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Rays owner Sternberg sees better team, tougher competition

PORT CHARLOTTE — Having reached twice into their precious stash of pitching during the winter to — as organizationally sacrilegious as it sounds — bolster their offense, the Rays, principal owner Stuart Sternberg says, are better for it.

"I think we did what we needed to do to improve the ballclub," he said.

But in acquiring Brad Miller and Logan Morrison from Seattle for Nathan Karns, and Corey Dickerson from Colorado for Jake McGee, plus signing Steve Pearce and adding Hank Conger, the Rays don't know if they did enough to battle through improved American League East opponents to get to the postseason.

"It looks like we've raised our game," Sternberg said Tuesday during his annual camp visit, "but theirs has gone up more dramatically."

Naturally, he is curious to see how it plays out.

"It's interesting. We break it down and we're very happy with the ballclub, position by position, spot by spot. Obviously we're going to have some question marks in the bullpen," he said.

"So, I'm looking forward to the things that are ahead of us. One thing, though, I look at the other clubs. We've been projected in some places to win the East or compete in the East, it's been all over the place.

"And you take a look at Toronto and you look at that lineup and you go, 'How? Like, how?' Or you look at Boston and you go, 'How?' Even the Yankees, 'How?' Baltimore. Yet, I suppose people are looking at us, they think we have as good a club as we've had. And that's all I can ask for."

The Rays won only 80 games last season, dealing with an extensive string of injuries to key players while making the transition to new management under Matt Silverman in the front office and Kevin Cash in the dugout.

But Sternberg said in retrospect that he considered it a "great season" as well as "a baseline" for improvement this year.

"To know where we were last year, we have the opportunity to improve on that, not only with the guys we brought in but with the health of the guys, having Kevin here and some of the coaches here for the second year, just the cohesiveness is dramatically different this year," he said. "So all of that should add up for a better season. And it's a great starting point, it's not like we won 64 games last year."

Sternberg acknowledged somewhat of a philosophical change in dealing two pitchers for hitters, but he said the front office felt it was necessary, even as much as McGee had meant.

"It's a luxury, in a sense, for us to have a guy of that quality here," Sternberg said. "We needed to turn those bullpen innings into something more substantial on a day-to-day basis, and we think we have a player there who can be an impact (player) for us. We clearly needed some help on the offense side of the ball, but it's not like we decimated the pitching staff."

On other topics, Sternberg said:

• The most important issue in determining the best site for a new stadium will be tied to their best chances for improved corporate support.

• After seeing "a pretty significant dropoff" in ticket sales and sponsorships the previous two years, Sternberg said they expect to hold steady, "no worse than last year." He praised the initial efforts of new chief business officer Jeff Cogen to add promotions and change some price points.

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

Rays owner Sternberg sees better team, tougher competition 03/01/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 1, 2016 9:25pm]
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