At this point last year, Rays execs were privately plotting a major roster reconstruction.
They let 10 players walk as free agents and traded a half-dozen big-name veterans, including franchise cornerstone Evan Longoria, before opening day 2018, and shipped out another eight during the season.
Mocked and doubted at the time, their plan to transition to a young core worked pretty well, as we all learned, with 90 wins and the consolation prize of the best record of teams that didn't make the playoffs.
This winter will be different.
Sure, some familiar names will be gone. Neither free agent OF Carlos Gomez nor RHP Sergio Romo are expected back. Upgrades seem likely for arbitration-eligible 1B/DH C.J. Cron (despite 30 homers) and C Jesus Sucre. A glut of lefty-hitting outfielders (and overall) creates the potential to trade Mallex Smith or, less likely, Kevin Kiermaier.
"The expectations are up,'' GM Erik Neander said. "We go into next year off the season we had, we want to improve. And to improve on the number of wins we had this year should put us in the territory where we're expecting playoffs.
"How to go about doing that? How to achieve it? How to balance the depth that we have? We have a lot of puzzle pieces, now it's a matter of which ones fit and which ones can be repurposed.
"I don't think we're forecasting an active winter, so to speak. But there's a lot that we need to think through to make sure we're as competitive as we can be and as functional as we can be, and not just a young, talented team.''
With a committed payroll around $32 million, that should include signing or trading for an impact player or two, which really would be different.
Rays bench coach Charlie Montoyo is scheduled to interview Tuesday for the Reds manager job, the first of several such opportunities expected for him and major-league field coordinator Rocco Baldelli this offseason. 3B coach Matt Quatraro's name also might come up. Senior VP Chaim Bloom, appropriately, is being included in speculation for some GM-type jobs.
On the pitch
With much we still don't know about the Rays' purchase of the Rowdies (including the price), collaborating on athlete training, recovery and injury prevention is certainly intriguing. Also, the potential of playing an international "friendly" match at the Trop, and the possibility of Rays pitchers using Al Lang Stadium for outdoor running/throwing in advance of summer road trips. There is zero talk of Rowdies games augmenting programming on the supposedly still-not-done new Rays TV deal.
With John Gibbons (Blue Jays) and Buck Showalter (Orioles) gone, Kevin Cash goes into his fifth season with the Rays as the most senior AL East manager. He also matches the Astros' A.J. Hinch for fourth-most tenured in the AL and Hinch and the Cubs' Joe Maddon for sixth in the majors. … Joey Wendle made Baseball America's all-rookie team, but the Angels' Shohei Ohtani was the choice for top rookie. … Adding to unexpected honors, Wendle was also the Rays nominee (over Cron) for the Hank Aaron Award recognizing the most outstanding offensive performer. … AL wild-card games analysts for TBS and ex-pitchers Ron Darling and Dennis Eckersley both endorsed LHP Blake Snell for the AL Cy Young Award. … Though sidelined twice by oblique injuries at Class A Charlotte, Brendan McKay will continue his two-way regimen as a 1B/DH and starting pitcher in 2019. … Trop in-game host Angella Sharpe, who was a welcome upgrade and did good work, is expected back. … One name to at least ponder signing if he doesn't get the big bucks deal he seeks elsewhere: Wilson Ramos as a DH/catcher. … With 20th anniversary season merchandise discounted, the Trop team store is open 10-6 Monday-Friday, 10-4 Saturday. … The Rays were among teams at Friday's Miami workout for Cuban free agents Victor Victor Mesa, Victor Mesa Jr. and Sandy Gaston. … Nov. 14 is the date for the Cy Young Award announcement. … Principal owner Stuart Sternberg told Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano that corporate support will be "the linchpin that informs our contribution size" for the planned Ybor City stadium. … Seventeen-year-old INF Wander Franco zoomed up to No. 14 on mlbpipeline.com's final prospect rankings, joined by four other Rays: McKay, 24; RHP Brent Honeywell, 28; OF Jesus Sanchez, 33; LHP Matt Liberatore, 61.