Rays officials talk confidently about returning to playoff contention in 2015, primarily due to a deep rotation that looks to be among the American League's best.
But what moves they make over the next couple of months — and there will be some — will tell more about their direction, whether it's the expected dealing of spare parts such as OFs Matt Joyce and/or David DeJesus, cutting salary by dumping higher-priced veterans (SS Yunel Escobar? 1B James Loney? RHP Grant Balfour?) or getting lured into a larger breakup, with OF Wil Myers and INF/OF Ben Zobrist among topics of winter meeting conversations.
Also interesting will be how they fill the coaching vacancy and potentially shuffle the staff.
Given that new manager Kevin Cash is 37 and has never managed a game, the standard move would be to hire an older and wiser bench coach who has big-league managing experience, a Don Zimmer type. At least that way, there would be someone in the dugout on April 6 who has managed a major-league game. Manny Acta (who was a managerial candidate), Ron Gardenhire, Jim Tracy, Dave Trembley and Ron Washington would be those kind of guys.
But Rays baseball operations president Matt Silverman points out, almost defiantly, that they don't typically do what's expected and see the fit with Cash and the rest of the staff as much more important than the resume.
That could make this more of a philosophical discussion than a simple hire.
Also factors are that the Rays like to promote from within, need to add a Spanish speaker to the staff and would benefit from having at least one more coach to throw batting practice, joining pitching coach Jim Hickey and hitting coaches Derek Shelton and Jamie Nelson (who would be better off not so they can watch more). And it's at least a question if Cash, put in a somewhat unusual position of inheriting most of a staff, gets to hire one of his own guys.
Many scenarios are being talked about, such as shifting 3B coach Tom Foley to bench duties and filling that opening, and/or dropping 1B coach George Hendrick to make two hires (though doing so could leave them without a black coach).
Longtime Triple-A manager Charlie Montoyo (who speaks Spanish and throws BP) is getting strong support from some in the organization for a promotion to fill an opening. There is also talk about Rocco Baldelli, the ex-player now in the front office who would be an outside-the-box hire to add a bright mind to the staff, and minor-league hitting coordinator Chad Mottola, old buddies with Cash.
Another option is to go outside for someone sharp who has coaching but not managing experience, with former Devil Ray Eduardo Perez and current Royals coach Pedro Grifol — both, like Cash, FSU products — among many possibilities.
RAYS RUMBLINGS: If the Rays do promote Montoyo, the likely in-house candidate to replace him in Durham is Jared Sandberg, who managed last year at Class A Charlotte. … The Phillies, who started their remodel by dealing Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers, are expected to give in and eat most of the $60 million owed to dump Ryan Howard, who still could be of interest to the Rays. … Nationally known baseball writer Peter Gammons tweeted, "If (the Yankees' Masahiro) Tanaka isn't fully healthy, the only legit no. 1 starter in the AL East is Alex Cobb." … Expect an experienced reliever or two to be added on minor-league deals. … A full week of Thanksmas events, with current/former Rays and staff providing meals to the needy, kicks off Monday at The Sallie House in St. Petersburg. … Sun Sports will provide live coverage of Cash's Monday 1 p.m. news conference at the Trop. … The Rays put veteran scout Kevin Elfering, who had been a supervisor, back in charge of the fruitful Florida area and hired California scouts Alan Hull, Jaime Jones and Greg Whitworth. … A difference in Silverman running the winter meetings "war room" rather than Andrew Friedman: The staff got to go to sleep, with no all-nighters.
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.