having declined previous overtures from other teams since taking over Rays baseball operations in October 2005, accepted a lucrative offer to leave the team he had built into a contender for a bigger market challenge.
His departure then activated an out clause in Maddon's contract that allowed the manager to leave despite having a year remaining. And, after unsuccessful talks over a new deal and a curiously brief stint as a free agent, Maddon signed a five-year, $25 million deal with the Cubs, who wanted him so badly they fired their current manager, Rick Renteria.
At the time, there was a fair amount of discussion in baseball circles over whom the Rays would miss more, which was a slightly veiled way of assessing who deserved more credit for their impressive 2008-13 run of making the playoffs four times in six years.
That's still a valid question today — along with, perhaps, which one better saw the decline coming and knew to leave? — as the Rays have gone 148-176 and nowhere in the two seasons since under baseball operations president Matt Silverman and manager Kevin Cash.
At the time it seemed Friedman's absence would be easier to cover as Silverman had worked with him (actually as his boss) and top lieutenants Chaim Bloom and Erik Neander were staying.
The mixed results since have raised several questions, including whether they were better operating under more of a single voice than the current group decision-making, and if they would have benefitted from bringing in a "baseball guy," as Friedman had when he started in Gerry Hunsicker.
Replacing Maddon after his dynamic nine-year run was going to be a challenge for any manager, especially given his conviviality and growing reputation as one of the game's best. The Rays might have exacerbated that in hiring Cash, who had no previous experience as a boss and only two years as a coach and was antithetical in terms of attracting the attention Maddon drew.
It's probably tougher to judge Cash yet, given the flawed teams he has had to manage thus far. Plus, like Maddon did, he should have the opportunity to grow into the job and gain the cache to assert himself more into the decision-making processes.
Is there a clear answer? Probably not yet. But either way, the success Friedman and Maddon have had elsewhere only seems to highlight what the Rays lost.
RAYS RUMBLINGS: Given the usual preference to promote from within, minor-league strength and conditioning coordinator Trung Cao is a strong candidate to replace Kevin Barr in the big-league job. … Top 2016 pick Josh Lowe was drafted as a third baseman but moved to centerfield during instructional league and could stay there. … The annual FanFest is slated for Feb. 4. … There is mutual interest in having free agent LHP Dana Eveland back to compete for a job in spring training. … RHP Chris Archer is not only excited by the opportunity to do ESPN TV and radio work at the World Series but said it fuels him to play in one: "That environment is something I want to experience from the player side, and the more and more I can be there, the more desire and drive I have to be there."
DIAMOND DUST: Add Al Kaline to the big names at the Ted Williams Hitters Hall of Fame Induction dinner Feb. 18 at the Trop, headlined by Pete Rose; tickets are available for $125 by calling (727) 534-5343 or emailing [email protected] … Congrats to Tampa product Chuck Hernandez, who last week got his fifth major-league pitching coach job in being promoted by the Braves. He worked previously with the Angels, Devil Rays, Tigers and Marlins, plus he had a gig as bullpen coach with the Indians. … Among many "signs" that have Cubs fans believing this is their year: NLCS games all start at 7:08 in Chicago, which on military time is 19:08, which is the last year they won it all.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.