Neander Explains Souza Trade, Moving Forward In ’18
Spring Training is usually a time that players begin the process of gearing up for the upcoming season. This spring at Port Charlotte has been anything but normal for the Tampa Bay Rays.
In the last three days the team has traded away a staple from their rotation in Jake Odorizzi. They designated for assignment a 2017 All-Star in Corey Dickerson. They continued the purge dealing last year’s team MVP Steven Souza Jr.
“This is not February 20th of your average off-season.” said Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations/General Manager Erik Neander. “There’s a lot that remains unsettled and we’re going to look and see what we can do with that.”
Was The Souza Deal Financially Motivated?
Souza was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks as part of a three-team trade with the New York Yankees. The Rays received left-handed pitcher Anthony Banda and two minor league player to be named later from the Diamondbacks. The Yankees sent the Rays minor league second baseman Nick Solak.
Souza, coming off a season in which he hit 30-homers, was due to make $3.55MM and was under team control for three more seasons? So, did the Rays move him to trim payroll? It’s a fair question, especially after the team traded Jake Odorizzi for a low-level prospect and designated for assignment Corey Dickerson.
“No, this was something we categorize much more so as a pure baseball decision. Given what was put to us and how we valued it was something that a couple of guys that are not far off from the big leagues to add to what we have to build that momentum.
The moves prior to this one were things that factors involved there were moving pieces from areas of depth that we felt we could absorb and come out the other side o.k. Especially with the addition of C.J. [Cron] to our group there.
This one here, was one that was really initiated and driven by Arizona’s pursuit of Steven and their desire to add him to their club.
It’s certaionly something we weren’t out there looking to accomplish but basically at the end of the day here something was put to us that we felt we couldn’t pass up in terms of continuing to build out our really strong core.”
Will The Purge Continue?
Should the Rays fans, who have suffered through this week, expect three or more players to be moved in the coming days and for the front office to blow this thing up?
It’s extremely unlikely says Neander.
“I spoke on the depth of the guys on the moves over the weekend. Those are two losses, I’m not going to suggest they’re not but we have the guys that are ready to step up and fill those spots.
We have to create some flexibility. There’s a lot we need to balance as we go forward. In terms of this being, this isn’t something to me, this isn’t a team that’s going to win 60 games this year.
This is a team that with respect to the quality of the pitching we have and the quality of the defense we’re going to be competitive. That’s still something that we believe.”
Neander also won’t put his team on paper against Division Rival New York and Boston. Saying, “going into the season those clubs have some real horsepower.”
Neander expect the Rays to be competitive because of the strong group of pitchers and the position players ability to prevent runs with their defense.
“The pitching we have, the arms we have here, between guys that do have something under them at the major league level combined with so many arms you’re going to see at camp. That’s a really exciting group that I would compare in terms of sheer talent up against anybody.
On the position player side our defense is going to be really strong. And just by that alone you’re going to have a chance to stay in a lot of games.
We are going to need to score more runs than we did last year. We’re down power right now. We’ve added some contact. We’ve added some guys that play the situational game which could help us in competitive ballgames. This is something with the guys we have right now, I certainly don’t want to sell them short.”
Recognizing that there is still time to fill the role once held by Souza is of some comfort.
“If this was April or March whatever day we open the season this year, and we’er a couple of days away from that it would be a bit of a different story. From where we are today, Souza is certainly a big loss and we’re going to have to work to fill that but there’s a lot of time left and will finish in the slow developing off-season.
At this point to make it very clear, our focus on the immediate future here is to see what we can do to fill in and see where that leads us as a team.
I would say extremely unlikely. Souza’s void on our club, we aren’t as we are currently constructed. We don’t have someone who’s a spitting image of him that we are going to be able to drop in that spot. We do have time to do it but that’s something we’ve already been in the process of doing.”
Shifting Focus After Tough Week:
It’s been a tough week for the Rays. But Neander insists that he and the front office are actively looking for ways to improve the 2018 club.
“Certainly, the timing of things running this deep into camp is far from ideal and it makes it a lot more difficult. Our focus at this point, we’d like to add a little bit. We’re not looking to blow this thing back.
We’d like to shift our focus here to seeing if there are things we can do to bolster our position player group so that’s where our focus is right now.
If there are opportunities that we think can improve our team in 2018 we’re going to be on the lookout for those things right now.”
The Rays fan base certainly hopes the team shifts focus, the sooner the better.