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Rays could get creative when assembling 'pen

Tampa Bay exploring possibilities, such as utility players allowing for extra reliever
MLB.com @wwchastain

ST. PETERSBURG -- Circumstances helped usher the Rays into a new bullpen era in 2015. Now some of those ideas have been adopted throughout the Major Leagues -- particularly during the past two postseasons -- and Tampa Bay is continuing to explore better ways to line up its pitching from starter to closer for any given game.

In Kevin Cash's first year as Rays manager in 2015, he experienced firsthand why skippers get gray hair as injuries put several starters on the shelf in the early going and Alex Cobb missed the entire season due to Tommy John surgery.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Circumstances helped usher the Rays into a new bullpen era in 2015. Now some of those ideas have been adopted throughout the Major Leagues -- particularly during the past two postseasons -- and Tampa Bay is continuing to explore better ways to line up its pitching from starter to closer for any given game.

In Kevin Cash's first year as Rays manager in 2015, he experienced firsthand why skippers get gray hair as injuries put several starters on the shelf in the early going and Alex Cobb missed the entire season due to Tommy John surgery.

The situation left Tampa Bay with a lot of young starting pitchers, and it prompted the idea of shorter outings. Allowing the starter to go twice through the order seemed like a good idea based on how the numbers against opposing hitters got worse the third time through, so the Rays tried it out.

They experienced some resistance, but now the twice-through-the-order idea for maximum effectiveness has gained momentum. The effect of that strategy has placed a greater premium on bullpens.

Video: Cash jokes about evolving view of pitching staff

At the recently completed Winter Meetings, Cash told reporters that the Rays are examining all kinds of possibilities -- even adding extra utility players so that their positional flexibility would allow them to carry an eighth reliever.

"We're discussing it right now," Cash said. "We do need to find a little bit more information as far as our roster, how the bullpen is going to shake out. But I think there's going to be opportunities where if we're really versatile with that utility role that a guy that can play infield and outfield, it might allow to us carry an extra reliever at times throughout the season.

"We'll always adjust depending on the state of the game and what our situation is as far as health in the bullpen and our rotation. But you want to be able to have that flexibility, because the last thing we ever want to do is put guys in jeopardy of overusing them too much."

Cash emphasizes value of 'pen, middle relievers

Putting together this year's bullpen will be a challenge. Tommy Hunter signed with the Phillies, Steve Cishek agreed to a deal with the Cubs and Sergio Romo is a free agent. The Rays traded Brad Boxberger to the D-backs, and closer Alex Colome is rumored to be heading elsewhere, as well.

"It was nice after the [non-waiver Trade] Deadline with the veteran guys that we brought in -- Cishek, Romo, Dan Jennings -- and Tommy Hunter had a tremendous year. Colome obviously had a tremendous year. But those additions really helped us late in ballgames. ... I think we all learned and saw the value of that the last month and a half of the season."

Tampa Bay is looking at a 2018 bullpen that would include the likes of Jennings, Jose Alvarado, Chih-Wei Hu, Austin Pruitt, Chaz Roe, Andrew Kittredge, Jaime Schultz and Ryne Stanek as the mainstays.

"I think we're going to have a bunch of guys from our farm system, namely in Triple-A, come in and compete," Cash said. "We're going to have some opportunities. We started a bunch of pitchers last year. We're not going to have nine starting pitchers, so we're really going to have to find ways to put them in successful situations in the bullpen, some leverage positions that can help us."

Cash noted that he's looking forward to assembling this year's group with new pitching coach Kyle Snyder.

"I'm really going to lean on him quite a bit because he saw a lot of those guys in [Triple-A] Durham and saw how they performed in non-starting roles and the dual/multiple-inning roles," Cash said.

Cash conceded that there could be more of a premium on middle relief than in the past.

"Without a doubt. Everybody looks or talks about the eighth and ninth innings," Cash said. "We have said it for a long time now: There are a lot of games that are won in the fifth through the seventh. And I don't know if you put a higher premium -- the last three outs of the game have always been shown to be tough to come by and get. But the three outs are three outs, and we've got to find guys that are very capable of consistency of having success in those middle innings."

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Tampa Bay Rays

Active at Meetings, Rays not done with deals

MLB.com @wwchastain

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- No blockbuster trades took place for the Rays at Major League Baseball's 2017 Winter Meetings, but the path has likely been paved for the team to trade some of its more notable players.

Tampa Bay kept busy this week, executing a trade each of the first three days of the Meetings.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- No blockbuster trades took place for the Rays at Major League Baseball's 2017 Winter Meetings, but the path has likely been paved for the team to trade some of its more notable players.

Tampa Bay kept busy this week, executing a trade each of the first three days of the Meetings.

On Day 1 of Meetings, Rays acquire Wendle

On Monday, the Rays traded a player to be named to the A's for infielder Joey Wendle. They traded a Minor League prospect to the Padres for slugging infielder Ryan Schimpf on Tuesday. And on Wednesday, they acquired international slot money by trading left-hander Anthony Misiewicz to the Mariners.

Rays acquire int'l slot money in deal with M's

Ostensibly, that money could prove to be a valuable tool in signing 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Jelfry Marte.

On Tuesday, MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez reported via Twitter that Tampa Bay and Marte had agreed to a contract, but it had not been finalized. The Rays have not confirmed the deal.

Rays reportedly sign int'l SS prospect Marte

What's next
Rumors and speculations have been constant about the possibilities of trading the likes of Chris Archer, Evan Longoria, Alex Colome and Jake Odorizzi. Tampa Bay needs to cut payroll, and the club also must decide whether it wants to try to compete in 2018 or make strides to pave the way to be competitive for a prolonged run.

Senior vice president Chaim Bloom said the Rays are at the stage where they've had a lot of detailed conversations with a number of teams.

"I think the biggest function of this week, and in this environment, is turning up the heat on all the clubs," Bloom said. "You really start to figure out what's real and what's not, and on some fronts, [we] have advanced to a pretty good level of detail.

Video: Chaim Bloom on the Rays' young players

"Now we're going to see in the near future if that leads to us consummating a deal, but we certainly have a much better idea of exactly what we might be able to do. And a lot of teams we've talked to have some similar clarity."

If Tampa Bay does decide to look to the future, the results of that pursuit will be interesting to watch as the team calculates which players would be valuable up the road versus what those players could yield in the present.

"We're in a fortunate position to be in where we have a number of players teams like," Bloom said. "And that expands the amount of possibilities that pop up."

Rule 5 Draft
The Rays lost right-hander Burch Smith in the Major League phase and selected right-hander Francisco German out of the Tigers' organization in the Minor League phase. They lost shortstop Riley Unroe (Angels), outfielder Angel Moreno (Cardinals) and catcher Rafaelin Lorenzon (Pirates) during the Minor League phase.

Rays lose Smith, keep Ciuffo in Rule 5 Draft

GM's bottom line
"Still a lot of conversations. ... We're exploring ways to get better," Rays general manager Erik Neander said.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2004.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Tampa Bay Rays

Venters among 13 invited to TB's spring camp

Former Braves All-Star reliever seeks return to Majors
MLB.com @wwchastain

ST. PETERSBURG -- Veteran left-hander Jonny Venters highlighted a group of 13 players who agreed to Minor League contracts with the Rays that includes an invitation to Major League Spring Training.

Also in that group announced Thursday are right-handers Ruben Alaniz, Cody Hall and Colton Murray; left-handers Adam Kolarek and Vidal Nuno; and infielder/outfielder Brandon Snyder.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Veteran left-hander Jonny Venters highlighted a group of 13 players who agreed to Minor League contracts with the Rays that includes an invitation to Major League Spring Training.

Also in that group announced Thursday are right-handers Ruben Alaniz, Cody Hall and Colton Murray; left-handers Adam Kolarek and Vidal Nuno; and infielder/outfielder Brandon Snyder.

In addition, the following Minor Leaguers have received invitations: outfielders Jason Coats and Johnny Field; catcher Nick Ciuffo; right-hander Ian Gibaut; first baseman/outfielder Joe McCarthy; and infielder Kean Wong.

Venters, 32, spent parts of three seasons with the Braves, going 15-10 with a 2.23 ERA and a 10.1 SO/9 IP ratio. He has not pitched in a Major League game since the 2012 National League Wild Card Game due to Tommy John surgeries in 2013 and '14.

In 2017, Venters had a 2.28 ERA in 24 games in Tampa Bay's organization, appearing with the Gulf Coast League Rays, Class A Charlotte, Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham.

Given the way the Rays appear to be headed toward a revamped bullpen in 2018, a healthy Venters could fit in nicely. He made at least 65 appearances in the Majors in three straight seasons ('10-12) and was named to the NL All-Star team in '11.

Selected by Atlanta in the 30th round of the 2003 Draft, Venters originally signed with Tampa Bay as a Minor League free agent in March 2015.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2004.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Tampa Bay Rays

Rays lose Smith, keep Ciuffo in Rule 5 Draft

MLB.com @wwchastain

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Heading into Thursday's 2017 Rule 5 Draft, the Rays were braced to lose catcher Nick Ciuffo and right-hander Burch Smith in the Major League phase.

They only lost Smith, who was selected by the Mets, who then traded him to the Royals. The Rays didn't make a selection in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 Draft.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Heading into Thursday's 2017 Rule 5 Draft, the Rays were braced to lose catcher Nick Ciuffo and right-hander Burch Smith in the Major League phase.

They only lost Smith, who was selected by the Mets, who then traded him to the Royals. The Rays didn't make a selection in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 Draft.

:: Rule 5 Draft coverage ::

Both players were left unprotected off Tampa Bay's 40-man roster, which opened the door for other teams to select them. The Rays will be paid a claiming fee of $100,000, and Smith will have to remain on the Royals' 25-man Major League roster for the length of the 2018 regular season. If Kansas City decides not to keep Smith on its Major League roster, he will be offered back to Tampa Bay for $50,000.

The Rays acquired Smith from the Padres in the Dec. 19, 2014, three-team trade with the Padres and Nationals in which Wil Myers and Ryan Hanigan went to the Padres, Steven Souza Jr. was dealt from the Nationals to the Rays and Rene Rivera came to the Rays from the Padres.

Smith, 27, battled back after missing two-plus seasons with arm issues to go 5-3 with a 2.40 ERA in 13 appearances (12 starts) for the Gulf Coast Rays, Class A Charlotte and Triple-A Durham in 2017. He followed that up by performing well in the Arizona Fall League. Overall, he is 20-14 with a 3.45 ERA in 61 games (58 starts) over five seasons in the Minors.

"We knew there was a chance we were going to lose him," Rays senior vice president Chaim Bloom said. "Obviously, we would have liked to have kept him. But the other thing we don't want to lose sight of -- we were really happy for Burch to get this opportunity.

"This is a guy who, at one point on this long journey back from his injury, there were some questions whether he was going to be able to pitch. And for him to get to do what he did in the Fall League, and now have this opportunity to make a Major League club in Spring Training is pretty cool for him."

The Rays drafted Ciuffo, 22, in the first round of the 2013 Draft (21st overall). In five Minor League seasons, he has hit .248 with 12 homers and 134 RBIs while playing solid defense. He played for Double-A Montgomery last season, hitting .245 with seven home runs and 42 RBIs.

"We said when we left him off that it was a calculated gamble," Bloom said. "We like Nick and we think Nick is a Major League prospect. We were just taking a gamble that it wasn't his time yet, and we were hoping to be able to keep him here and give him the opportunity in our system to keep progressing. He did make strides this year, and we're really happy that we were able to keep him, and [we're] looking forward to giving him more opportunity next year."

In the Minor League phase of the Draft, the Rays selected right-hander Francisco German out of the Tigers' organization.

German, 20, is 6-foot-2 and 160 pounds and hails from Sabana Grande de Palenque, Dominican Republic. In 50 Minor League games (14 starts), he is 8-7 with a 3.26 ERA with 132 strikeouts and 58 walks in 127 innings.

"He was a guy our scouts liked," Rays' assistant director of Minor Leagues Jeff McLerran said. "Still pretty young for someone in the Minor League phase. ... He has a loose, quick arm. Just relatively inexperienced. ... But somebody we'd like to give to our pitching coaches and give them a chance to work with him."

Players selected from the Rays' organization during the Minor League phase include: shortstop Riley Unroe (Angels), outfielder Angel Moreno (Cardinals) and catcher Rafaelin Lorenzon (Pirates).

"They all sting," McLerran said. "These are guys that our staff has put a lot of time and effort into. We've had them for years down at our academies. And like Riley, coming to us from high school in the Draft. ... It's just kind of the nature of our system. We think we're pretty deep, so there are some good players that we just aren't going to have room for on our rosters, and this way they get a better chance."

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2004.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Tampa Bay Rays

As talks continue, Rays settle for minor moves

'Nothing at the 1-yard line' on trades; club prepared to lose Ciuffo, Smith in Rule 5 Draft
MLB.com @wwchastain

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Major League Baseball's Rule 5 Draft was on the minds of many on Day 3 of the Winter Meetings. Many expect the Rays to lose two players, catcher Nick Ciuffo and right-hander Burch Smith, by the time the Major League phase is completed Thursday morning.

Both players were left unprotected on the Rays' 40-man roster, which would open the door for another team to select either or both. If a Major League team does claim either player, it would pay the Rays a fee of $100,000 and would have to keep the player on its 25-man active Major League roster for the length of the season. If that club decided not to keep the player on its big league roster, he would be offered back to the Rays for $50,000.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Major League Baseball's Rule 5 Draft was on the minds of many on Day 3 of the Winter Meetings. Many expect the Rays to lose two players, catcher Nick Ciuffo and right-hander Burch Smith, by the time the Major League phase is completed Thursday morning.

Both players were left unprotected on the Rays' 40-man roster, which would open the door for another team to select either or both. If a Major League team does claim either player, it would pay the Rays a fee of $100,000 and would have to keep the player on its 25-man active Major League roster for the length of the season. If that club decided not to keep the player on its big league roster, he would be offered back to the Rays for $50,000.

Rays senior vice president Chaim Bloom said the Rays were "braced" for losing either or both players.

Video: Neander discusses the Rays' philosophy

"There's so much talk about what could or couldn't happen, that you never really want to believe that anything is done until you hear the player's name called tomorrow," Bloom said. "When you leave somebody off your roster, there is a chance that they get selected. And you have to be able to live with that."

Bloom added that the Rays could look back at some point in the future and wish they would not have lost the player.

"But even tomorrow, should we lose someone, there's still a chance that we get them back," Bloom said. "A big part of [how the Rays set their roster was] roster flexibility."

Tampa Bay drafted Ciuffo, 22, in the first round of the 2013 Draft (21st overall). In five Minor League seasons, the Rays' No. 25 prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com has hit .248 with 12 homers and 134 RBIs while playing solid defense. He played for Double-A Montgomery this past season, for which he hit .245 with seven home runs and 42 RBIs.

Video: Prospect Spotlight: Ciuffo

The Rays acquired Smith from San Diego in the Dec. 19, 2014, three-team trade with the Padres and Nationals that saw Wil Myers and Ryan Hanigan go to the Padres, Steven Souza Jr. come to the Rays from the Nats and catcher Rene Rivera arrive from San Diego.

Smith, 27, has fought back after missing two-plus seasons with arm issues to go 5-3 with a 2.40 ERA in 13 appearances for the Gulf Coast Rays, Class A Charlotte and Triple-A Durham this past season. He followed that by performing well in the Arizona Fall League.

Meanwhile, the Rays continue to be one of the more talked about teams on the brink of trading some of its quality players such as Chris Archer, Evan Longoria, Alex Colome and Jake Odorizzi. But to date, they have only completed minor trades.

On Wednesday, the Rays made their third trade of the week when they sent left-hander Anthony Misiewicz to the Mariners in exchange for international slot money.

But talks for trades of a larger magnitude continued on Wednesday as well.

Bloom allowed that "the pace of conversations has been very steady on a lot of fronts."

"Some are moving on to where [the Rays have an] idea about what's real and what isn't," said Bloom, noting that some have moved to "more advanced stages" but "nothing at the 1-yard line."

When asked whether the Rays were making progress on new deals or deals they've been discussing for a while, Bloom answered, "Kind of a mix."

"As you would expect, a lot the players of ours that teams are asking about are the same players they've been asking about," Bloom said. "We're fortunate to have a number of players who are in demand that other teams have interest in.

"There have been some new concepts that have surfaced since we've gotten here. There's also been some things that have been previously discussed that have come back around, or been altered somewhat. It's been a healthy mix of all of those."

A lot of attention has been focused on certain Rays players, given the fact other teams are aware of the club's payroll constraints, and that has led to many conversations.

"You don't want to leave any stone unturned," Bloom said. "And you don't want to be afraid to target other players who might fit us well, whether now or in the future.

"In this environment, so many conversations happen, and you don't want to miss an opportunity. And if there's someone we like elsewhere who might be in play, then we're also making sure to try and be factored in for those players."

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Tampa Bay Rays

Rays acquire int'l slot money in deal with M's

Club trades Misiewicz, reportedly agrees to contract with Dominican SS Marte
MLB.com @wwchastain

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Rays acquired international slot money Wednesday morning by trading left-hander Anthony Misiewicz to the Mariners.

The money could prove to be a valuable tool in signing 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Jelfry Marte.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Rays acquired international slot money Wednesday morning by trading left-hander Anthony Misiewicz to the Mariners.

The money could prove to be a valuable tool in signing 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Jelfry Marte.

On Tuesday, MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez posted on Twitter that the Rays and Marte have agreed to a deal, but the deal had not been finalized.

Rays reportedly sign int'l SS prospect Marte

Tweet from @JesseSanchezMLB: Source: Jelfry Marte has agreed to a deal with the Rays. Marte originally signed with the Twins for $3M but his contract was voided because of a vision issue. Could mean Rays are trading for int���l money. They have est. $440K to spend during the current int���l period. @MLBPipeline

Marte originally signed with the Twins for $3 million, but his contract was voided because of a vision issue.

Rays general manager Erik Neander did not confirm the deal.

Presumably, if the Rays were to sign Marte, they would need more than the approximately $440,000 they are said to have for spending during the current international signing period.

Misiewicz, 23, rejoins the Mariners after Seattle sent him along with Minor League infielder Luis Rengifo to the Rays in exchange for right-hander Ryan Garton and catcher Mike Marjama on Aug. 6.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Tampa Bay Rays

Rays get Schimpf from SD for Minor Leaguer

Tansel dealt in exchange as club continues to bolster infield with lefty hitters
MLB.com @wwchastain

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- For the second time in as many days, the Rays made a deal at Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings.

On Tuesday, the Rays announced that they acquired infielder Ryan Schimpf from the Padres in exchange for Minor League infielder Deion Tansel. On Monday, Tampa Bay acquired infielder Joey Wendle from the A's in exchange for a player to be named.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- For the second time in as many days, the Rays made a deal at Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings.

On Tuesday, the Rays announced that they acquired infielder Ryan Schimpf from the Padres in exchange for Minor League infielder Deion Tansel. On Monday, Tampa Bay acquired infielder Joey Wendle from the A's in exchange for a player to be named.

Hot Stove Tracker

The additions of Schimpf, Wendle and Micah Johnson have given the Rays three players who can play second base, all have options and each hits left-handed. Rays general manager Erik Neander told reporters not to read too much into that oddity, calling the roundup a "matter of opportunity." He pointed out that the price paid for each "made sense," while adding that a "fresh start" might just play out well for one or all of them.

Video: Rays acquire 2B Wendle for player to be named

Neander also said that the acquisitions should not be viewed as acquiring players to offset the potential exits of others.

Schimpf, 29, has spent parts of the past two seasons in the Major Leagues, batting .195/.317/.492 with 19 doubles, 34 home runs and 76 RBIs in 142 games. He has made 126 starts at various positions, including 66 at second base, 58 at third base, one in left field and one at designated hitter.

In Schimpf's career, 67.4 percent of his hits have gone for extra bases, the highest ratio in the Majors (minimum 500 plate appearances) over that span (since 2016). In addition, his 12.97 AB/HR ratio over the past two seasons ranks sixth in the Majors, and third in the National League (minimum 500 plate appearances) behind Giancarlo Stanton (11.74) and Cody Bellinger (12.31).

Video: CHC@SD: Schimpf crushes a solo shot to right

Neander complimented Schimpf's power, but acknowledged the tradeoff by saying, "His skill set rests on the extreme of the spectrum."

Schimpf began last season as the Padres' starting third baseman and hit .158/.284/.424 with 14 home runs and 25 RBIs in 53 games (47 starts). Through the end of May, the left-handed batter led San Diego and was tied for fifth in the NL with 14 home runs. He was optioned to Triple-A El Paso on June 9 and remained there through the end of the season, batting .202/.311/.475 with 19 home runs and 44 RBIs.

Video: Neander discusses the Rays' philosophy

Tansel, 23, hit .280/.345/.392 with four home runs and 43 RBIs in 85 games over parts of two seasons in the Rays' organization. He spent last season with Class A Short-Season Hudson Valley, batting .277/.336/.403 with three home runs and 33 RBIs in 53 games.

He was selected by the Rays in the 32nd round of the 2016 MLB Draft out of the University of Toledo.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Tampa Bay Rays, Ryan Schimpf

Rays reportedly sign int'l SS prospect Marte

Sixteen-year-old initially signed with Twins before contract voided; talks continue at Meetings
MLB.com @wwchastain

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Day 2 of Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings saw the Rays make a trade, reportedly reach an agreement on an international signing and talk to a lot of teams and free agents.

Early in the day, the Rays traded Minor Leaguer Deion Tansel to the Padres for slugging infielder Ryan Schimpf. Later, MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez reported via Twitter that the Rays and Jelfry Marte have agreed to a deal, but the deal has not been finalized.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Day 2 of Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings saw the Rays make a trade, reportedly reach an agreement on an international signing and talk to a lot of teams and free agents.

Early in the day, the Rays traded Minor Leaguer Deion Tansel to the Padres for slugging infielder Ryan Schimpf. Later, MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez reported via Twitter that the Rays and Jelfry Marte have agreed to a deal, but the deal has not been finalized.

Tweet from @JesseSanchezMLB: Source: Jelfry Marte has agreed to a deal with the Rays. Marte originally signed with the Twins for $3M but his contract was voided because of a vision issue. Could mean Rays are trading for int���l money. They have est. $440K to spend during the current int���l period. @MLBPipeline

Marte originally signed with the Twins for $3 million, but the 16-year-old shortstop's contract was voided because of a vision issue.

Rays general manager Erik Neander did not confirm the deal when asked.

The Rays have approximately $440,000 to spend during the current international signing period. If such a signing were to take place, the team would likely have to acquire additional funds to spend.

Rumors and speculation about Rays players heading to other teams via trades continued to dominate any conversations involving Tampa Bay. Chris Archer, Evan Longoria, Jake Odorizzi and Alex Colome are the names most often mentioned in hypothetical deals across the board.

Hot Stove Tracker

Neander characterized the day as having met with about the same amount of free agents as other teams.

"Still a lot of conversations," Neander said. "... We're exploring ways to get better."

Tuesday night, Rays Major League coaches showed at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort for a party for the organization's affiliates. Neander noted that their doing so was a "pretty cool thing" as the group traveled to Lake Buena Vista to "express thanks to all of our affiliates."

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Tampa Bay Rays, Ryan Schimpf

On Day 1 of Meetings, Rays acquire Wendle

Club adds infield piece in deal with A's, while exploring direction for 2018
MLB.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Yankees officially acquired slugger Giancarlo Stanton on Monday. Meanwhile, the Rays brought aboard infielder Joey Wendle in a trade with the A's.

That's life in the American League East for the Rays, who have constantly played the role of The Little Engine That Could. General manager Erik Neander kept his sense of humor about the situation on Day 1 of Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Yankees officially acquired slugger Giancarlo Stanton on Monday. Meanwhile, the Rays brought aboard infielder Joey Wendle in a trade with the A's.

That's life in the American League East for the Rays, who have constantly played the role of The Little Engine That Could. General manager Erik Neander kept his sense of humor about the situation on Day 1 of Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings.

When asked about any effects Stanton joining the Yankees might have on the Rays, Neander quipped: "Less reluctant to charge the mound. Our hitters get 60 feet. [Aaron Judge] and Stanton are about [a 200-foot run from the outfield to join the fray]."

Cash emphasizes value of 'pen, middle relievers

He added: "It impacts things. ... It makes them a better team, and that has an effect on us, as it does other teams in our division and the league. It's something. But I think, at the end of the day, we really have to stay focused on our roster, the talent we have, and letting that play out."

More to the point, the Rays are busy trying to assemble their 2018 squad, and Wendle's acquisition brings value to the team, according to Neander.

"Grinder-type player," said Neander of Wendle, who was acquired for a player to be named or cash considerations. "High baseball IQ, left-handed hitter, infielder that has a history of hitting. Part of what has drawn us to him over time is ... [he is] really a high-quality defender and is about as reliable as they come."

Wendle, 27, has spent parts of the last two seasons in the Major Leagues for the A's, batting .266/.305/.339 (29-for-109) with two doubles, two home runs and 16 RBIs in 36 games (27 starts, all at second base). He was designated for assignment by the A's on Thursday.

Video: OAK@PHI: Wendle cranks a grand slam to right field

While the Rays did pick up a piece, they have not tipped their hand about what direction they want to head in 2018. Will they try to find the five games that kept them out of the playoffs in 2017, or will they trade their players of value in hopes of establishing a foundation for future greatness through the acquisition of prospects?

Neander allowed that the direction they will decide to go is still up in the air.

"Probably depends on the pace of the market and as guys are coming off the board," Neander said. "Right now things are starting to move [after Stanton and Shohei Ohtani have found landing spots].

"... For us, we'd be happy to resolve as much as possible in the next week if it goes that way. Probably going to be something that will play out, based on the history of any given offseason, in January for most of it."

Video: Cash on Ray's goals at Winter Meetings

From the speculation circulating, Alex Colome, Jake Odorizzi, Chris Archer, and Evan Longoria could all be in play depending on the team.

Judging from what's being said, Colome is the most likely to be traded. And the team that could be most interested is the Rockies.

If the Rockies do make a deal for Colome, who is projected to make $5.5 million in his first year of being arbitration eligible, it would likely be for low-level prospects with high upsides but not close to the Major Leagues.

However, if the Cardinals are involved, those prospects would likely be closer to being Major League-ready. Reports have the Cardinals being interested in Colome, Archer and Longoria.

And the Cardinals have a lot of prospects who could be dealt.

For starters, there are right-handers Jack Flaherty (the Cardinals' No. 3 prospect according to MLB Pipeline), Dakota Hudson (No. 8), Sandy Alcantara (No. 9) and Luke Weaver. Also a right-hander, but said to be unavailable, is the Cardinals' No. 1 prospect, Alex Reyes.

In addition, Cards outfield prospect Magneuris Sierra (No. 6) could be available along with current Major League outfielders Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk. Of note, Piscotty could possibly play some first base.

Hot Stove Tracker

The Brewers have been rumored to be possible Archer suitors. They do not have Minor League pitching to offer, but they do have several interesting outfield possibilities in Lewis Brinson, a five-tool player identified as the organization's No. 1 prospect. Others possibilities include Brett Phillips, Domingo Santana and Keon Broxton.

"It's natural when you have depth at any position to get calls on players at those positions, so that's what happens," Brewers GM David Stearns told reporters. "But it's also natural that if we're going to even consider trading someone who is such an important part of our team, we are going to expect a sizable return."

While the Brewers would like Archer, they might be the ultimate landing spot for Odorizzi, who began his professional career in the Brewers' organization.

The Cubs are also interested in Archer, along with free agent Alex Cobb.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Tampa Bay Rays, Joey Wendle

Cash emphasizes value of 'pen, middle relievers

Rays' manager addresses media at Winter Meetings
MLB.com @wwchastain

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Kevin Cash hit leadoff Monday when he became the first of the 30 Major League managers to meet with the media at Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings.

Among the subjects addressed by Cash were the composition of next year's bullpen and how the Rays intend to use their 'pen and pitching staff.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Kevin Cash hit leadoff Monday when he became the first of the 30 Major League managers to meet with the media at Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings.

Among the subjects addressed by Cash were the composition of next year's bullpen and how the Rays intend to use their 'pen and pitching staff.

Winter Meetings interview with Kevin Cash

Tampa Bay had a strong bullpen in 2017, but Tommy Hunter, Steve Cishek and Sergio Romo became free agents. The Rays traded Brad Boxberger to the D-backs earlier in the offseason, and there's speculation closer Alex Colome will be dealt, with the Cardinals and Rockies at the forefront.

Video: Cash on adding to the Rays' bullpen

"I think we're going to have a bunch of guys from our farm system, namely in Triple-A, come in and compete," Cash said. "We're going to have some opportunities. We started a bunch of pitchers last year. We're not going to have nine starting pitchers, so we're really going to have to find ways to put them in successful situations in the bullpen, some leverage positions that can help us.

"It was nice, after the [non-waiver Trade] Deadline with our the veteran guys that we brought in -- Cishek, Romo, Dan Jennings -- and Tommy Hunter had a tremendous year. Colome obviously had a tremendous year. But those additions really helped us late in ballgames. I think we all learned and saw the value of that the last month and a half of the season."

Video: Cash jokes about evolving view of pitching staff

Cash said Tampa Bay will be spending a lot of time trying to piece together an effective unit, noting that new pitching coach Kyle Snyder will arrive at the Winter Meetings on Tuesday.

"We're going to continue to discuss. I'm really going to lean on him quite a bit, because he saw a lot of those guys in Durham and saw how they performed in non-starting roles and the dual/multiple-inning roles," Cash said.

Video: Cash on development of Bauers and Adames

A trend has developed throughout the Major Leagues that has seen teams reluctant to allow a starter to face opposing hitters a third time through the lineup. Cash fielded a question regarding whether this trend -- which the Rays embrace -- will put more of a premium on the team's middle-relief corps.

"Without a doubt," Cash said. "Everybody looks or talks about the eighth and ninth innings. We have said it for a long time now -- there are a lot of games that are won in the fifth through the seventh.

"... The last three outs of the game have always been shown to be tough to come by and get. But the three outs are three outs, and we've got to find guys that are very capable of consistency of having success in those middle innings."

Video: Cash praises Longoria and his style of play

Cash conceded that selling the acceptance of new ideas is a part of the equation.

"It has been done in the postseason now the last two years, really," said Cash, noting that the Rays introduced the twice-through-the-order idea in 2015. "It didn't go over too well. So yeah, there's going to have to be constant selling, I think, on that.

"The biggest issue is every starting pitcher -- whether they're in high school, college and get to pro ball -- they are taught and built with the mindset to go deep in the ballgame. That's their game, their day to pitch, save the bullpen and get as far as they can go. That's all fine and dandy, but at the end of the day, it's about winning games. And if we feel that we can get a better matchup earlier in the ballgame, why wouldn't we use it?"

Cash said the sales pitch to Rays pitchers will require "constant communication" on his part and Snyder's.

"But I think that we're all seeing that that's the trend of the way the game is going," Cash said.

Cash caught in the Major Leagues, and part of what catchers have historically done is try to nurse their starting pitcher through as many innings as possible. Given his background, the manager was asked if he had a hard time embracing the idea.

"There were some hiccups along the way," Cash said. "I think that that's a good point, your goal as a catcher is for that starting pitcher to have success. And for him to have success, he basically meant seven innings and two runs or less, whatever it was, and getting really deep, fulfilling his 110, 115 pitches.

"I think with all the information out there right now, it's pretty telling that we can find other ways to relocate those quality pitches, rather than the back-end pitches."

Cash chuckled after being asked about when he bought in.

"When I was hired and Matt [Silverman] told me, 'This is what we're going to do,'" Cash said.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Tampa Bay Rays

Feinsand: Rays can help shape trade market

Question is whether club opts to tear down and rebuild, or try to improve on 80-win season
MLB.com @feinsand

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As the bulk of the free-agent class continues to look for potential landing spots, a multitude of teams continue to be connected to players ranging from J.D. Martinez to Yu Darvish.

The Rays are not one of those teams, yet Tampa Bay could help shape the market thanks to a number of prominent players who could be on the move in what promises to be an active trade market.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As the bulk of the free-agent class continues to look for potential landing spots, a multitude of teams continue to be connected to players ranging from J.D. Martinez to Yu Darvish.

The Rays are not one of those teams, yet Tampa Bay could help shape the market thanks to a number of prominent players who could be on the move in what promises to be an active trade market.

Alex Colome continues to be a popular name among teams seeking a closer, while Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi have caught the eye of clubs looking to add to their starting rotations. Then there's Evan Longoria, the face of the Rays' franchise, who continues to be mentioned as a possible trade candidate.

So which direction will the Rays go? 

Hot Stove Tracker

Will Tampa Bay tear down its whole club and join its fellow Floridian Marlins in a complete rebuild? Might the executive triumvirate of Matthew Silverman, Erik Neander and Chaim Bloom try to retool their roster with a couple of deals, looking to field a contender with a mix of veterans and youngsters? Or could the Rays stand pat, hoping their 80-win campaign in 2017 was that of an underachieving club, one that could take a step forward next season to compete for a postseason berth?

"We've got a lot to think about in terms of how to get our team to the level of quality that we feel like we need to be at," Neander, the Rays' general manager, said. "We're still considering a lot of different possibilities and directions, and that will probably be the case as we go forward throughout the winter here. We'll keep an open mind."

Here's a look at Tampa Bay's potential trade candidates, ranked by their likelihood to be moved in the days or weeks ahead.

Cash emphasizes value of 'pen, middle relievers

Alex Colome: The right-hander has thrived in the closer's role during the past two seasons, notching 84 saves including a Major League-high 47 in 2017. Colome, who will turn 29 on New Year's Eve, has been one of the most mentioned trade targets of the offseason, with teams including the Cardinals and Rockies reportedly making aggressive pushes for him.

Colome is arbitration-eligible for the first time, leaving him under team control for the next three seasons. Given the prices we've already seen on the relief market -- Brandon Morrow agreed to a reported $21 million over two years from the Cubs and Pat Neshek agreed to a two-year, $16.5 million pact with the Phillies, according to sources -- it stands to reason that the Rays should be able to bring back a nice return for Colome. 

Colome is the most likely Tampa Bay player to be on the move, especially given the plethora of hard-throwing arms in the Rays' system. Whichever team manages to land him will fall out of the mix for free-agent closers Wade Davis and Greg Holland, who should land deals in excess of $50 million. 

Video: BAL@TB: Kiermaier solidifies the save for Colome

Jake Odorizzi: The Rays' history suggests Odorizzi's days with Tampa Bay are numbered. They traded James Shields away with two years of control remaining in December 2012, then shipped David Price away with 1 1/2 years of team control left in the summer of 2014. 

Odorizzi's 3.83 career ERA is actually slightly lower than Shields' (3.89) at the time the Rays traded him, and given his expected arbitration raise, this would fall in line with Tampa Bay's trend of trading controllable starters as they begin to make more money. 

Brad Miller and Corey Dickerson are in similar situations. The Rays could save another $10 million or so by dealing them and replacing them with internal options they believe are ready for the task.

Plenty of teams would love to add Odorizzi to their rotations, especially those that either miss out on the likes of Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb or don't want to spend the money required to sign one of those starters. 

With Archer -- we'll get to him momentarily -- Blake Snell, Matt Andriese and Jake Faria all returning and Nathan Eovaldi coming back from Tommy John surgery, there are plenty of rotation options even without Odorizzi.

Top pitching prospects Brent Honeywell and Yonny Chirinos also appear ready to graduate to the Majors at some point this season, giving the Rays further reason to explore trade options with their current starters.  

Video: TB@BAL: Odorizzi fans nine in six frames

Chris Archer: This is the biggest trade chip the Rays have; Archer is under control for four more years (his contract includes club options for 2020 and '21) for a total of $33.75 million. 

That said, Tampa Bay isn't expecting to enter into full rebuilding mode, so holding on to the cost-controlled pitcher would be a key component to its plan to contend. He's 29, he's a two-time All-Star, and unlike Shields and Price -- and Odorizzi -- the Rays know exactly how much he'll cost for the next four seasons.

Acquiring an ace is an expensive proposition, so trading one that will earn slightly more over four years than the top pitchers in the game will make in one seems counterproductive for a team that prides itself on contending despite its financial limitations. 

The only probable way that Archer gets traded would be a team simply overwhelming the Rays with an offer, one similar to the five-player package -- one which included Archer himself -- that the Cubs gave them for Matt Garza in January 2011. 

Video: CHC@TB: Archer fans six across six strong innings

Evan Longoria: Here's the trickiest one of all. Longoria has been the face of the franchise since the first week he arrived in Tampa Bay, signing an extension only one week into his big league career. That contract was replaced less than five years later as he inked a new extension worth $100 million over six years that included a club option for 2023.

Longoria's contract does not include a no-trade clause, but he'll earn 10-5 rights on the third day of the 2018 season, taking away the Rays' ability to deal him without his consent. If they believe a rebuild is part of their future, the time to move Longoria is now.

The Cardinals are said to be interested in Longoria, who has played at least 156 games in each of the past five seasons and remains a consistently productive player at the plate, averaging 26 home runs, 87 RBIs and a .782 OPS during that span. 

Given the glut of prospects the Rays expect to make an impact in the next season or two -- they have three of MLBPipeline.com's Top 20 prospects in the game and six of the Top 100 -- Longoria will likely play a major role as the leader of a young team. Willy Adames, Jake Bauers, Joe McCarthy, Jesus Sanchez and Brendan McKay have all the physical talent in the world, but Tampa Bay knows that a mentor such as Longoria would be crucial to their big league development.

Video: Cash on development of Bauers and Adames

"I do very much believe strongly that Evan is everything that you could ask for in a franchise player, a face-of-the-franchise type guy," Neander said. "The way he helped change the shape and look of this franchise in 2008 and the experiences he's been a part of here, he's a consummate professional. The example that provides to younger players as they learn how to find their way at the Major League level is extremely valuable."

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Tampa Bay Rays, Chris Archer, Alex Colome, Evan Longoria, Jake Odorizzi

Winter Meetings interview with Kevin Cash

MLB.com

Q. Aren't you going to say it was a good win or a bad loss?

KEVIN CASH: (Laughing) No. I'm ready to though, for sure.

Q. There's been a lot of speculation about the team, what you guys might do. As the field manager you have a little different perspective than the front office. What's your take ongoing into this offseason here?

KEVIN CASH: Well, you said it right, it's speculation for the most part. It's funny, we have been here or I've been coming to the Winter Meetings now for four years and I don't know if I've ever seen a transaction actually take place.

So I know there's a lot of chatter about our players, I think I view them as being very special to our current roster, and a big part of us having success at times last year and going forward. How that shakes out, I have no idea what will take place. But when have you good players, people are going to ask about them and I think that's what we're seeing leading into this Winter Meetings is a lot of names are coming up and because they're very respected throughout the industry.

Q. Eric made it sound like he had kind of several different scenarios and they hadn't really decided which direction they were going yet. Where does that put you as far as like your planning for what you want to do when you really don't know some of what your personnel might be?

KEVIN CASH: Maybe a little bit on hold, but nothing major. Look, right now we're in the middle of scheduling for Spring Training. Whatever the roster is, we know we're going to have roughly 55, 60 guys in camp competing for jobs and getting ready for the season. So it doesn't change too much.

We're still going to have our core group, our core thought processes to go into Spring Training with, and I don't think any of the chatter really affects too much over this weekend. It's funny, baseball, the industry as a whole has probably been put on hold a little bit here the last week to 10 days with Shohei Otani and then obviously Giancarlo Stanton. Those situations took up a lot of teams' times and this should be an interesting meetings simply because it's been quiet. Now the chatter will really come on.

Q. You mentioned Stanton, the Yankees obviously were pretty good team last year, how much tougher does this division look for you guys just seeing that move alone?

KEVIN CASH: Yeah, it's a challenge. You can't sugarcoat it. I've already sat and thought about the lineup, I don't know how they will do it, but it doesn't really matter. When you're talking about the big righties and you complement them with Didi Gregorius, Brett Gardner, Greg Bird who we didn't see that much. They're going to be very balanced, very powerful, but we're going to have to kind of rely on our bread and butter and that's good pitching and play some good defense, catch the ball behind them.

Q. Aren't you going to say it was a good win or a bad loss?

KEVIN CASH: (Laughing) No. I'm ready to though, for sure.

Q. There's been a lot of speculation about the team, what you guys might do. As the field manager you have a little different perspective than the front office. What's your take ongoing into this offseason here?

KEVIN CASH: Well, you said it right, it's speculation for the most part. It's funny, we have been here or I've been coming to the Winter Meetings now for four years and I don't know if I've ever seen a transaction actually take place.

So I know there's a lot of chatter about our players, I think I view them as being very special to our current roster, and a big part of us having success at times last year and going forward. How that shakes out, I have no idea what will take place. But when have you good players, people are going to ask about them and I think that's what we're seeing leading into this Winter Meetings is a lot of names are coming up and because they're very respected throughout the industry.

Q. Eric made it sound like he had kind of several different scenarios and they hadn't really decided which direction they were going yet. Where does that put you as far as like your planning for what you want to do when you really don't know some of what your personnel might be?

KEVIN CASH: Maybe a little bit on hold, but nothing major. Look, right now we're in the middle of scheduling for Spring Training. Whatever the roster is, we know we're going to have roughly 55, 60 guys in camp competing for jobs and getting ready for the season. So it doesn't change too much.

We're still going to have our core group, our core thought processes to go into Spring Training with, and I don't think any of the chatter really affects too much over this weekend. It's funny, baseball, the industry as a whole has probably been put on hold a little bit here the last week to 10 days with Shohei Otani and then obviously Giancarlo Stanton. Those situations took up a lot of teams' times and this should be an interesting meetings simply because it's been quiet. Now the chatter will really come on.

Q. You mentioned Stanton, the Yankees obviously were pretty good team last year, how much tougher does this division look for you guys just seeing that move alone?

KEVIN CASH: Yeah, it's a challenge. You can't sugarcoat it. I've already sat and thought about the lineup, I don't know how they will do it, but it doesn't really matter. When you're talking about the big righties and you complement them with Didi Gregorius, Brett Gardner, Greg Bird who we didn't see that much. They're going to be very balanced, very powerful, but we're going to have to kind of rely on our bread and butter and that's good pitching and play some good defense, catch the ball behind them.

Video: Cash discusses Stanton, facing Yankees lineup

Q. Based on the fact that you had a pretty strong bullpen at the end of last year and you're losing a lot of those guys, do you have any early thoughts on, and I know there's speculation about Colome, but do you have any early thoughts about how you might put that thing together next year?

KEVIN CASH: I think we're going to have a bunch of guys from our farm system, namely in Triple-A, come in and compete. We're going to have some opportunities. We started a bunch of pitchers last year. We're not going to have nine starting pitchers, so we're really going to have to find ways to put them in successful situations in the bullpen, some leverage positions that can help us.

It was nice, after the deadline with our the veteran guys that we brought in, Neshek, Romo, Dan Jennings and Tommy Hunter had a tremendous year. Colome obviously had a tremendous year. But those additions really helped us late in ball games. I thought, I think we all learned and saw the value of that the last month and a half of the season.

So something that we're going to look forward to putting together. Kyle Snyder is going to be here tomorrow. We're going to continue to discuss, I'm really going to lean on him quite a bit because he saw a lot of those guys in Durham and saw how they performed in non-starting roles and the dual/multiple-inning roles out of the relievers and the guys that went up and down. So we're going to have lot of discussions here going forward.

Q. To follow-up, based on the way bullpen or starting pitching is going and the rule, everybody seems to be kind of onboard on this twice-through-the-lineup thing. Is there going to be more of a premium on the guys who you pick for middle relief and want to get two or three innings in that middle part of the order?

KEVIN CASH: Without a doubt. Everybody looks or talks about the 8th and 9th innings, we have said it for a long time now, there are a lot of games that are won in the 5th through the 7th. And I don't know if you put a higher premium -- the last three outs of the game have always been shown to be tough to come by and get. But the three outs are three outs, and we got to find guys that are very capable of consistency of having success in those middle innings.

Q. Since you brought up Kyle, can you talk about the how much conversation you've had with the staff members this off-season and how much input he had?

KEVIN CASH: Quite a bit. Obviously we had a busy off-season as far as staff. I personally am really excited about the group that we brought in. I feel we're really going to compliment each other. Very energetic group. Kyle has the knowledge of a lot of the pitchers in this system. Then Matt Quataro coming over from or coming back to the organization, he's going to work with the catchers. So I think that combination of Kyle, Q and then obviously Stan Borowski our bullpen coach, will have just a lot of a wealth of information to provide for our pitchers and help get the most out of a very young group.

Q. In which way is knowledge of the pitching staff important for somebody like Kyle coming in, as opposed to just simply being an experienced pitching coach?

KEVIN CASH: Well, a lot of our -- we're going to rely on our youth. If you look, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi, most of our guys have kind of come through Kyle in the minor league system. Now he knows them very well. He knows the guys that came up and had success last year for us, Jose Alvardo, Jake Faria, Ryne Stanek, some of those younger guys. I don't think Kyle, I don't want to speak for him, but his challenges are going to be getting to know the rest of the league now. He's got such a good hold on the personalities, the mindsets, the mechanics of our own pitchers, now he's got to go complement that with the information and advancing our opposing teams. And he'll get up to speed really quick.

Q. You have a couple new managers in your division. You were in that same boat three years ago replacing Joe Maddon. How did you handle that? How do you go about, I don't know if "pressure" is necessarily the word, but fairly big shoes to fill?

KEVIN CASH: I don't really think the pressure ever changes. We go out as a team to win a ball game, that pressure is stays pretty consistent. I would like to know what that pressure is in the postseason; both those guys have experienced it from different levels - Alex being with Houston, he's had a pretty wild postseason and then off-season.

So what I can appreciate is how there's a lot of information probably being thrown at them right now. At times it's overwhelming, but knowing both those guys, they're going to handle it and be very, very successful.

Q. What's your impression of what the uncertainty over the ballpark has done from a baseball operations standpoint, maybe affecting revenue and attracting free agents, things like that?

KEVIN CASH: I wasn't ready for that question. (Laughter.)

I've been told really not to talk too much about the stadium, but you know what, I don't think too much. I think that we have got good fans. We hear some of the challenges, some of the whispers, some of the yells, what needs to be improved upon and I'm confident that in time we will get it done.

Q. Do you think you have to sell pitchers on the -- you're going to be aggressive employing the starters, people have done it a lot in the postseason. It hasn't been kind of as much in the regular season. How do you, you said you're going to do it. How do you see that getting worked out?

KEVIN CASH: It has been done in the postseason now the last two years, really. It's funny, you and have I talked about this, 2015 we did it and it didn't go over too well. So, yeah, there's going to have to be constant selling, I think, on that. The biggest issue is every starting pitcher whether they're in high school, college and get to pro ball, they are taught and built with the mindset to go deep in the ball game. That's their game, their day to pitch, save the bullpen and get as far as they can go. That's all fine and dandy, but at the end of the day it's about winning games. And if we feel that we can get a better matchup earlier in the ball game, why wouldn't we use it?

It will be constant communication on my part, on Kyle's part, with our pitchers, but I think that we're all seeing that that's the trend of the way the game is going.

Q. The flip side of that is you were a catcher and you were nursing these guys to get them deep into the games. Has it been a hard sell on you?

KEVIN CASH: There were some hiccups along the way. I think that, like, that's a good point, your goal as a catcher is for that starting pitcher to have success, and for him to have success he basically meant seven innings and two runs or less, whatever it was, and getting really deep, fulfilling his 110, 115 pitches. I think with all the information out there right now it's pretty telling that we can find other ways to reallocate those quality pitches, rather than the back-end pitches.

Q. When did you kind of buy into that?

KEVIN CASH: When I was hired and Matt told me, "This is what we're going to do." (Laughter.)

Q. To go back on Aaron and Cora, what's the biggest challenge in the dugout that first year? What do you remember as the greatest challenge in game?

KEVIN CASH: Well, everybody talks about it gets fast, there's no doubt about it. It definitely at times can get fast, especially with all the moving parts now. There's even your very powerful lineups are for playing matchups. You want to do your best to get out in front of those as quick as possible. You never want to ambush a guy to come off the bench and pitch. You don't ever want to be caught not being prepared in the bullpen for the opposing manager. But those guys have been around this game a long time.

I was fortunate enough to get to play with Alex Cora, and everything I've read -- he was managing as a player. That's very, very true. He always had just a great way about him. Communicating and his game knowledge was second to none.

Q. Going back to the bullpen, in 2015 you were kind of caught because of injuries. You had a lot of younger guys, so you had to go to the shorter approach. This year kind of planning for it, with the versatility of the roster that the Rays always have, can you see longer periods of an eight-man pen? Have you guys discussed that in any way?

KEVIN CASH: Yeah, all those are going to kind be on the table. Like we talked earlier, we're discussing it right now, we do need to find a little bit more information as far as our roster, how the bullpen is going to shake out. But I think there's going to be opportunities where if we're really versatile with that utility role that a guy that can play infield and outfield, it might allow to us carry an extra reliever at times throughout the season.

We'll always adjust depending on the state of the game and what our situation is as far as health is in the bullpen and our rotation. But you want to be able to have that flexibility because the last thing we ever want to do is put guys in jeopardy of overusing them too much.

Q. Three years ago when offense was really down, a lot of people were talking about how speed was going to become a big important part of the game again, and that hasn't really happened. What do you see going forward, and related it to that, how ready is Mallex Smith to play every day?

KEVIN CASH: I think that speed is a big part of the game and I think that power is kind of whatever everybody's paying for, and we had a pretty powerful lineup this past year. That's tough to repeat. The power, with that comes inconsistencies. Speed doesn't really go away.

Speaking of Mallex Smith, he came on the scene and really ignited us when he came up from Durham. Very athletic, very talented player, that energized us with a lot of his abilities. I'm really looking forward for him coming into Spring Training, hopefully having a healthy Spring Training; he didn't last year, and just kind of taking the reins off and see what he can do, whether it's bunting, stealing. We want to get a really good impression of Mallex, and we know how talented of a player he is.

Q. If he doesn't have a starting role, say, replacing a Kiermaier (inaudible), if he were to be traded is that type of a speculative move or is there room for two speed guys in the outfield right now or not?

KEVIN CASH: No, I think there's definitely room. I think we have discussed this off-season about doing everything we can to catch the baseball. We want to put the best defense out there as possible, and you look at obviously KK, Steven Souza, elite defenders. And then last year we had Peter Bourjos, who we consider elite, and then Mallex is in that same fold of speed. We want as much speed as possible.

On the surface maybe you don't see the tradeoff with 30 home runs, but when you're saving runs, there is a pretty substantial tradeoff. That's what Kevin Kiermaier has become a superstar for.

Q. We all saw Bauers last year in Spring Training, got all excited watching him hit, you guys don't have a first baseman, what's been some of the dialogue about him in this off-season?

KEVIN CASH: About Jake?

Q. Yeah.

KEVIN CASH: Just excitement. Come in, you look at what Jake Bauers and Willy Adames did in Triple-A at a very young age, I personally kind of like the fact that they got off to slow starts, and then you look at where their season ended up and really impressive. So from all reports talking to Jared, talking to Mitch, they really matured throughout the year.

Both guys like to play a lot, they want to come up to bat in that big spot and we're going to -- they're going to get to play a lot in Spring Training, and both of them did last year, but this year I think that we'll even be a little bit more aggressive with their playing time.

Q. You got to know them a little bit, too.

KEVIN CASH: Solid guys. Solid guys. That might be the, we don't talk about it enough but it's pretty exciting hearing about our young core players and the mentality that they bring to the ballpark every day. Especially that group that won in Durham. It's the same group that had a lot of success in Montgomery, they won in Port Charlotte, these guys are successful, they're very talented, and they're learning how to win together. We'll take that anytime at the Big League level.

Q. Would that be maybe the other side to what you guys do, if you guys do trade some of the veterans that you have in this core? Eric was talking about it the other day, too.

KEVIN CASH: Yeah, I think we have a really nice core of young pitchers. We talked about it at the end of the year. I think those two guys would fit into that young core of position players. Now some of those guys have already arrived at the Big League level. Jake and Willy both I think headline that group. We'll see how it shakes out with the roster come Spring Training time. You never know, last year we were making moves and signing guys, I believe, 15th of February, we were adding players.

Q. As a manager, you have to do what your bosses tell you but it seems like your goal is to win as many games as you can. So would that be tough to see if they do trade some of those guys over the next couple weeks?
KEVIN CASH: Sure, yeah, there's no doubt. I think any manager would tell you that. But like you said, our job is to win games. We're confident that we can win games with the players that are in this organization. Obviously over three years you build relationships and you don't want to see certain guys go.

Q. A lot is made out of building a team up the middle and you got Wilson Ramos for a full year right now, Hechavarria for a whole year and Kiermaier hopefully for a whole year at center. Can you speak to how important that trio is ready and healthy all year?

KEVIN CASH: It's got a chance to be a really special group. Then you take the second base situation, how that shakes out between Matt Duffy's health, Brad Miller rebounding a little bit, Daniel Robertson did a tremendous job there up the middle. We know what KK is. He's special. Hech, we saw him for two months, and I don't know if there was a better defensive short stop that I've ever seen on a nightly basis.

Then Wilson Ramos, it was really excited the way he finished. Had some ups and downs early on. Really pushed himself to come back fast and I think the game sped up a little bit coming back from an injury. He got in that comfort zone there with about three weeks to play, and we saw how big of an impact he can be in our lineup. So up-the-middle defense is special and we feel that we're very strong.

Q. You mentioned Stanek earlier. What do you see as his role?

KEVIN CASH: Still maturing but a guy that we like an awful lot. You look at the bullpens throughout baseball, really in the American League East, it's power, power, power coming out of them. You talk to our hitters and opposing hitters, when you have those elite fast balls like Jose Alvarado and Ryne Stanek have that just sit at the upper 90s, your margin of error, in theory, it should be that much greater. We just got to get them over the plate a little bit more, and get him to kind of buy into one of his off-speed pitches that he can put guys away with.

Ryne, he came up and showed some signs of life, and then he struggled. I think he's going to be better for it coming into Spring Training. This is a guy that was starting pitcher. He learned the bullpen role. He learned how to bounce back, he didn't lose his velocity and now it's just kind of honing all that in.

Q. Then the prospect of having Schultz is probably pretty exciting for you, too?

KEVIN CASH: He is. We probably don't talk about him enough because at the end of Spring Training, he might have been the most exciting pitcher that wasn't on our club. He did everything within his power to make the club, and it came down to a really difficult decision, and I think we all know we had every intention at some point throughout that year that we were going to rely on him, use him heavily, and we were going to bet a lot of money that he was going to have success. Unfortunately, between the groin, the knee, those little injuries, it just kind of - I don't want to say a lost year because he got his velo back up there with Durham in the playoffs - but we're looking forward to seeing where he's at coming into the spring, knowing that's very talented with the fastball, curveball combination.

Q. I know you're very early in your managerial career but I'm wondering if you have any thoughts during your time in professional baseball how you've observed the role of a Big League manager, how that's evolved.

KEVIN CASH: Yeah, I mean, I give the same boring answer and it really goes back to it Terry Francona, how he was as a manager, watching him with the Red Sox teams that he managed. A lot of superstars, how he was able to build relationships with all of them, individual relationships, the team relationship, and balance that with the front office and the media. At times it seemed like the decision-making, the field decision-making was secondary, even though it never was to him. And then I was so fortunate to get to see him go over to Cleveland, with a very young team, and kind of adjust on the fly and what he's done over there, with the help of some really good staff members and good players.

But it's ever evolving, it's ever adjusting and he's kind of been the role model to keeping up with the way the game has adjusted.

Q. How much is that evolution part of it, just the sort of change in the shape and size and specialization of a coaching staff?

KEVIN CASH: Yeah, you are seeing more of a specialization. That's a good word. You're trying to find those specific coaches that can handle specific duties. Obviously the pitching coach and hitting coach, we all know what their duties are. But you're trying to find the rest of the staff to fill out and complement each other, and then gain the input of everybody throughout the organization. That's kind of what we have done with Rocco Baldelli this year. Rocco coached first base, as everybody knows. We're bringing him into the dugout to kind of use his skill set in a different way. He does a great job communicating with our front office, our player development, and we're going to try to come up with those continuous innovative ideas that will add to the way we practice, the way we train, the way we travel, just different thoughts. And then obviously once the game starts, he'll assist Charlie and I with a lot of decision-making.

Q. As you look at your division last two years, you've seen the Yankees go from a team that missed the playoffs and to what they are today. What's that like for you as a guy who has to face them?

KEVIN CASH: It's a challenge, but it's a fun challenge. I heard somebody say, baseball's good when the American League East and the Yankees are playing well. I'll say the American League East, I could care less if the Yankees are playing well. But it's a challenge that we embrace. You say that with the Red Sox, the Orioles and the Blue Jays, they have got a bunch of superstars and we have talked about it for a couple years now, we need to go and find ways to win in Yankee Stadium. It seems like we play really well, they made it a little more challenging now with their newest acquisition, but we seem to go in there and really bring a lot of energy, and I think that that's what American League East baseball is about.

Q. How do you or a pitching coach go about telling your pitchers how to try to get through that lineup three times?

KEVIN CASH: To be determined. I don't know. It was a challenge before, it's only going to get tougher now. Before you got here we were talking about the balance of it, and obviously you got the three righties, and you talk about Gardner, Gregorius and Bird, it's going to be very challenging. They're going to really, really pose some difficulties on pitching staffs.

Q. What will you tell a first-year manager about managing that maybe he might not realize that you learned in your first year?

KEVIN CASH: They asked me that, something like that.

Q. Sorry.

KEVIN CASH: That's all right. I'm sure with the two guys you're referring to, it's probably nothing to those two guys. They have much more baseball experience than probably -- me and Alex Cora, we were teammates. He was managing as a player. Both him and I were bench players and my little experience with him that one year, I learned a ton from him. And then his experience this past year with the bench coach role, he's going to be just fine.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Tampa Bay Rays