PORT CHARLOTTE — There hasn't been much that has caught principal owner Stuart Sternberg off guard in the 1,500 or so days since he took over, except for the staggeringly disappointing attendance during June's World Series rematch with the Phillies and, we can presume, Pat Burrell's poor performance.
But there is something else:
The Rays (and who would have imagined this a few years ago) becoming something of a model for other franchises to emulate.
As a product of their position of competing with low-revenue streams against the free-spending Yankees and Red Sox, the Rays have to do things differently to be successful.
And two of the things they have done, differently and successfully, is put a premium on their prospects and young players and make an effort to focus on improving their defense, which had been an inexpensive way to improve.
They were not the only team doing so but among a few doing both. But that's not necessarily the case anymore. And that, Sternberg said, has been something of a surprise.
"The speed in which the other front offices have changed their game plans a little bit has forced us to try to stay one step ahead or even in lockstep with them," Sternberg said. "That's one thing: the information and the way people are approaching their prospects, their minor-leaguers and things like that. And putting the emphasis on different parts and the defense, which is something we did a couple years ago and teams have quickly picked up on. I think the speed in which that happened probably caught us by surprise a little."
The Rays have to continue to find new ways to be successful, especially as the value of prospects overall has become prohibitively high and defensive-oriented players are commanding premium salaries.
So what's next? Given the number of power hitters who were left to linger on the free agent market this year, maybe Hit Show II?
Red tide: Equipment/home clubhouse manager Chris Westmoreland is looking a little red these days, the price of his favorite Florida Gators losing the SEC football title game to RHP Lance Cormier's Alabama Crimson Tide. Westmoreland has to wear Alabama gear to and from the complex all spring, and his office will be decorated with an Alabama flag and a poster-sized photo of Tim Tebow crying on the sideline. Cormier is clearly enjoying the payoff: "Oh yeah, because he would've."
Rays rumblings: The Rays had legit interest in free agent OF Johnny Damon but weren't going to get anywhere near the $8 million he reportedly ended up with from Detroit. … With Damon and Russell Branyan going elsewhere, if the Rays still want another bat, might former Angels OF Garret Anderson be a possibility? Gary Sheffield won't be. … If Justin Upton is discussing a long-term deal with the D'backs, it's safe to assume B.J. did with the Rays, even if neither side is talking about it. … Sternberg termed the lack of unity between Tampa and St. Petersburg "puzzling." … And asked why he didn't just pay for a new stadium himself, Sternberg replied: "I don't have that money. I don't." … ESPN's Jayson Stark calls the Rays "the best team in baseball nobody is talking about." … RHP James Shields and wife Ryane are expecting their second daughter around the April 6 opener, a day Shields is likely to be working. … Bullpen coach Bobby Ramos made mlb.com's list of five coaches "who could make a huge difference" for their teams.