Silverman, Cash want Rays 'back in contention'

President of baseball operations, manager discuss core players, needs for offseason

Silverman, Cash want Rays 'back in contention'

ST. PETERSBURG -- Matt Silverman and Kevin Cash addressed a media gathering on Tuesday morning regarding the 2016 season.

The numbers say it wasn't a pretty season, as the only numbers that really count are wins and losses. And in that regard, the Rays' 68-94 record came in far below expectations.

The first question to Silverman cut to the chase, when a reporter asked him what would prevent the Rays from again finding a place at the bottom of the American League East in 2017. Calmly, the Rays president of baseball operations spoke about the club's mindset.

"First, we're incredibly disappointed in this season and how it went south so early," Silverman said. "It feels like we've had this press conference a couple of times already, just talking about how the team's out of contention early and never really was able to crawl back into relevance."

Silverman emphasized that the disappointment resonanted throughout the organization, stressing, "We don't want that to happen again."

"It's a talented club, and there were several bright spots that give us hope going into next year," Silverman said. "But when you're 25 games out of first place, there aren't enough bright spots.

"We're motivated. We're hell-bent on getting this team back into contention. We have a lot of guys in house. But we're going to need to makes some changes, and we're going to need to bring in some new players, too. But the core is intact, and the core is talented. And if you listen to the players talk, or Kevin and the coaches, they'll tell you that, too. There's still a lot of confidence. There's still a lot of optimism in our clubhouse, and that bodes well for next year."

Following Sunday's final game of the season, Cash told reporters he liked the fight of the 2016 club, "but not the performance."

"There's a big difference between having fight and going out and performing and getting it done," the manager said. "We've got to get better at that. We have every intention that we will. But the effort level that this team showed remained consistent. And I'm really happy as a staff and myself, we're happy with the overall effort level.

"And the improvements at the end of the year, with the developments of Corey Dickerson and Steven Souza Jr. -- even though it was cut short. The addition of Matt Duffy, who we never got to see fully healthy. Those are three big pieces to our club next year that we're feeling pretty good about."

Dickerson's three-run jack

So what's missing?

A casual survey among Major League scouts brought forth the general opinion that the Rays need an everyday catcher; their infield looks solid with Evan Longoria, Duffy, Logan Forsythe, and Brad Miller; the starting pitching looks fine; bullpen pieces are needed leading to closer Alex Colome; and the corner outfield spots are in question.

On Sunday, Kevin Kiermaier spoke about the young players on the team and how adding a couple of veterans to the clubhouse would help, particularly in helping the team learn to win. Longoria felt like the team's depth needed to improve, noting that at times during the 2016 season they were "exposed" after injuries kept regulars from playing.

Kiermaier's leaping catch

When asked about needs, Silverman started with "we need to be more talented."

"We need to be more deep in the bullpen," Silverman said. "And that's going to take some guys coming in from the outside and also to give a chance to some of the guys who are coming up through the system. A lot of that will get worked out in Spring Training next year.

"We have a couple of young catchers who have showed promise. Everyone in the league is looking for catching. It's a tough spot, but it's one that we're going to spend a lot of time on this offseason. And as Kevin said, we have to play better baseball."

Silverman didn't shy away from taking his share of the blame as well.

"In terms of the front office, we have to make better player personnel decisions," Silverman said. "We haven't brought in the players who have been able to add those wins to this club and get us back to our winning ways. We're always going to be looking in non-obvious places for players, for value, for performance. That's how our club is constructed. That's predicated on the system we work in with Major League baseball and the payroll constraints we have."

Longo flashes some leather

Looking ahead to 2017, Cash did make one thing clear: He will continue to employ analytics and won't manage via intuition or by gut feel.

"I'm not a big fan of managing by gut," Cash said. "I'd rather go into every decision as prepared as possible. And if that's coming from decisions or conversations before a game starts, valuing our analytics, I don't see why I would -- or our coaching staff would -- ever go away from that.

"We trust the information that's provided. We talk a lot about it. And we buy into it, and that's going to help us win games going forward."

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for since 2005. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.