It’s never easy to tell a fanbase that it’s time to rebuild. Tampa Bay Rays general manager Erik Neander has faced backlash this offseason on the Rays’ decision to ship out talent with the longterm future in mind. In 2017, the Rays finished 80-82, third in the AL East, while being buyers at the trade deadline acquiring Lucas Duda, Steve Cishek, Dan Jennings, and Sergio Romo. Fast forward to this offseason, when many important contributors were shown the door, including face of the franchise Evan Longoria.
The Rays front office has to understand that this is an unpopular decision among the fans, but since they decided a rebuild is necessary, they have to go all-in. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are not going anywhere, and the Rays’ chances of legitimately competing with them in the next few seasons are not very high.
In the Longoria trade, they were able to turn a 32-year-old into a 22-year-old who fits their timeline better. According to MLB Pipeline, Arroyo is listed as a top-five third base prospect, while appearing in 34 games in the big leagues in 2017. When the Longoria trade went down, he was months away from earning “10/5 rights,” which would have given him a no-trade clause.
Neander definitely had a deadline to move Longoria, because at the same time, the nearby Miami Marlins were struggling to maximize their return for Giancarlo Stanton after he vetoed deals to both the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals with his no-trade power.
Other moves include trading Jake Odorizzi in a one-for-one deal that landed Tampa Bay Jermaine Palacios, a 20-year-old infielder who was blocked in the Minnesota Twins system by top pick Royce Lewis; and Steven Souza Jr. for Anthony Banda and Nick Solak. The Rays were able to capitalize, landing two prospects because of Arizona’s need to replace J.D. Martinez and New York’s surplus of young infielders.
Criticism has come from all angles, both inside and outside the organization. Kevin Kiermaier said that he is “100 percent frustrated” with the team’s moves in a similar way that Christian Yelich voiced his displeasure before he was dealt. If the Rays are on this path of fully rebuilding, there’s no reason to stop now, so Kiermaier should be moved if they get a good package. Chris Archer is the most attractive player on the roster, and with five years of team control, the question seems to be a when, not if, Archer will be moved.
I understand there are relationships behind closed doors and it’s not just swapping players like in a video game franchise, but the Rays have to be fully invested in their vision for the future. Also, some of these more established players might prefer to be moved, as Longoria made clear to the front office that he preferred not to be involved in another rebuild.
Some fans probably wanted the team to build off their 80 wins a year ago, but were they on a path to a championship, or more mediocrity? They were buyers in July, and the front office did their job; it was the players who underachieved, playing six games under .500 in the second half of the season.
The Rays are on the path to be the Cubs or the Astros of seven years ago, and look where those teams are now. Those young, dynamic cores in Chicago and Houston were the result of the suffering and 100-loss seasons.
With a new ballpark on the horizon, the Rays will have a young and dynamic club at the turn of the decade. Fans just need to embrace the rebuild and, to steal a phrase from another franchise, “Trust the Process.”