An Interview with Dan Feinstein, Tampa Bay Rays Director of Baseball Operations

Dan Feinstein is probably best known for his appearance in some book by Michael Lewis. Besides working with the Oakland Athletics, he also spent time with the Los Angeles Dodgers before joining the Rays. Our gratitude goes out to him for taking time to answer some questions.

R.J.: Director of Baseball Operations is a rather vague title. Outside of dealing with arbitration cases and maneuvering a few trades, what are some of your other responsibilities?

Dan Feinstein:  My main focus is assisting Andrew with the major league team.  The construction and management of our roster is an important part of this, but there are other aspects that require attention.  Many people work hard behind the scenes to put our players on the field, and I am a point of contact for our clubhouse manager, team travel director, grounds crew, strength and conditioning coach, and athletic training staff.   Budgets and other operational matters take time as well, and navigating the details of the Major League rules is sometimes a job unto itself.  Baseball is of course a cyclical business, and MLB's calendar generally dictates what we will be working on at different times of the year.  Oftentimes the offseason can be busier than the season!

R.J.: From where did the Rays policy to not negotiate after the player's side elects for arbitration originate?

DF:  Each team has a different philosophy as to whether to negotiate after the exchange date.  We believe that our policy gives us the best chance to avoid a hearing and arrive at a number that's acceptable to both sides.

R.J.: Do you see yourself heading to any arbitration hearings this February?

DF: It is always our goal to avoid arbitration hearings if at all possible.  Players and teams often don't see eye to eye on a particular player's value within the system, and the process exists for a reason.  That said, we are hopeful that we will be able to reach agreements with all of our remaining eligible players.

R.J.Rafael Soriano is pretty awesome. Nevertheless, if he would've declined arbitration, the likelihood of him being a Ray right now is what, 2%?

DF:  We think he's pretty awesome also!  It was a perfect storm of events that led to us trading for him.  Had he declined arbitration, with the draft pick compensation that would have been attached, it would have been much harder for us to bring him here. 

R.J.:  How big of a clubhouse guy is Gabe Kapler?

DF: I had always heard that Gabe was terrific in the clubhouse, but he's even better than advertised, and a great person as well.  He's the sort of guy who can stay in this game long after his playing days are over, if that's what he wants.  He never stops trying to learn about any aspect of the game.  I remember once having a conversation with Westy about a clubhouse budget issue when Gabe walked in.  Most guys would keep their heads down, go about their business and leave, but Gabe stopped us and started asking a bunch of questions.  That's the type of mind he has. 

R.J.: Stuart Sternberg said the Rays went from pigeons to piranhas after the 2008 season. Would you surmise that other teams became more hesitant in dealing with the team?  

DF: Finding an overlap with another team on a trade is one of the most difficult things to do in this industry.   We are always thinking of ways to improve our club and so we've been very active on this front over the past few years.  We pride ourselves on being forthright and approachable, and we're always looking for different ways to match up. 

R.J.: I promise to avoid references to that one book you were mentioned in, but you've worked alongside Billy Beane and Andrew Friedman. Both are pretty good at their jobs. Do you notice any similarities or major differences between their approaches?

DF: I see far more similarities between the two than differences.  It sounds like a cliché, but it's true: both are driven and competitive, and focused on building winning teams that are sustainable over the long haul.  They are both very bright-not just about baseball-and keep you on your toes.  Billy is a few inches taller, though. 

R.J.: Many eyebrows were raised when Aneury Rodriguez was left unprotected from the Rule 5 draft and soon thereafter a roster space or two were emptied.  Can you explain the thought process behind who the Rays choose to protect and how they come to decisions on the borderline candidates?

DF:  Each year we take an exhaustive look at all the candidates that are up for protection.  The opinions of our scouts and especially our player development staff, who see these players the most, are extremely important in this process.  You never want to lose a talented player, but roster flexibility is crucial, and we have to take that into account when making our decisions.  That we didn't protect Aneury this year should not be taken as an interpretation of how we feel about the player.  We like him a lot.  Sometimes the best way to keep a player in the organization long-term is not to protect him too early.

R.J.: Speaking of the Rule 5 draft, the Rays sold their pick for the third time in this regime's stay. Is this simply no one player sticking out as a potential fit? Do you think the Rule 5 draft's impact is vastly overrated?

DF:  I do not think that the Rule 5 draft is overrated at all - there are certainly impact players that have been selected in recent years.  It's an inexact science and we spend a great deal of time each year looking at the candidates and determining if there are any potential fits for our club.  We had intended to select a player this year, but he was drafted ahead of us.

R.J.: How would you respond to those who say the Rays are hard to deal with or gun shy when it comes to making ‘the big move'?

DF:  I would say we've been extremely aggressive over the past few years in reshaping our roster; you don't go from 66 wins to the World Series in one off-season by standing still. 

R.J.: What's the number one thing management can do to increase ticket sales?

DF:  People want to see a winner, and obviously, it's our job to put the very best team possible on the field each year.   But we also have an entire department dedicated to Fan Experience.  They've completely transformed what it's like to watch a game in Tropicana Field.  Everything you and your family interact with during a game-the parking, the ushers, the activities in the stadium and between innings, the scoreboard-has been crafted to appeal to different segments of our fan base.  It's been impressive to see the transformation over time. 

R.J.: You work for the Rays and root on the Raiders. The two couldn't be more different, right?

DF:  They always say that in baseball, hope springs eternal.  That's true for Raider Nation as well.  The autumn wind is a pirate--the energy and excitement are always there, no matter what happened last Sunday or what the team's record is.  You always have faith, and it's a lot of fun when you see that faith rewarded. 

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Big thanks to Dan once more. The Rays are stacked with smart folk.

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