PORT CHARLOTTE — Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg spoke about the team’s chances for success, the potential to make in-season additions and developments in the search for a new stadium during a 30-minute media session today in Port Charlotte.
Among the highlights:
* He feels “great” about the team going into this season based on the moves it has made and sees 90 wins as a baseline goal. "How can you not be optimistic?'' he said. "But, having said that, it’s all relative to expectations. ...
"Any year that the Tampa Bay Rays can come in with an expectation or I have a belief that we can be a 90-win baseball team — can be, not will be, should be, ought to be — we sign up for it and feel great about it. I think we can be a 90-win team again. Whether it bears out, or we end up winning 75 or 94, that’s why we play the games. ... Our goal is to get to 90 and see where that leaves us.''
He also noted that he was optimistic about the team last season when most others around the game were pessimistic.
* That optimism is based in part on the restructuring of the organization over the last four years following the departure of former baseball operations chief Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon.
Also, on the success the Rays had last year both at the major-league level — after trading several veteran players and showcasing their young core — and in the minors. "It was a ’10′ of a year for us,'' he said.
* Infielders Joey Wendle and Daniel Robertson are among the key players in his mind, but the bullpen is the most pivotal area of the team and they plan to take their chances with the guys they have. "All those guys (other players and starters) and everybody could do everything they’re supposed to, but if the bullpen is not there, it all turns to garbage,'' he said. "And if the bullpen does its job ... I think we’re going to be in really great shape this year.''
* In retrospect given the collapse of talks for a planned stadium in Ybor City, Sternberg said the team could have “pushed Hillsborough (officials) a little bit harder sooner” to try to get details of a deal pinned down, though he doesn’t know if that "would have changed anything.'' But he said that wasn’t his style to demand action or threaten to pull out.
* The Rays will need a few months to analyze and decide on the viability of building a new stadium and meet with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman "some point in the summer.'' Sternberg said they are well aware that city and Pinellas County officials view that decision as time-sensitive related to other projects. "We’re not going to stand in the way of progress, and we want to be part of it,'' but they need some time to sort through the options.
* A decision on the feasibility of a new stadium in St. Petersburg will be based on both funding for the stadium and support for the team, as well as Major League Baseball approval. "I think the support part of it is much more important than the funding part, but the funding part is incredibly important,'' he said. "If we had 30,000-35,000 walking through the door every night and we had naming rights and we had big sponsors, the funding would be a lay up. But if we continue to have 8,000, 12,000, 15,000 a night and not expand our sponsorship roles, it could be all the funding in the world and it’s meaningless.''
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* The decision to make the Trop cash-free was his idea, and he is convinced fans will appreciate the change once they get used to it. "That’s on me,'' he said.