BOSTON — Erik Neander certainly would have had the opportunity, like his previous boss and several top executives under him, to leave the Rays to run a franchise in a bigger market with a larger payroll, fewer challenges and less uncertainty about its future.
He apparently had no interest in doing so.
In a decision he called “frankly, pretty easy,” Neander, 38, agreed to a multiyear contract extension to stay with the team he joined as an intern in 2007 and swap his general manager title to become president of baseball operations. Terms of the new deal, or for that matter the old one, have not been made public.
“All of the reasons that I initially wanted to work in baseball, I have them here,” Neander said Wednesday on a Zoom call from his Tampa home. “Me and my family are well taken care of. This place is like family to me. And we’ve been able to win. We can talk about all the other stuff all we want. But we’ve done a pretty good job of winning games here. And that’s important.”
Since Neander took over as the top baseball executive going into the 2018 season, the Rays have won more games (314 through Tuesday) than all but the Dodgers (329) and Astros (320), and they are headed toward a third consecutive postseason berth for the first time in franchise history.
As much as the victories are rewarding and winning a first championship is motivating, Neander said working with the Rays — with their low revenues, payroll limitations, better-funded opponents and the potential for relocation due to stadium and attendance issues — is too good of a situation to leave, from principal owner Stuart Sternberg to all levels of the baseball operations staff.
“So much of it comes to how I’ve been treated and, I hope, in turn been able to pass that along to others that are here,” Neander said. “It’s a blast to work here. I feel like there’s a lot of unfinished business. We’ve been lucky to win a lot of games, but we haven’t won the games that ultimately matter most. And that’s something we’re still going to chase.
“But the journey, the experiences along the way with this group, it’s all I could ever ask for with all the support I could ever ask for. ... This is the dream job for me.”
Plus, as Neander said later, he actually enjoys the challenges: “A win here is more satisfying to me, personally, I think to a lot of us, than a win anywhere else.”
Neander joined the Rays as an intern to help build a database but started by driving team officials to and from the airport. He impressed enough to get hired fulltime in October 2007 and quickly worked his way up through baseball operations, named vice president of baseball operations in October 2014 after then-baseball chief Andrew Friedman left for the Dodgers. Two years later, Neander was named general manager. He became the top executive a year later, as Matt Silverman shifted back to team president duties.
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Neander has engineered a massive overhaul of the roster, including trading some of their biggest names (such as Evan Longoria and Blake Snell) and rebuilding the farm system into one of the game’s best.
Giving Neander the president title puts the Rays in line with the structure of other teams and lessens the chance of them trying to lure Neander with the offer of a promotion. The Rays don’t plan to otherwise change the structure of their department or, as other teams have done, name/hire a general manager.
While the Rays don’t typically conduct major business during the season, Silverman’s answer on the timing seemed to indicate the announcement was aimed to let others — internally and externally — know that Neander isn’t going anywhere. (Also, the deal was agreed to a while ago.)
“A lot of it is driven by the industry itself,” Silverman said. “This is the time of year when baseball operations employees will get new contracts, and so we thought it was helpful to our entire organization for them to know this information, whether it’s new or not. ... I think that clarity is important as we continue to build the baseball operations departments, build out the organization and continue the progress that we’ve made.”
Neander said reports of past and potential future interest from other teams, such as the Mets, was “flattering,” but his focus — “honestly” — has been only with the Rays.
“We have what we need here to win,” he said. “And that’s a lot of the people that are here.”
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