Known for his usually colorful and oft contrived metaphors in describing people around the game, influential agent Scott Boras has an apparent sweet spot for Rays baseball operations president Erik Neander.
“I always tell Erik, you know what you remind me of? You’re an ice cream maker,” Boras said. “But I never know what flavor I’m going to get. He’s always churning.”
Neander is working on his next batch, sorting through myriad scenarios and multiple trade options that will shape the Rays’ 2024 roster, the seventh season under his watch as their top executive.
As usual with the Rays, there will be difficult choices of who to deal and what to get for them, which Neander is used to. The first big deal he made after taking the lead chair in November 2017 was trading franchise icon Evan Longoria, more focused on saving about $60 million than the return.
Other familiar faces he has shipped out include Willy Adames, Chris Archer, Ji-Man Choi, Alex Colome, Corey Dickerson, Nathan Eovaldi, Nathaniel Lowe, Austin Meadows, Tommy Pham, Jake Odorizzi, Blake Snell, Steven Souza Jr. and Joey Wendle.
Though Neander has insisted the Rays could keep their squad relatively intact while running the payroll to a by-far franchise-record $125 million as they seek to extend their streak of making the playoffs to six straight years, it is more likely he will deal several players.
Most likely to go is front-line starter Tyler Glasnow and his $25 million salary, perhaps soon. Others the Rays would like to move include outfielder Manuel Margot and DH Harold Ramirez.
In those cases, Neander’s goal is to get the best deal. Tougher calls may have to made as they get inquiries on key players such as outfielder Randy Arozarena and third baseman Isaac Paredes, who they’d rather keep for now but have to be mindful of growing future salaries.
Manager Kevin Cash, entering his 10th season, said he is comfortable waiting to see what happens.
“Totally trust our front office,” Cash said. “Erik does a good job of listening to everybody. He’s going to continue to listen. And then he’ll make those decisions.”
Second baseman Brandon Lowe, the Rays’ longest-tenured position player, said he has seen enough since his August 2018 debut to appreciate that Neander knows what he is doing in making deals that are best for the franchise now and going forward.
“You put that faith in Erik and that trust in the front office to understand that they’re not going to break the team down and make us lose 120 games,” Lowe said. “They want to be competitive, and we have been competitive, and we’re going to keep being competitive, no matter what group gets put up in that clubhouse.
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“And we know that that group that we come into spring training with is going to mesh together. It always has. For the five years that I’ve come through, there’s always been new faces. And there always will be new faces, and they always fit in great and always contribute.
“So if we make some blockbuster moves or surprising moves and fans don’t get it at the time, or maybe we might not even get it at the time, there’s reasons for every move. And the person that’s making those moves has an idea and a future and vision for all of it.”
Neander understands the burden that comes with the role, as the Rays opt for the steady churn to remain competitive annually rather than a more volatile cycle of extensive teardowns and multi-year rebuilds, which can provide cover for the person in his role.
“A lot of it is the path that we’ve chosen that we feel like gives us the best chance to compete on a regular basis, a yearly basis,” Neander said at the winter meetings in Nashville. “It’s a necessary component of it. It’s hard because you invest so much time and energy into these people, you really commit to them, you pour yourself into it and help them all be as good as they can be. ...
“But every situation has their difficulties and challenges and by no means (do) I want to paint a picture that asks for any sort of sympathy or anything like that. We’re proud of our wins, we’re proud of how we take care of people and treat them, and that should continue.”
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