ST. PETERSBURG — Of all the numbers generated, crunched and sabermetricized throughout a baseball season, the most telling from the Rays' disappointing year might be a single digit:
That was the margin between the runs they scored (644) and the runs they allowed (642). And that was the difference between being in the playoffs and sitting in the Trop on Tuesday talking about what might have been. And that will be their primary area of concentration for their offseason plans.
"We need that margin to be greater next year to win more games," baseball operations president Matt Silverman said. "We need to score more runs, but not at the cost of sacrificing our defense. …
"Just by the nature of our pitching and defense, we are not going to give up that many runs. So the challenge is finding ways to score more runs. If we had hit better with runners in scoring position (.244, 14th in the AL), it would be a very different conversation. We'd have a bigger margin, we'd have won more games and we wouldn't be having this press conference today.
"So that's a key focus. … We've got to get better at some of the small things. Driving in runners in scoring position. We have to be better on the basepaths. We have to make sure we're not giving up those easy outs. If we do that, and we still pitch and field like we can, we're going to be a good ballclub."
(For reference, the 642 runs allowed were fourth fewest in the AL; the 644 scored were 14th most. Also, nine of the 10 playoff teams were at least plus-66, the Blue Jays a majors-best plus-221.)
As usual, the Rays will consider myriad possibilities to get better in what Silverman says will be "another busy offseason."
They look to have two openings in their lineup, with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and primary DH John Jaso free agents. There are questions at a few other positions, such as catcher (where Curt Casali looks to be the leading candidate). There is a possibility to add more offense at first base if they can deal James Loney, who had only four homers and 32 RBIs in 104 games.
Trading from their depth of starting pitching is another way to get help, and Silverman made it clear they would consider that as well, noting the talented arms they have at the major- and minor-league level.
"It's a great luxury to have, at the same time it's a way for us to improve other areas of our team in terms of conversations with other clubs," he said. "So I imagine like always we're going to be active in dialogue in trying to figure out how to maximize all of our roster spots."
Another key factor is how much money they have to spend, having finished last in attendance yet again. Principal owner Stuart Sternberg said last month they are likely to reduce what was a $72 million payroll in 2015. With about $52 million committed to 11 returning players (including $8 million to Loney) in 2016, that doesn't leave much room to work with. Silverman said they are plotting that out now.
"We work within our means, and we're going to have those conversations about what we can spend over the next several years given the circumstances that we're in and the expectations for generating revenue," he said.
Overall, Silverman and manager Kevin Cash said that though they were disappointed to finish 80-82 and out of the playoffs, they are confident things will add up better next season.
"We did not get where we wanted to get and where we need to be," Cash said. "(But) there's a lot of stuff to really optimistic about."
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.