ST. PETERSBURG — Their season of 80-win disappointment just completed, the Rays officially embarked Monday on what looks to be an offseason of considerable change.
Following a morning wrapup media session devoid of any news, word leaked of the first major move, with Tom Foley leaving his bench coach position by mutual decision and taking another role with the team.
Who replaces Foley, a Rays coach since 2002, as the top assistant to manager Kevin Cash and what other changes may be made to his staff for now will be the primary topic of conversation.
But team officials are starting discussions as well on the bigger decisions of how best to restructure the roster after missing the playoffs for a fourth straight season, and how far to go in doing so, knowing principal owner Stuart Sternberg is planning to take the payroll down.
Do they try again, with a seemingly always increasing degree of difficulty, to bolster their roster by taking flyers on second-tier free agents and young players and hope they hit on enough with their limited resources to compete with the big boys in their division?
Or do they in essence surrender, making this the year they take a step back, trading veteran stars such as Chris Archer or even Evan Longoria to stock up on young talent and let the kids they have play?
"Right now, no answers," general manager Erik Neander said at Monday's media session. "We've got a lot of questions on things that were generated over time. Each passing year you spend with your wins and losses short of where you want to be, you ask the questions, and some of them get louder. It's just the way it is naturally.
"I don't think the questions we ask ourselves are much different than the questions that are asked by the people that follow our team very closely, be it our fans or be it the media. But at the end of the day, it's our job to be as disciplined as possible, to be as grounded in reality as possible, to try and remove as much of the emotion from it as possible to make the best decisions possible — again, as possible — for our organization. So it's a question that I think at any point that we ask ourselves, but in the coming week here we'll begin to chart a clearer path."
The sense as of now is that they will continue to compete, feeling they have a stockpile of pitching, even if they deal Jake Odorizzi as seems likely, and a good enough core of position players with, even if they move Corey Dickerson and/or Brad Miller, plus, for the first time in several years, prospects at Triple A who could step in and have an impact, led by Willy Adames and Jake Bauers.
So that gets back to the challenge of getting better, specifically finding their way back to the simple-sounding formula that got them to the playoffs four times in six years — scoring more runs than they allow.
That issue was prime evidence in their demise this season as, despite hitting a team-record 228 home runs and because of striking out an American League-record 1,538 times (third most in major-league history), they finished second to last with 694 runs while allowing 704.
The simple answer seems to be replacing some of the all-or-nothing big swingers with some contact hitters who play good defense, but the challenge of fitting all that together, especially when shopping on a budget, isn't that easy.
Little is for the Rays, and it will be interesting to see what the coaching staff ends up looking like, as third-base coach Charlie Montoyo is expected to interview for several of the open manager jobs. Rays officials declined to comment on the changes until they have an announcement to make.
Foley, 58, said his departure was a mutual decision.
"They were looking to make a change and I wanted to make a change and pretty much contemplated a lot of things this year as the year was going on," he said. "It's worked out great for both sides, I think. And I'll start a new chapter in the Rays organization again."
Details of the new position are still being worked out, but Foley is expected to have an active role with the big-league team and may do some work on the minor-league side.
Foley has been with the Rays pretty much since inception, starting in 1996 in player development before joining Hal McRae's coaching staff in 2002. Having spent 13 years as third-base coach and three on the bench, after playing 13 in the majors, Foley said the travel was "wearing" on him, and he was looking forward to spending more time at his Palm Harbor home.
"I'm sure I'm going to miss it," he said, "but I'm looking forward to doing different things now."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.