PORT CHARLOTTE — Chaim Bloom was about a year into full-time work at the bottom rung of what was then still the Devil Rays baseball operations department when he met Erik Neander, who had come down to the 2006 winter meetings in Orlando seeking to interview for an internship of his own.
After a couple of 0-for days, Neander got the gig. And a collaboration that began the next spring, when Bloom asked for a list of under-the-radar reliever candidates and Neander came up with Clay Rapada and not much else, has grown considerably over 10 years.
From (barely) paid interns, the 33-year-olds will sit with manager Kevin Cash at today's spring-training-opening news conference as the men leading the daily operation of the Rays' baseball operations department.
The setup is somewhat different. In November both were named senior vice presidents, with Neander also the general manager, and both are working under baseball operations president Matt Silverman, giving the Rays, in essence, a three-headed department.
"It is a unique structure," Silverman said. "But it works because of the uniqueness of their paths and the relationship they've been able to form over a decade."
Where some see potential for delays or paralysis — with decisions needing to be double- or triple-checked — or even dysfunction and missed opportunity, as some on the outside claim, the Rays say it is a better way to use and apply their resources and can actually be expediting.
"There are three of us that can make decisions for the department," Silverman said. "If one person is responsible for the final stamp on decisions, it can slow things down. Knowing three of us, if not more, are empowered to make decisions and keep our operations running smoothly and effectively, that's a real advantage.
"And that comes back to the trust. Because of that trust and because of the working relationship we've developed, we can be more nimble because more of us can give those green lights that are necessary."
The days of an old-school GM single-handedly running a team are long gone, given the complexities, higher stakes and advances in information and technology. Several, if not most, teams have gone to a two-man leadership structure, with a president and a GM. The Rays, not atypically, are the ones taking it further with a trio.
For trade talks, each of the three is responsible for talking to one-third of the teams based on each's strongest relationships, such as Neander with Mariners GM Jerry DiPoto, with whom the Rays have made multiple deals. Then they reconvene or electronically share information. There is a similar approach to dealing with free agents. Major decisions are going to be a group effort, with principal owner Stuart Sternberg "the ultimate authority."
For negotiations or issues with their players, the split is more ad hoc. Neander called to tell Logan Forsythe he'd been traded; Bloom informed Enny Romero he was dealt. Media responsibilities have been shared, sometimes alternated. And another top executive, James Click, headed up the arbitration cases.
The focus, compared to the more autonomous regime of former baseball chief Andrew Friedman, is clearly on inclusive decision-making. Silverman insists their process is good and that any chatter around the game about them being slow to respond "may get confused with us just being deliberate."
But couldn't this be problematic? What if, for example, agent Scott Boras called one of three tonight with a take-it-or-leave-it $13 million offer to sign catcher Matt Wieters, with whom they have considerable interest?
Silverman said that because of extensive prep work and discussion of parameters and communication, any of the three would know the right answer: "If we got to that point, we'd feel comfortable regardless of who actually was on the phone."
That trust is rooted in experience and relationships. Bloom, who has interviewed for at least two GM jobs (Brewers, Phillies) and turned down the Diamondbacks, and Neander are similar in their enthusiasm and tireless efforts but have different strengths. Neander got the GM title, Silverman said, given "a particular focus on our player evaluation and procurement process," and Bloom's responsibilities have included international scouting, player development and contract work. More personal, Neander is louder and the better athlete, Bloom more sagacious.
"We over time have developed a high level of trust in one another," Neander said. "The special areas of passion, of interest, of focus and where our minds naturally wander, we cover one another really well in that regard."
After 10 years of working together, the two former interns are now teamed at the top.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.