ST. PETERSBURG -- Three months after elevating Erik Neander’s title to president of baseball operations, the Rays promoted Peter Bendix to the role of general manager as part of a realignment in their front office.
Tampa Bay’s highest-level change on Thursday was the promotion of Bendix to GM and senior vice president of baseball operations, the role Neander held before he was promoted (with an accompanying contract extension) in early September. Neander is still running the Rays’ ever-expanding baseball operations department, but he said Bendix will function as an “interchangeable partner” with an increased emphasis on overseeing the Major League club.
“I'm very flattered. I'm very honored,” said Bendix, who is entering his 14th season with the Rays. “But really, the thing that I'm most honored is that the organization trusts me, the organization gives me this opportunity and I get to work with these incredible people."
Thursday’s announcement won’t significantly change how the Rays do business. Bendix already played a big part in player evaluations, acquisitions and roster management in his previous role as vice president of baseball development -- especially down the stretch of Tampa Bay's 100-win campaign in 2021. But this structure puts the Rays in line with the recent industry trend of clubs placing both a president and GM atop the baseball operations department to manage the increasing big-picture and day-to-day demands of the job.
“Like everything that we at least try to do, we're looking for ways to get better. And we're an increasingly large, complex operation,” Neander said. “Something that certainly requires greater guidance and adaptability and oversight, and this structure … will help us improve in critical areas beyond tending to our day-to-day tasks -- things that are really important to us including, but not limited to, our ability to lead with care and to strengthen trust across our entire operation, staff hiring, staff development, staff fulfillment, certainly driving innovation.
“Certainly a group that I would consider to be adaptive and really well-positioned to handle wherever the game evolves from here and however it evolves from here.”
The Rays now have one senior vice president (Bendix) under Neander as well as three VPs: Chanda Lawdermilk and Will Cousins, who were also promoted Thursday, along with Carlos Rodriguez.
Lawdermilk was promoted to vice president of baseball operations from her previous role as director of staff development and recruiting. Lawdermilk, who has 15 years of experience in recruiting and talent development in baseball, will be charged with managing the club’s efforts to increase diversity and maintain the club’s culture while also moving into what Neander called “more traditional baseball operations roles” over time.
“There's certainly a close relationship between the strength of our staff and the success that we have on the field. And regarding the former, there's no one that's been more influential in improving those efforts and the importance of them over the last few years than she has been,” Neander said of Lawdermilk, the first woman to reach the VP level in the Rays’ baseball operations department. “I just can't speak enough to the importance of this role, her qualifications for it and to have someone that is just fully dedicated to our staff and all aspects of it.”
Having served as the director of baseball research and development since 2019, Cousins was promoted to vice president of baseball development, the title Bendix previously held. Cousins will now oversee the Rays’ renowned baseball research and development group.
“These are high-character people that get along well, that care about our staff, that provide complementary passions, skills, backgrounds, and care about relationships and care about our people,” Neander said.
Rodriguez, entering his 12th season with the Rays and third as VP, had his title changed from “vice president, player development and international operations” to “vice president, baseball operations” to better represent his all-encompassing job description that also includes overseeing the club’s international operations and performance science group.
“It is as heavy a plate as anyone has here,” Neander said.
Bendix, 36, joined the Rays as an intern in 2009, returned for another internship in '10, then moved up as an assistant of baseball operations, coordinator of baseball research and development, director of baseball development, VP of baseball development and now senior VP/GM. Neander described Bendix as “a significant contributor” to the Rays’ recent success and said his promotion was “really well deserved.”
“I've grown up here. This is my 14th season, I think -- which can't possibly be accurate, but somehow it is,” Bendix said, smiling. “Getting a chance to work with Carlos and Chanda and Will and everyone else in our department, it's a huge honor. It truly is.”
The Rays hope that elevating Bendix to GM will free up Neander to take on a more holistic role as baseball operations president. Neander estimated he’s spent “roughly 90 percent” of his time concentrated on the Major League club, but having Bendix take on more of those responsibilities will allow him to focus on other areas.
“I probably would like to spread my time a little differently than I have in the last few years,” Neander said. “When you look at what's most important to sustaining our success, to growing our success and to maintaining a lot of the things that are really important to the way we want to operate -- caring for people, the morale, all those things that really matter to what we've done here -- I don't think that spending 5-10 percent of my time beyond the Major League club is ideal in order to keep that going.”
Additionally, Cole Figueroa -- a former Rays infielder -- was promoted from assistant director of hitting development to director of baseball operations. Taylor Smith, previously a lead analyst in the R&D group, was promoted to director of predictive modeling.
The Rays also announced adjustments to their business operations staff, promoting five VPs to chief officer roles: Rafaela A. Amador Fink (public affairs and communications), Juan Ramirez (technology), Jenn Tran (people and culture), Bill Walsh (business) and Bill Wiener Jr. (people and community).
“We are tremendously proud of our organization’s accomplishments, both on and off the field, during what’s been an incredibly challenging two years,” Rays president Brian Auld said in a statement. “These leaders have been vital to those accomplishments, and we look forward to their continued contributions and impact in their new roles.”