Front office leads Rays to success
Organization finds answers to turnaround in three years
DETROIT -- The Rays are now the champions of the American League East, which has allowed them time for some reflection on the accomplishment by the team's management, which came aboard after principal owner Stuart Sternberg took control of the team in October 2005.
Andrew Friedman, the Rays' executive vice president of baseball operations, called the consistent level that the club has played at all season "extremely gratifying."
"[It has been] a phenomenal season on a lot of fronts," Friedman said. "The way some of the guys we acquired as depth pieces have performed when pressed into full-time duty [has been a surprise]. The collective character of this group and the heart has been something that you never really know until you put these guys on the field playing together.
"Overall, it's been phenomenal to date. But at this point, we're greedy and we're not doing too much reflection; we're purely looking ahead. When we play our last game of the season, it will be a better time to look back on the season."
Friedman had no experience as a general manager before being appointed to the position which entails the same duties as a general manager, just wrapped in a different title. Thus, the 2008 Rays are his first division-winning club, and he has learned a lot from when he first took over in his current job in 2005.
"Last year, at the end of the year, we took an honest assessment of where we were," Friedman said. "Sometimes, that's hard to do that. It's hard to look in the mirror sometimes and properly identify the weaknesses and what areas you need to be aggressive to go out and supplement.
"And I think, collectively as a group, we did a good job of that. And we tried to do it the year before -- and I'll take full responsibility, we did an extremely poor job of handling it. That's something I think we learned a lot from the '07 offseason to the '08 offseason. Hopefully, we will continue to refine and improve upon."
Team president Matt Silverman noted there is no precedent for what the Rays have accomplished this season by winning the AL East.
"From last place and a history of last-place finishes to a number of achievements, the postseason, the victory total, the division title," Silverman said, "it is a testament to the players, the coaches and the entire organization."
According to Silverman, there are many people with "great expertise" within the organization in baseball and business.
"And it shows the power of open-mindedness and teamwork can accomplish almost anything with an honest approach," Silverman said.
Gerry Hunsicker, the Rays' senior vice president of baseball operations, has been with pennant-winning teams in the past with the Astros and the Mets, and he noted that being a part of any championship team is special "because it's just so hard to get there in the first place."
"But this has been the most amazing season I've ever been around," Hunsicker said. "I can't think of a more improbable outcome than the one we've found ourselves in. I think one of the things that has been different is I really think the impact that [Rays manager] Joe [Maddon] has had on the club has been a greater impact than any management I have been around. It doesn't take anything away from any of the other managers, it's just always a subjective opinion about how much of an impact a manager has on a club, and I just think Joe has had a very big impact on this whole thing -- having the guys believe in themselves and setting the tone in Spring Training.
Hunsicker called the Rays "the epitome of the team effort."
"Most successful teams have a lot of players who contribute," Hunsicker said. "But it's just been one of those years where it doesn't seem to matter who we put in the lineup, who we call up from the Minor Leagues, who gets pressed into service because of injuries. Everybody has had their day. And it's just been amazing from that standpoint. And I think that helps to develop that bonding that this team has developed. It's probably the closest team that I've ever been around."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.