When a team like the Tampa Bay Rays has a series of successful seasons, GMs, managers, and fans come to expect a consistent level of performance. Managers start to say, “Joe performed well for me last year, and I need him to play like that this year so we have a chance to win.” So they stick with their key players while they’re struggling, and that can lead to disastrous results. The next thing you know you have a closer who can’t get anyone out and a right fielder hitting .220 with no power, and you’re out of the race by June.
After the Rays’ 2013 playoff run, Andrew Friedman doubled down on the veterans who performed well that year, giving multi-year deals to Yunel Escobar, David DeJesus, and James Loney. He acquired more veteran help like Grant Balfour and Ryan Hanigan. As we know, most of the Rays’ hitters did not live up to expectations last season, yet Joe Maddon was his usual upbeat self through most of the season.
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Maddon is known for loyalty to his players, and for creating a positive clubhouse atmosphere. That approach worked wonderfully when the Rays were running off a streak of 90-win seasons. However, when things got tough in 2014, it seemed Maddon was reluctant to make changes. It was clear by mid-May that Balfour couldn’t get anyone out yet Maddon kept putting him out there until the middle of June. He hoped that his veterans closer would turn himself around, but he stuck with him beyond the point the reason.
It’s possible that the Rays didn’t believe their young players were ready. Friedman and Maddon also may have thought they owed the group that came so close in 2013 another chance to win. But now that Friedman and Maddon are gone, will Matt Silverman start getting rid of underperforming veterans and infusing the team with youth? Trading Cesar Ramos appears to be a step in that direction.
Ramos, 30, pitched for the Rays for four years, and was a serviceable long reliever most of the way through. He had some value to the Rays as an emergency starter and an innings-eater in blowout games. He was also making only $750,000 last year. On the other hand, he was never going to be more than a spot-starter for the team and the Rays had several viable options at Triple-A with the ability to be better. Trading Ramos for a promising minor league arm like Mark Sappington was a great first trade by Silverman.
I wouldn’t expect Matt Silverman to launch a massive team restructuring. The Rays’ economic situation will probably keep them from pursuing any expensive free agents. Their minor league pitching is strong, but they have position-player prospects who are big league-ready. They also have several players locked into long term deals, for better or for worse.
At the end of the day, though, the Cesar Ramos trade is a perfect example of Silverman finding a subtle way to give the Rays’ minor league options a chance, and look for a similar move or two before the offseason is through. The Rays need to find a way to move past the mistakes that derailed their 2013 season, and being less forgiving with their disappointing veterans is a good place to start.