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Matt Silverman Is Making the Tampa Bay Rays His Own

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When Matt Silverman replaced Andrew Friedman, it was unclear how much of the Tampa Bay Rays he would change. Was he going to maintain the practices that had turned the team into a contender or make adjustments to address the flaws that had developed in the franchise over time? Well, the past few days have given us our answer. Silverman is deviating from the Rays’ status quo and reshaping the team as should have been done long ago.

Let’s start with Silverman’s recent roster moves. Designating Jose Molina for assignment might seem like a no-brainer as his defense and pitch framing skills can’t compensate for his inability to hit. Molina turns 40 next year, and he’s unlikely to get better. The Rays signed him to a two-year contract when he was 38, a risky proposition even for a catcher that David Price could not get enough of.

The Rays will have to pay Molina’s $2.75 million salary for 2015 unless a team improbably claims him off waivers. That’s not a large amount for many baseball teams, but it is significant for the Rays. However, Silverman was not going to use the money as an excuse to keep Molina around now that he is no longer a productive player.

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Trading Joel Peralta and Adam Liberatore to the Dodgers for Jose Dominguez and Greg Harris sends a similar message. Peralta was an important reliever for the Rays for a long time, but that changed this season. Joe Maddon kept running him out there last year, even when he clearly had lost his effectiveness. Even if he pitches better in 2015, it won’t make a difference–the Rays have younger options with the ability to be just as effective and be pieces of their long-term plans.

By getting rid of both Molina and Peralta, Silverman is sending a message that everyone needs to produce to stay on the roster. The Rays have become known for removing emotion from their decisions as they traded players like Price, James Shields, and Matt Garza, but they wound up becoming overly attached to players like Molina and Peralta. Silverman is done making questionable decisions because of past performance. Hopefully by doing so he will motivate the Rays’ current players in their workouts this offseason because they know that they could be next.

It is also not as though the Rays got rid of Molina, Peralta, and Cesar Ramos for nothing. Trading Peralta and Ramos netted the Rays three interesting pitching prospects in Dominguez, Harris, and Mark Sappington. Dominguez could be a part of their bullpen this offseason and in coming years while Harris and Sappington have the upside to be impact players for the Rays as well.

The Rays did designate Molina for assignment and will likely receive nothing in return for him, but the reason they did so was to make room on their 40-man roster for Grayson Garvin. The team could have added Ryan Brett, Justin O’Conner, Matt Andriese, and Mikie Mahtook to their roster without saying goodbye to Molina, but Silverman realized how little sense that would make. The Rays were not going to keep Molina in favor of a pitching prospect in Garvin with the potential to be a number three starter or better and a high probability of becoming at least a bullpen arm.

The other way that Matt Silverman has put his stamp on the team is in the manager search. By publicly interviewing ten candidates with various levels of experience, Silverman showed a willingness to think outside the box. The bigger surprise, though, was the final three candidates in the search. Longtime bench coach Dave Martinez did not make the cut as Silverman decided to transition away from Joe Maddon and the old regime. While Martinez is a bright guy, Silverman recognized that the Rays could not afford to live in the past and pretend like nothing would change with Maddon gone.

Despite his three championship rings, Giants bench coach Ron Wotus didn’t make the cut either. Wotus looked like the next Maddon thanks to his 17 years as a coach for San Francisco Giants, but Silverman proved definitively that he was not looking for a new manager, not a new Joe Maddon, in his search.

Among those who did make the cut, Kevin Cash and Raul Ibanez seemed like they would never have a chance at the Rays’ managerial opening, but maybe that is exactly the point. No matter who the Rays have at manager, they will continue implementing the statistical analysis that has set them apart. They don’t need another Joe Maddon as a figurehead to justify their defensive shifts and everything along those lines–they just needed someone willing to work with them. Don Wakamatsu does look a little bit more like Maddon and could be the safest choice of the three, but that may be the reason that he will not get the job.

Matt Silverman has not yet pulled off a blockbuster trade and we have yet to see who his final managerial choice will be. However, slowly but surely he is making the moves that are turning the Rays into his team and closing the door on the Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman era. This is a new Tampa Bay Rays franchise now, and Silverman will do everything in his power to make it a better one.

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