Thursday, February 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays believe pieces in place for success

PORT CHARLOTTE

Before there were pitchers, before there were catchers, before there were green fields waiting for a team to begin work upon them, there was a singular belief in tomorrow.

For the Rays, it began with that single bit of confidence, with that simple agreement by those in charge that this team could be good, too.

So what the heck?

Why not go for it?

Here at the start of spring training, it sounds so simple to look back to those first few hours of the offseason. That was when executive vice president Andrew Friedman and his staff looked at the incomplete jigsaw puzzle that was the Tampa Bay Rays and nodded. Yes, the team needed to replace this piece, and it wanted to replace that one. But the corners were in place, and everyone could still see a bit of blue in the picture.

It began that easily, with the talent evaluators looking at a team and deciding it had more life to it. It begins with the smart guys of a franchise agreeing that, yeah, this team could be pretty darned good. Again.

So it hangs onto David Price, although the entire hemisphere seemed to expect him to be traded.

It brings back James Loney, although many figured his payday had gotten too big.

It brings in Grant Balfour, a bonus little signing at the end.

It brings in Ryan Hanigan, and it brings back Yunel Escobar, and it brings back David DeJesus, and it brings in Heath Bell. It spends money that it will tell you it doesn't really have. It lets go of Luke Scott and Delmon Young and Fernando Rodney.

All in all, it was a pretty impressive offseason by a team that many thought might have run out of them. As they begin camp, the Rays seem to be preparing for their seventh straight winning season — only the Yankees have more — and their fifth straight season of 90-plus victories — only the Rangers have as many.

Even for this team — the best bet in baseball — this was an impressive balancing act over the past few months. Instead of counting pennies, why, this team was counting nickels. Who knew?

Once again, no team will do more with less. Once again, no team will maximize its daily lineup any better than this one.

Already, manager Joe Maddon is talking about how the Rays want to eat last this year, his metaphor for winning the World Series. Yeah, it's bold talk. But Maddon, optimistic soul that he is, seems to believe it.

"There is no ducking it," Maddon said. "No hiding from it. No saying, 'No, we don't want to talk about it. It's going to jinx us.' If you believe in jinxes, don't even do this.

"You have to believe it from the first. It's not just hyperbole. It's not just talk. It's belief you can do this."

Oh, there is still proving to be done. The Rays still play in a division with the world champion Red Sox, and with the ATMs of the Yankees, and with the Orioles. They still won't be able to mash the ball the way some offensive lineups do. There were still far too many starts from the rotation last season that went five innings or fewer. It still won't be a great base-stealing team.

Still, it is 2014, and the Rays still seem to matter.

Nice, isn't it?

If there was a key decision in the offseason, of course, it was the one to hang onto Price. Every five minutes, there was another bit of speculation of where left-hander was going and for whom, as if his departure was on the clock. Instead, the Rays kept him. Looking back, that probably shouldn't have surprised anyone.

Remember 2010? That year, everyone expected the Rays to move Carl Crawford before his contract ran out. But the Rays held onto Crawford and won the American League East title.

Then there was 2012. Already, the trade rumors were whirling with James Shields. But the Rays liked their rotation a lot better with Shields in it, and they delayed trading him for another year.

This time, they held onto Price. The bottom line was that Price meant more to the Rays than he did to any of his suitors. Oh, if the trade had been worth it, yes, the Rays would have traded Price. And while they still would have talked confidently about their team, the rotation would have looked much thinner without him.

This is better. There is a mentality that comes with bringing Price back, a promise that this season is going to be worth watching. If Price had been traded, this team would have had a lot more questions, and September would have looked hazy. With him? The temptation is to think: Yeah, this team can get there from here.

All of this started with a bit of confidence. And, in many ways, that confidence is as large as ever. Maddon says flatly that his team can win its division. Friedman talks about playing meaningful games in September. This team believes it belongs with the best the game has to offer.

Listen, and perhaps you will believe it, too.

Here at the beginning, why wouldn't you?

 
Comments
Rays find taker for Corey Dickerson, get Daniel Hudson, prospect from Pirates

Rays find taker for Corey Dickerson, get Daniel Hudson, prospect from Pirates

The Rays found a taker for OF/DH Corey Dickerson, trading him Thursday to the Pirates for veteran reliever Daniel Hudson, minor-league INF Tristan Gray and $1-million cash.Hudson, 30, will compete for a spot in the Rays bullpen, coming off a rou...
Updated: 3 minutes ago
Rays Honeywell sidelined by right forearm strain

Rays Honeywell sidelined by right forearm strain

UPDATE: Honeywell sustained a "right forearm strain" and will be further evaluated, manager Kevin Cash said."Obviously it's unfortunate. We'll let the doctors and trainers get a look at him."DEVELOPING: Rays top pitching prospect Brent Honeywell left...
Updated: 2 hours ago
New pitcher Anthony Banda already “loving the vibe” with Rays

New pitcher Anthony Banda already “loving the vibe” with Rays

Acknowledging the "whirlwind" that comes with being traded, LHP Anthony Banda said he is excited to come over from Arizona because he figures to have a better opportunity with the Rays.And he already likes the fit."I'm very excited to be here and con...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Spring is in the air as games start today

Spring is in the air as games start today

After a week of players stretching, doing mundane drills and practicing practice, spring training moves to the next phase today with the start of exhibition games.Ah, baseball in the sunshine.Consider it a soft opening in this part of the state, with...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Rays are adding players?

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Rays are adding players?

The Rays signed veteran outfielder Carlos Gomez to a one-year contract one day after trading Steven Souza Jr. to Arizona. In his latest podcast, Rick Stroud discusses reaction to the moves from players, as well as super fan Dick Vitale.Plus, the Bucs...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Grapefruit League 2018 day-by-day schedule

Grapefruit League 2018 day-by-day schedule

Here is the 2018 day-by-day Grapefruit League schedule. Check out the Tampa Bay Times’ 2018 Spring Training Guide for stadium locations, contact information, team-by-team schedules, ticket information and more.Thursday, Feb. 22U. of Tampa vs. Philade...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Dick Vitale to Rays owner Stu Sternberg: Sell the team

Dick Vitale to Rays owner Stu Sternberg: Sell the team

PORT CHARLOTTE – Dick Vitale, the Rays' most visible and, as of late, vocal fan, took to Twitter and the 620-AM airwaves Wednesday morning and later in the day in a phone call to the Tampa Bay Times to blast his local baseball team.Vitale, ESPN...
Updated: 5 hours ago
What if the Rays actually have a good plan?

What if the Rays actually have a good plan?

PORT CHARLOTTE — Going against popular opinion, here's an odd thought to ponder:What if the Rays actually know what they're doing?The deal agreed to Wednesday afternoon with veteran outfielder Carlos Gomez — one year for a hefty-for-them ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Denard Span on new Ray Anthony Banda: ‘Guy is pretty legit’

Denard Span on new Ray Anthony Banda: ‘Guy is pretty legit’

PORT CHARLOTTE — 2B Nick Solak reported to camp Wednesday, while LHP Anthony Banda, the other player acquired in the Steven Souza Jr. trade, is on his way.Banda, whose fastball hits the mid-90s, pitched in eight games last season with the Diamo...
Published: 02/21/18
Rays move fast to fill void, sign Carlos Gomez

Rays move fast to fill void, sign Carlos Gomez

PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays moved quickly to fill the void created by Tuesday's trade of RF Steven Souza Jr., agreeing to a one-year deal Wednesday afternoon with veteran OF Carlos Gomez.The deal, pending a physical, will pay Gomez $4-million...
Published: 02/21/18