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Rays ready to show they're still strong

Solid ownership, front office will keep club in right direction after departures of GM, skipper
MLB.com @RichardJustice

With all the comings and goings, you might have wondered how things were going with the Tampa Bay Rays. Are the lights still on? Turns out, the Rays are glad you asked.

"New challenges are invigorating, and I feel invigorated," new team president of baseball operations Matt Silverman said. "I think our entire department feels invigorated by this opportunity."

With all the comings and goings, you might have wondered how things were going with the Tampa Bay Rays. Are the lights still on? Turns out, the Rays are glad you asked.

"New challenges are invigorating, and I feel invigorated," new team president of baseball operations Matt Silverman said. "I think our entire department feels invigorated by this opportunity."

If you're crying for the Rays in the wake of the departures of Andrew Friedman to the Dodgers and Joe Maddon to the Cubs, don't. Tampa Bay still has great ownership in Stuart Sternberg, and the club still has Silverman.

Nine years ago, Sternberg, Silverman and Friedman took over the Rays and embraced the challenge of competing with fewer resources in the American League East.

Over the past six seasons, Tampa Bay has averaged 90 victories and made the postseason four times with a payroll that averaged 25th in the Major Leagues. The Rays have been so good in so many areas that virtually every other club has studied their formula, or at least as much of it as they can figure out in terms of analytics and such.

Even with Friedman leaving, the basic front-office structure remains in place. The Rays still have smart people, competitive people, and while the franchise's two most recognizable faces have gone, the Rays believe their success will continue.

"It's a challenge, and we always face a challenge with the Rays, in our division, with the disparity in payrolls," Silverman said. "We thrive on that challenge. We've embraced it. We chose to be a part of it. We chose to be the perennial underdog. We like that role. And so, if others are discounting us even more this year because of the changes, that's just a source of motivation for us."

Rather than go outside the organization to search for a new head of baseball operations, Silverman changed jobs, moving from team president to replace Friedman. If that sounds like an odd move, remember that Silverman comes to the position with the same Wall Street background that shaped Friedman's thinking.

"When Andrew left, it created an opportunity, not just for me but for our entire department to step up and take on more responsibility," Silverman said. "One of our strengths is the talent and depth in our baseball-operations department. And so, we were looking for an easy transition, continuity and the same trust that we've had for the last nine years. We didn't want to bring anyone in from the outside to disturb the order and the chemistry. Stu thought it was a logical move for me to step into Andrew's shoes."

Did he want to?

"We always do contingency planning for our business and need to understand what we'll do if certain situations may arise," Silverman said. "We had considered the possibility of Andrew leaving, or let's say he had to take a leave of absence. What would we do in that situation? I was expected to fill in that role."

To fans concerned that success can't be maintained without Friedman and Maddon, the Rays acknowledge there are challenges and will be challenges, at least until they succeed in getting a new ballpark built.

That said, Silverman said it's important to emphasize that the star players, the men who made things go -- Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist and Alex Cobb and Chris Archer and others -- are still with Tampa Bay.

As Friedman said, "The one thing I'm most confident in is that the Rays are going to be just fine. They're going to be really good next year, and they have a really good group of people."

Silverman agrees, saying, "So much of the Ray way comes from our clubhouse and our players. There's great continuity with the team that we're going to be able to return next year. Those are the guys who go out there and pitch shutouts. Those are the guys who go out there and get those game-winning hits. They are very comfortable with the clubhouse, and they're eager for the next leader to step in and take it to the next level."

Now, Silverman and Sternberg are searching for someone to replace Maddon, the manager who became the face of the franchise. He was a magical hire nine years ago, someone who embraced the analytics furnished by the front office but who also had a tremendous touch with players in terms of keeping the environment fresh.

Tampa Bay has assembled a long list of candidates for the job. Maddon's bench coach, Dave Martinez, is a strong candidate, but the Rays aren't simply handing him the job. Former players Barry Larkin, Doug Glanville and Raul Ibanez are on their list. So are more traditional candidates like respected coaches Ron Wotus of the Giants and Don Wakamatsu of the Royals.

There's a method to casting such a wide net. For one thing, there are no other big league managerial openings at the moment, so the Rays can take their time and consider everyone. Also, typical of their Wall Street backgrounds, they're gathering information and ideas from each of the candidates.

"When Andrew and I conducted the search nine years ago, we learned a lot during that search," Silverman said. "Nine years later, we know a lot more about what we want in a manager, what we need in a manager. The game has changed in that time period. This provides us an opportunity to fine-tune our thinking with respect to how we lead the clubhouse, and we're embracing the opportunity. We are always trying to learn, and we want to maintain an open mind. When we hired Joe, he wasn't an obvious choice. He wasn't a sexy choice. We don't fall prey to industry reputations. We do our own investigation and our diligence and figure out what's best for our club, not just this year, but looking out over the next several years."

Silverman said the Rays are seeking a culture carrier.

"We want someone who is a great communicator, who leads and establishes great trust up and down the organization," Silverman said. "Those are easy qualities to identify, but they're not always simple to find in an individual. That's why we're taking such a deliberate approach to this. We want to make sure we get to know all of our candidates and that we have conviction when we do make a decision."

In the end, the Rays will probably get it right. That's their history. And they don't believe that will change.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U.

Tampa Bay Rays