Let the official autopsy of the Tampa Bay Rays disappointing 2017 campaign begin. On Monday morning, the Rays front office began taking steps toward preparing for 2018 season, when Senior Vice Presidents Chaim Bloom and Erik Neander met with the media, along with Manager Kevin Cash.
(Audio courtesy of Neil Solondz/Rays Radio)
No real epiphanies came out of the media session. Rather Bloom, Neander and Cash reiterated that they feel confident in the core group of players, but they have a lot to determine before they can come up with a cohesive philosophy or plan for next season.
And while they acknowledged that the team is in a better position defensively than it was going into the 2017 season, they also conceded that there are currently more questions than answers. Two huge questions are lingering over the front office staff going into the 2017 Winter Meetings:
- How will they rebuild the bullpen, since three key figures (Tommy Hunter, Steve Cishek, Sergio Romo) that made a huge impact on the team are hitting the free-agent market? Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) wrote about that very topic, saying, “that a good mix helps, and it’s not all about high fastballs at high velocity. Adding Cishek, a sidearmer who gets ground balls to get out of innings, was a huge benefit. Having two different-style lefties in Jose Alvarado and Dan Jennings was also a boost. A variety of looks can be a big plus.”
- How will they balance the powerful, 228 homer hitting team (79 with men were on base) with one that can get on base often and drive in runs? After all, Tampa Bay ranked sixth in the American League (and majors) in home runs, but 14th in the league in runs. That is due in part because they led the AL in strikeouts.
There also were questions about fielding a competitive team that prioritizes run prevention, like the 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2013 Rays.
Cash recognized a lot of positives from this season, but he contends there weren’t enough to overshadow the disappointment of not being in the postseason.
If we begin to start accepting 80 (wins) or something that’s not good enough, said Cash. I don’t know where we’re going.
Evan Longoria mirrored those comments in the clubhouse, saying this season was disappointing because he thought this group was very capable of being one of the five AL playoff contending teams.
Also making waves Monday afternoon, Rays bench coach Tom Foley will be stepping down from his current position to take on a new role with team.
Per Topkin, Foley will take another position in the organization in what was described as a mutual decision between Foley, manager Kevin Cash and team officials.
They were looking to make a change and I wanted to make a change and pretty much contemplated a lot of things this year as the year was going on. It’s worked out great for both sides, I think, and I’ll start a new chapter in the Rays organization again, said Foley who has been with the franchise in some capacity since 1996.
Foley has been a member of the team’s coaching staff for 16 long years (13 years as third base coach, three as the bench coach), and the travel has been “wearing” on him. His new role with the team is as of now undefined, although he is expected to have an active role during Spring Training and the regular season and, as Topkin reported, also may perform special assignment duties on the minor-league side.
All in all Foley is looking forward to spending more time around his home in north Pinellas County while still working in the game.
It is not yet known whether the team will seek to replace Foley internally or externally, or if another other changes might be made to Cash’s staff.
Of note, current third base coach Charlie Montoyo is said to be on a list of candidates for the newly vacated managerial position with the New York Mets, and it remains to be seen whether he might be considered for a promotion within the Rays. Team officials likely will not comment until they officially announce the moves.