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Rays eager to build on ALDS berth in offseason

Neander says club can 'be one of the most competitive' in AL in '20
@juanctoribio
October 11, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG -- One day after being eliminated from the postseason, the Rays returned home and a couple of dozen players emptied out their lockers as they prepare for a crucial offseason. The sense of optimism within the group was clear after Thursday’s 6-1 loss of Game 5 of the

ST. PETERSBURG -- One day after being eliminated from the postseason, the Rays returned home and a couple of dozen players emptied out their lockers as they prepare for a crucial offseason.

The sense of optimism within the group was clear after Thursday’s 6-1 loss of Game 5 of the American League Division Series to the Astros, and it was apparent yet again as players said their goodbyes for the winter.

It’ll be an interesting offseason for a Rays club that only has three free agents and is expecting the young core to get even better after gaining another year of experience, including a postseason berth.

Rays general manager Erik Neander, vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom and manager Kevin Cash on Friday all met with the media for the final time this season to discuss the organization’s outlook as they enter the offseason.

Formidable young Rays are built for long haul

Here are four things that we learned from Friday’s news conference:

1) Rays ready to build on postseason appearance

After their first postseason berth since 2013, the Rays enter the offseason as one of the early favorites to contend for the AL pennant in '20. While they have difficult decisions to make this winter, the front office will operate with the sense that next year’s team is set to contend for more than just a postseason berth.

“I think it’s much more that we’re putting ourselves in the territory where we’re expecting to be one of the most competitive and one of the most talented teams moving forward in the American League,” Neander said. “And with that, the balancing of your near-term versus your long-term, it shifts a little bit to the present. And, really, that’s the goal.”

2) Payroll operations

It’s no secret that the Rays don’t have the same payroll flexibility as some of the other clubs in the Majors, but they’re going to continue to be resourceful with what they have. Neander said that the Rays have “an idea” of what the payroll will be next season, which will help them in the free-agent market, but it isn’t necessarily a set number.

Rays could lose key trio in free agency

“It’s kind of more of a range, but not something that we’ve gotten into too deeply,” Neander said. “I think it’s important to survey the landscape and what our needs are and what’s available, what’s the inventory and then work backwards from there.”

3) Medical update on Honeywell

Brent Honeywell entered the season as the team’s top pitching prospect, but setbacks from Tommy John surgery ended his season in June. Honeywell has now missed two full seasons, but he's currently on pace to begin throwing at the start of the year. Honeywell was the only member of the 40-man roster to not pitch for the Rays this season, but the club is optimistic that the right-hander will contribute at some point next season.

“The plan all along was that he wasn’t going to throw until around the new year and that remains the case,” Bloom said. “This kid is as intense and strong of a competitor as anyone we’ve been around, and for him to not taste competitive baseball for a couple of years is tough. But he’s going to get through this and we’ll see how he does once he picks up a ball.”

4) Staff changes?

With a throng of job openings around the Majors, there’s always a chance that the Rays could have some turnover on their coaching staff. Rocco Baldelli and Charlie Montoyo both took managerial jobs last winter -- with the Twins and Blue Jays, respectively -- and some clubs could inquire about bench coach Matt Quatraro this winter.

Cash said that there could be some interest around the league for some of his staff members and front office personnel, though he's optimistic about keeping his staff intact.

“I don’t anticipate any changes,” Cash said. “We have a really good group and a great staff. I think they do a really good job of keeping a positive vibe while helping players get better. There’s probably a lot of discussions out there right now. I would imagine that we have some people on our staff and within our organization that are looked upon very highly. I can’t thank this staff enough for the work this season.”

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.