Insider: Friedman Wraps Up 2012 Season

Tampa Bay Rays Executive Vice President Andrew Friedman addressed the media on Thursday, putting the final words the strange season that was 2012. Armed with one of the best pitching staffs in major-league history, the Rays came up one run short too often, leading to an early start on the off-season. Some may see the 90-win season as a success; especially considering the team lost their franchise player, Evan Longoria, for a total of 88 games. However, the season is a disappointment for many in the organization; a feeling that Friedman embraces.

“I think it’s great that the tone is of disappointment” Friedman said. “We’re disappointed. I think it’s great that that’s now the expectation that’s established. Its the culture that we’ve created. We need to do everything we can to make sure we’re not sitting here on the day after (game) 162 meeting with you guys in this manner.”

In order to avoid further disappointment, Friedman and his staff will have to re-tool a roster that underperformed both offensively and defensively. Be it injuries or ineffectiveness, several Rays’ position players did not live up to expectations. The lack of offense has been spoken about ad-nauseum, but Friedman appeared genuinely surprised by the brand of defense his team displayed.

“I expected us to have an elite defensive team and we didn’t” Friedman said. “We’ll figure out what went wrong, what’s noise, what’s more of an issue going forward. We were not elite and all of us expected to be elite.” He did speak about addressing the offensive issues, adding “we’re going to spend a lot of time thinking about and discussing and analyzing, because we don’t want to make a knee-jerk reaction and do something when there’s noise. It’s about stripping out the noise and what’s potentially a systematic issue.”

Conventional wisdom says the Rays need to trade one or more of their major-league ready starting pitchers in order to upgrade the other side of the ball. However, conventional wisdom does not dictate what Friedman will or won’t do this winter. “We’re not going to be flippant about our pitching depth in that it’s everything to us to have five really good starting pitchers with the requisite depth behind it” Friedman said. “Obviously if something lines up that makes sense, that makes us better, we’re going to do it. But if it doesn’t, we’re not going to say, ‘Hey, we have this pitching depth and we just need to do it just to do it.'” He went so far as to say “if we ever have to go to market for pitching, we are doomed.”

While the trade market seems like the most likely source of offensive upgrade, Friedman said the team will monitor the free agent market. “We can’t compete for every single player that’s going to be a free agent but we should be experts on the ones we can compete on. There’s a lot more risks with those type of players and more volatility, but it’s incumbent upon us to find the right group and the right composition to have success.” While risks like Carlos Pena and Luke Scott did not pan out as expected, the signing of Fernando Rodney is arguably the greatest relief pitching signing in recent history. Expect the team to be active on the secondary market once again with names like James Loney, David Ross, and perhaps Melky Cabrera as potential targets.

By in large, the key to offensive success in 2013 rests on the right-handed bat of Evan Longoria. Speaking about the 26-year-old slugger, Friedman said “to the extent we can keep him on the field for 150-plus games, there’s nothing we can do this off-season that will be more meaningful.”

In March, I said Longoria was the most important player in baseball, citing the Rays inability to replace his overall production internally or externally. Friedman echoed a similar sentiment, warning there is little the team can do to prepare for such a loss. “I don’t think we’re going to do anything in this coming off-season that’s going to put us in a position to withstand losing Evan for 85 games” he said. “I don’t think that’s going to be something we’re going to be able to accomplish.”

With several openings heading into next season, one position that may already be filled is shortstop. After a positive return to his natural position in 2012, Ben Zobrist could find himself as the team’s primary shortstop headed into next year. Friedman said Zobrist’s seamless transition across the second base bag “makes it a real scenario for us to focus on.” While it is too early to pencil anyone except Longoria at one position, Zobrist locking down the shortstop position would allow the team to allocate available resources at other areas of need.

As expected, Friedman was noncommittal on many issues including the futures of B.J. Upton and Luke Scott; however, the team will operation with a clear focus.”Our goal is to put together a better roster for next year” said Friedman. “What that means? We don’t know right now.”