In preparation for Opening Day, we talked with Rays' President of Baseball Operations, Matt Silverman, about the methodology behind team's current roster construction, international scouting, Erasmo Ramirez, and more.
Erik Hahmann: Do you sense that the industry is zagging to mimic the Royals recipe of high contact offense and high velocity bullpens? What's the zig option there if a team wanted to go another direction?
Matt Silverman: You could see some evidence of those trends before the Royals won the World Series, and it's certainly more visible this offseason. With respect to the bullpen, some of it is a byproduct of the larger number of power arms across the league. But there's definitely a copycat effect in any sport whenever one team is successful by doing something slightly different. Obviously we have to read and react - and zig - but there's not a single way to do that.
EH: With the way this roster is shaping up, it seems as though there are more free swingers than in years past. Is that an intentional strategy and organizational shift in philosophy, or just a byproduct of the market?
MS: We were focused on adding power to our roster. We recognize the need to score more runs, and we wanted more threats up and down the lineup without sacrificing too much quality on defense. It's a challenging balancing act.
EH: The team hasn't had a pitcher over the age of 27 start a game in roughly two years. Is that a sustainable model if the team is going to keep contending in the future?
MS: If we continue to develop quality starting pitching, the bulk of our starts will likely come from younger pitchers coming up through our system. Plus, we're not likely to go out and spend big dollars on free agent pitching, and those are the veterans who are in their late twenties and early thirties. But there's no organizational aversion to pitchers over 27, it's just a result of the quality arms that we've been fortunate enough to develop.
EH: On the scouting side of things, how have the team's international scouting strategies differed after the Adrian Rondon singing and resulting penalty?
MS: We are using it as much as possible as an advantage. There's no point for us to spend time chasing the prospects with the big price tags, so instead we narrow our focus on the players we can sign. Their current talents may not be as evident, so it takes an even greater scouting effort to identify those who might just be late bloomers.
EH: Erasmo Ramirez became a key member of the rotation last season, and will seemingly stay in that role for 2016. He had mostly poor results before coming to the Rays. What made him someone the front office targeted?
MS: In 2013 we saw first-hand what Erasmo can do. That September he threw six shutout innings against us, keeping our hitters off balance with his fastball-changeup combination. Coming off that strong 2013 season, his 2014 results were disappointing but our reports on his stuff remained strong. We believed that if he could get his walk rate back in line, he'd be able to have success with us. What we didn't know then was how diligent he is. He keeps himself in great shape and he's very open to feedback from our coaches and catchers.
Photo credit: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
EH: Similar to the last question, what made Xavier Cedeno someone the team sought after for the bullpen?
MS: There was some fortuitous timing to that one. When Cedeno became available, we had a need in the pen for a lefty with the early season injury to Reifenhauser. Cedeno had been effective in AAA the year before especially against left handed hitters. It was a lower stakes move but turned out to have a great impact on the club last year. He fit in seamlessly in the clubhouse. We're looking forward to him being a key piece of our bullpen this year.
EH: Also, as teams increasingly adopt the highly analytical approach that had once been the Rays' "extra 2%", can you point to one or two organizational philosophies that are unique to this franchise? I realize you can't reveal trade secrets, but can you talk generally about what the Rays might see as unique organizational strengths?
MS: We know who we are, we know our financial limitations, and we don't fight them. We focus on areas where we can create value; we spend great energy on creating a positive, collaborative culture in the clubhouse and front office; and we have fun exploring new areas and trying new things. We know we can't win with our wallets, and we revel in finding other ways to help our players succeed and win games.
EH: Aside from the top prospects like Blake Snell, Brent Honeywell, Taylor Guerrieri, etc, who are a couple prospects fans should be looking out for in 2016?
MS: With the talent and depth in our system right now, it's really unfair to single out any one or two prospects. We have a strong wave of players at the AAA and AA level. For many of them, it's about getting the chance to show what they can do in the big leagues. I know our Major League staff really enjoyed getting to know some of the younger pitchers who got sent out early in camp this year Snell, Guerrieri, Faria, and Schultz. They all impressed and they all have bright futures.
EH: The team hired former knuckleball pitcher Charlie Haeger as a pitching coordinator, signed knuckler Eddie Gamboa, and had Dan Johnson in camp working on the pitch. This seems like a pointed strategy. What is the plan there? Also, there's never been a full time knuckleball reliever on the Rays. Is that something the team may try and focus on? Imagine going from facing Archer throwing 97 to a knuckleball going 75...
MS: Charlie's already been very helpful with all of our minor league pitchers, and his knuckleball experience brings an extra dimension to our staff. We have a couple of pitchers in minor league camp who have toyed with the knuckleball. Charlie's a great resource for them as they work on that pitch. It's not for everyone. I do think there's something to the effect of the knuckleball pitcher on hitters whether coming in before or after a traditional pitcher. To the extent Charlie can help a couple of pitchers improve their knuckleball, it's a bonus.