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Lamenting another uninspiring offseason of The Rays Way

Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash (16) talks with reporters following an open workout at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Monday, Jan. 23, 2017.
Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash (16) talks with reporters following an open workout at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Monday, Jan. 23, 2017.
Published Jan. 28, 2017

There's a phrase that always comes up when talking about the Rays.

Those who cheer for the Rays use it. As do those who write about them and talk about them.

I've used it. We all use it.

Well, that's just what the Rays do.

It's a catch-all phrase that describes how the Rays build their franchise, how they construct their team.

Well, that's just what the Rays do.

What is that, exactly?

They trade established players for prospects. They sign players coming off bad seasons. They bring in good players coming off injuries.

In fact, that pretty much sums up the Rays' major offseason moves so far.

They traded one of their best hitters, Logan Forsythe, for pitching prospect Jose De Leon. They signed Colby Rasmus, a 30-year-old coming off a season in which he hit .206. They signed Wilson Ramos, who could turn into the best catcher the Rays have ever had, but only after he returns from his second knee surgery in five years.

It's not the kind of offseason that gets people fired up.

What else happened?

The Rays traded Drew Smyly, who was the key piece in the David Price trade in 2014. In the Smyly trade, they picked up … another young guy, outfielder Mallex Smith.

That's what the Rays do.

It's a broken record. And, oh, that broken record was 68-94 last season.

Fans are tired of hearing it. You can bet some of the players have grown weary of it as well.

Sadly, it is the reality of the situation. The Rays front office is doing what it can. They simply don't have the financial means to sign big-ticket free agents or even keep many of their own stars. This isn't breaking news.

In addition, this isn't to suggest that all the moves they make are bad ones. This Forsythe-for-De Leon trade might turn out to be a steal for the Rays. After all, let's stop acting as if the Rays just traded away Ryne Sandberg. Come summer, the Ramos signing might be the shrewdest move in the majors.

But it's always the same kind of moves, and it's always wait-and-see.

Most Rays followers get it. They understand the plan and why it has to be that way. But knowing it doesn't make it any less depressing for fans. They go into an offseason knowing they don't have a prayer of their team getting a guy such as Edwin Encarnacion or Mark Trumbo or even Jose Bautista.

That's depressing.

So is going into the regular season knowing that everything has to go almost perfectly for the Rays to have a chance at hanging in there with the big boys like the Red Sox.

The Rays are not alone in shopping at the dollar store.

Teams such as the Royals, Pirates, Astros, Marlins and A's, among others, play in the same sandbox. They hope to draft well, get lucky with bargain free agents and be really smart when it comes to making trades.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't.

You get brief windows of success followed by stretches of rebuilding. That's where the Rays are now. Rebuilding.

The Rays are trying to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2013. At the same time, they have to be mindful of what this team is going to look like in two years, three years, five years.

So the Rays have two choices, neither of which is ideal.

They can blow the whole thing up and start from scratch, like the Astros did when they lost 100 games three years in a row and, two years later, made the playoffs.

Or the Rays can do what they are doing: get good pitching, build around selected veterans such has Evan Longoria and Kevin Kiermaier, find the right (and cheap) pieces to put around them and hope it all works out.

Will it work? It didn't last season, but that doesn't mean it won't this season.

Wait and see.

But the Rays must realize that frustrated fans aren't going to love them unconditionally.

They'll complain, and rightfully so, if the plan doesn't work. They'll stay away, and rightfully so, if there's another 90-loss season in store. They'll stop following the team if it's no good.

That's just what fans do.