BOSTON -- The Rays agreed to a multiyear extension with Erik Neander on Wednesday and named him president of baseball operations, promoting him from his previous title of general manager/senior vice president and ensuring that their top baseball operations official will remain right where he wants to be.
Neander, 38, began his tenure with the Rays as a baseball operations intern in 2007, was hired full-time later that year and has worked for Tampa Bay ever since. This is his fourth season as the organization’s top-ranking baseball official, and during that time he’s overseen the creation of a Major League roster that is once again among the best in the American League, along with a Minor League system that ranks among the best in baseball.
“It was a dream opportunity then, and it's a dream opportunity now,” Neander said on a Zoom call Wednesday evening. “There's been plenty of mistakes and misfires and growth along the way, but also a lot of wins. And I think with this, I can guarantee that the mistakes and the growth will certainly continue, and it's our goal and belief that our collective efforts will lead to our best wins still being ahead of us.”
Terms of Neander’s deal were not made available, so it is unclear how long he is under contract with Tampa Bay. Speaking before the Rays’ game against the Red Sox on Wednesday night, Neander thanked principal owner Stu Sternberg, team presidents Matt Silverman and Brian Auld, Tampa Bay’s players and staff and his wife, Jessica, for their support during his time at the helm.
“It's a blast to work here. I feel like there's a lot of unfinished business,” Neander said. “We've been lucky to win a lot of games, but we haven't found a way to win 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 from Matt, from Brian, from Stu.
“This is the dream job for me, for all the things that are most important to me and my family.”
Coming off a run of four straight losing seasons from 2014-17, the Rays under Neander have grown back into an annual postseason contender despite having one of the Majors’ lowest payrolls. They won 90 games in '18, reached the AL Division Series in '19, made it to the World Series last year and entered Wednesday night poised for their third straight postseason appearance with an AL-best 88-51 record and the AL’s top run differential (+180).
Despite losing former high-ranking executives like Andrew Friedman to the Dodgers, Chaim Bloom to the Red Sox and James Click to the Astros, the Rays’ front office under Neander has remained at the forefront of the industry in terms of its ingenuity, creativity and ability to get the most out of players. That has them poised to reach the playoffs for the third straight year, which the franchise has never previously accomplished.
The Rays have built a consistently competitive roster with smart signings, savvy trades and a deep, productive player-development system that’s been a priority under Neander, who was named MLB's Executive of the Year in 2019. This season, they have promoted rookie shortstop Wander Franco and several other top prospects to the Majors, while maintaining MLB Pipeline’s sixth-ranked farm system.
“You look at the senior staff of baseball operations, it's a group that wants to be together, that loves working together, and I think that's the special chemistry that Erik has helped foster -- and that's what fuels our success,” Silverman said. “And it's a fun place to work. There's some creative freedoms and creative license that we have, and we've taken advantage of that, and it makes it even more fun and even more rewarding.
“It's great to have Erik on board, and I think part of his choice in being here is because of the environment and the culture that he has helped create.”
Silverman noted that Neander’s elevation to president of baseball operations, despite the new title, does not really alter his job description. The Rays don’t plan to immediately name a new GM under Neander, and he’ll still lead the department.
But Wednesday’s announcement will solidify Neander’s status with the Rays and presumably suppress any speculation about the possibility of him departing for a higher-ranking job in a bigger market, as Friedman did after the 2014 season when he left Tampa Bay for Los Angeles.
“At the end of the day, all of the reasons that I initially wanted to work in baseball, I have them here," Neander said. "Me and my family are well taken care of. This place is like family to me. 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.”
Indeed, the Rays have improved each season under Neander. Over the last four years, only the Dodgers and Astros have won more games despite Tampa Bay’s low-revenue status and position in the challenging AL East division.
“We're incredibly well-positioned because of Erik's leadership,” said Silverman, who previously held the title of president of baseball operations during his three-year stretch overseeing the department. “On an annual basis, it's about winning baseball games at the Major League level and competing for a World Series, but it goes so many layers beyond that. It's that dedication and that attention to all those facets of the operation that really distinguishes Erik. He invests in all parts and in all people in the organization, and it shows.”