Q&A Rays owner Stuart Sternberg: Good start to season, ending 'big disappointment'

Principal owner Stuart Sternberg was pleased with the deadline deals made by the front office and the overall work of manager Kevin Cash. He plans to "absolutely" reduce the payroll for 2018 in doing the usual retooling of the roster.

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, left, talks with manager Kevin Cash early in the season. “I shudder to think where we'd be without him,” he says of Cash. WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times
Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, left, talks with manager Kevin Cash early in the season. “I shudder to think where we'd be without him,” he says of Cash.WILL VRAGOVIC | Times
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NEW YORK — Principal owner Stuart Sternberg had plenty to be disappointed in this season, as his Rays frustratingly missed out on a playoff berth and attendance at the Trop was even less than he expected.

He has a lot to think about, planning to "absolutely" reduce the payroll for 2018 in doing the usual retooling of the roster while eagerly awaiting the next step in the stadium search.

And he had some things to be pleased with, including the deadline deals made by the front office and the overall work of manager Kevin Cash.

In a 30-minute talk Thursday night with the Tampa Bay Times, Sternberg shared those thoughts and more, with some answers edited for clarity. For more, see tampabay.com/blogs/Rays :

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Was this season, being in the playoff race until late September, harder or easier to take than last year, when you won only 68 games?

Definitely harder. It's all about expectations and hope. I don't like hope. When you get hope and it gets snatched away — and you have expectations — I'm an ornery guy.

 

So you were pleased with the season but disappointed how it ended?

Exactly. I would take this season before last season 10 out of 10 times. But in the fullness of 150 some-odd games, it was a big disappointment.

Because a playoff berth was in your grasp into August and slipped away?

We took the proper steps and, in retrospect, they were absolutely correct. So what else could we have done?

 

Ultimately what do you think was the fatal flaw?

The offense. The thing that carried us eventually came back and haunted us.

 

Do you regret making the midseason trade acquisitions, which added about $7 million to the payroll and cost you several prospects?

No. We'd do it 10 times out of 10 again. … Given the types of moves we made and the money and the prospects, I'd love to be in that position every year to be able to do that with the kind of team we thought we had, and the team we had up until the All-Star break.

 

How do those moves impact 2018?

Not positively. We spent resources, players and money, so it clearly isn't a positive, in that respect. There's no free lunch.

 

Does that mean you will reduce the payroll, which is about $80 million now, for next season?

Absolutely. … There's no set number. But being we're so far above what we've spent ever before and way outside of what we can spend and should spend, the first move is down.

 

Could this be the year you cut it way back and retrench, as you've hinted previously could be coming?

The team is good enough clearly, and we have confidence in the guys, but we'll see how the offseason goes. Who's available to us? What's available in trade for us? We try to react to what the market is going to bear.

 

Some segment of the fan base questions manager Kevin Cash's work. Are you pleased with him and do you expect him to stay on the job?

Yes. I'd like you to be asking me this question the next eight years — (but) I don't want people to be disappointed with him for eight years. It's the kind of thing where if he had faltered on things while we were close and made some bonehead moves and the players … but the manager isn't going to make up the 12 extra games we needed to win. I shudder to think where we'd be without him.

 

What do you think of the job your front office has done, with Matt Silverman, Erik Neander and Chaim Bloom running things?

I know what the record is, and that's the ultimate proof, but the moves we've made and the things we've done and had to do … we still have one of the lowest, if not the lowest, payrolls in baseball, and we're going to be there consistently, so to be able to wake up on Labor Day any year and say (winning) eight out of 10 is going to put us right in it, I'll take it every year.

 

With the season ending, how soon could there be an announcement of a stadium site selection, given the reported Ybor City option?

We're ready. Whenever Hillsborough or Tampa make their pitch, we're ready. We've worked with them a bunch, and we're waiting to hear the pitch. There's nothing more for me to do at this point.

 

What did you think of your overall attendance, a majors-worst average of 15,561 for the games at the Trop thus far?

Given the performance of the team, I would have anticipated it to be better. Where we were and how we were playing, it could have only been better. We've heard it before, and I've talked to the players, it clearly affects the performance on the field.

 

Assuming RHP Alex Cobb leaves as expected as a free agent, is it sadder since he has been here his whole career?

He's been a quality guy, and we try to keep quality guys around as long as possible. We do have guys play to the end of their contracts. It doesn't happen a ton. It's a big stretch for us to do that because we're giving up really the lifeblood of the organization, the younger guys (they would get in trade) coming up. But given where we were this year and what we thought was our opportunity to compete, it just sort of lined up that way. I'd love for nothing more than if he had one more year on his deal and he was coming back next year. But by the same token I'm thrilled we had him this year.

 

What would be your take on a player on your team kneeling for the anthem?

I'd see if and when it happens.

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