Friday, April 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays not moving away from pitcher-heavy philosophy

ST. PETERSBURG — Preferring to be prepping for a playoff opener, Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon didn't have a lot of specifics Thursday as to what they'll do to make sure next season doesn't also end prematurely.

But they did make clear what they won't do: shift away from their primary philosophy of focusing on pitching and defense.

"We've seen very good offensive teams that can't pitch and that have no chance of winning 90 games. Zero chance," Friedman said. "We believe very strongly in pitching and defense."

They also believe in not feeling they have to trade from their surplus of eight potential starting pitchers. And in not planning to pursue any of the top free agent hitters.

In short, they plan to stick pretty much to the formula they've used, one that has led to three straight 90-win seasons and five straight winning seasons but only three playoff wins since 2008. And that is to build around the arms and gloves, then figure out creative ways to generate more offense.

"The interplay between them is everything, we get that," Friedman said. "We'd love to have an elite pitching staff and an elite offense. It's difficult to do. So it's just figuring out that relationship between the two and trying to maximize the runs we can score and the runs we allow conversely."

Given free agent economics that routinely force them to shop in the second or third tier, the Rays seemingly would be better off looking to the trade market for bats, as they have at least four open positions: first base, catcher, DH and either outfield/second base/shortstop.

But Friedman made it clear, as he did last winter when they held pat, that he won't easily part with pitching even though they had five frontline starters — David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Jeff Niemann — and three major-league-ready replacements available — Wade Davis in the bullpen and Alex Cobb and Chris Archer called up from the minors.

"We said this last year and I think people thought we were just playing the market a little bit," Friedman said. "But we're not going to be flippant about our pitching depth in that it's everything to us to have five really good starting pitchers with the requisite depth behind it. Obviously if something lines up that makes sense, that makes us better, we're going to do it. But if it doesn't, we're not going to say, 'Hey, we have this pitching depth and we just need to do it just to do it.' "

Friedman said he didn't know what the 2013 payroll would be, though he noted they spent more this season ($64.4 million on opening day) than planned and that the major-league-worst attendance (1,559,681, and up only 30,000 from last year) and absence of any revenue from postseason games doesn't help.

"Resources are resources," he said. "The more revenue we can create this year, the more sustainable that is. That's just kind of simple math. So it definitely hinders it. To what extent, I don't know."

But he seemed to be sure it won't be enough to address their offensive inadequacies by signing any top-dollar free agents.

"There's certain things that we can do in the free agent market and there's certain things that we can't," he said. "We can't compete for every single player that's going to be a free agent, but we should be experts on the ones we can compete on. … There's a lot more risks with those type of players and more volatility, but it's incumbent upon us to find the right group and the right composition to have success."

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