The Show Must Go On, Rays Play Catch Up At Winter Meetings

Death In The Family Puts Baseball In Perspective, But Show Must Go On



Last evening the Tampa Bay Rays found out that longtime field coordinator Jim Hoff had passed away unexpectedly in Tampa. He was 73 and had spent 51 years in professional baseball joining the Rays as field coordinator in 2002.

“It’s been a tough day really since last night when we found out about Hoffy. That’s made things hard.” Vice President of Baseball Operations Chaim Bloom said. “Baseball became secondary last night…..We’re crushed by Hoffy’s passing. He’s not just a great baseball man, just a really good person. We lost a friend.”

Despite the disappointment and sadness, Bloom noted that it was nice to be here with a group leaning on each other for support.  “It changed the tenor of our room very quickly and rightly so, it kind of pushed some things off for last night. We had to notify people, gather ourselves, and grieve a little bit.” Bloom said but noted that work had to be done. “Obviously, there’s still business to be done. Knowing Hoffy’s work ethic he wouldn’t want us to stop working on account of him. It definitely had an affect on our night last night.”

Stadium News Further Dampens Mood:

The announcement that the proposed Ybor Stadium will not be moving forward (more here) put more of a damper on things, but Bloom reiterated that Stadium plans don’t affect baseball operations attempt to put a competitive team on the field.

“From a baseball standpoint it hasn’t really affected our day. We know it’s obviously an important topic. It’s huge for the future of the franchise it’s huge for the region, we know that but as far us putting a club on the field and trying to win as much as we can over the coming years regardless of how this turned out we knew we would be playing at Tropicana Field for the foreseeable future.” Bloom said. “It’s obviously important but it’s been good to be able to continue to focus on our on-field project which is the main reason we’re here.”

As of this afternoon, Bloom had not received a call from an agent or a player asking what was going on with the franchise. He did say it’s been mentioned off-hand here and there in the course of normal conversation.

Working On Trade/Free Agency:

Yesterday, Bloom noted (Chaim Bloom Day One Here) that the conversation had been split around 50/50 between trades and free agency and that hasn’t changed in the hours since noting that they have advanced the ball a little bit on some fronts. (See Free Agent/Trade Notes Here)

“Obviously, I think more than any other time at the winter meetings you have a lot of different possibilities.” said Bloom. “So when there are that many possibilities it’s hard to know exactly which one if any is going to get over the finish line, but some conversations progressed today.”

Prior to the winter meetings the Atlanta Braves signed Josh Donaldson to a 1-year/$23MM deal and today the Philadelphia Phillies signed Andrew McCutchen to a 3-year/$50MM deal. Both Donaldson and McCutchen were rumored to be possible Rays targets?

Do the price tag on those two players gives him concern that the other targets the team may be negotiating with will increase their desired compensation.  Bloom wasn’t sure if the signing of players elsewhere affects their efforts when they are exploring so many different options.

“How we evaluate the player, the fit, what it means for other players on the team, what it might do in terms of foreclosing trade possibilities things like that.” Bloom said. ” So we try to factor all that in and get to some sense of how we value the player. Then you hope that if it lines up to where the players market lines up with our evaluation than you might have a chance to get something done.”

After all, seeing guys sign elsewhere for a lot more than the Rays could afford or would  be willing to pay is commonplace year after year. It’s nothing new.

Still Seeking Starting Pitching:

Kevin Cash obviously didn’t mince words about it. He desires pitching, pitching, and more pitching. (More Here)

“It’s really been, that’s been our backbone as an organization. We’ve always stressed the importance of not just having quality but having depth and a lot of quality options.” Bloom said.  “No matter how many you have, inevitably, last season was a perfect example, we didn’t even get out of spring training without losing multiple guys. It never seems like enough.”

With the number of injuries the Rays dealt with last year it would make sense that they would look to stockpile as much pitching as the team can. Bloom did confirm that some of the discussions they’ve had have been to that end, but notes that they aren’t the only club in the market for it.

If the team’s effort to land a traditional starting pitcher such as Charlie Morton (or others) doesn’t bear fruit (more here), how does that impact Ryan Yarbrough, Jalen Beeks, or Yonny Chirinos?

“I don’t think it changes that much because even if we end up using them in roles like they were used this last year they could still make an impact.” Bloom said. “When you look at Yarbs [Ryan Yarbrough] is the only one that had a full season with us wire-to-wire. You look at  how much he pitched, he really had a starters workload and how much he contributed was obviously a successful year.”

The point Bloom made was that even in those other non-traditional roles those guys can still be hugely important and their all part of the picture. Starting pitching depth on the roster will include all three even if they are in non-traditional roles.

The Opener:

Former Rays bench coach Charlie Montoyo told the media today that he has seen “The Opener” be successful and will more than likely be utilizing it in Toronto.  While the opener seems to be an idea that is being adopted by more and more organizations, is it a skill that is being marketed by players and agents.

According to Bloom, he has over the course of the off-season received calls from agents that their client feels they could excel in that role.  Bloom is cautious to not put the cart in front of the horse with that. It’s about the talent of the pitching staff first and foremost.

“We’re trying to amass as talent a group of pitchers as we can.” Bloom said.  “It’s nice to know that somebody has flexibility in a way they can be used but it has to start with the talent.”

The key to any acquisition will be talent. Once the talent has been assembled Kevin Cash an his staff along with the front office will put their heads together to use them to win games. Talent comes first.

More Meetings Planned:

The Rays are playing catch up heading into the second night of the winter meetings. “The way the winter meetings work its more 24 hour cycles than it is days. I’m not sure the time of day matters as much here as it usually does in the offseason.” Bloom said.”We expect to have a lot more conversations throughout the rest of the day and into the night.”

Stu Sternberg In The House:

Not all owners attend the Winter Meetings, but Rays owner does attend….and not just to deliver disappointing news concerning stadium issues.

Chaim Bloom notes that having Stu in attendance means receiving immediate feedback. “He’s very looped in, he’s aware of on an everyday basis, he’s aware of the different possibilities and obviously stays in touch with what we’re thinking.” Bloom said. “Having him here just creates space for more casual conversations. Allows him to ask questions that might be harder to ask from a distance where he can get a better feel for what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Bloom also noted that it’s a lot of fun having him there and that he’s great to spend time with.  Additionally, there is a large contingent of Rays employees who make the trip that don’t get a lot of time to interface with him.  This gives them the opportunity, something they enjoy, and something Stu enjoys as well.

It’s a lot of fun. He’s great to spend time around. It’s really great for our group given that we do have a lot of people here. For people who don’t really interface with him frequently to get a little bit of time with him. I think he enjoys that as well.

 

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I am a fan of all sports but am most passionate about baseball. From the fanatical to analytical, nothing about the game escapes me. Being born and raised in Northeast Ohio I'm very familiar with the heartache and pain that sports can bring and hope that I bring some understanding of the other side to my coverage. I will focus mostly on baseball but also cover the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of the most electric franchises in all of sports. Always willing to converse about any sport and have only one rule and that is be respectful at all times.