ST. PETERSBURG, Florida — The resourceful Tampa Bay Rays have always used a different measuring stick to gauge their progress.
The budget-minded team missed the playoffs and finished with a losing record for the second straight season, yet Kevin Cash doesn't feel his team is that far away from being a contender again.
"Personally for me, I don't see a ton that needs to be done," the manager said. "We're going to try to continue to improve and get better."
Mostly from within.
With the possible of exception of shortstop, designated hitter and one spot in the outfield, the Rays have a pretty good idea of how the lineup will look in 2016.
And, regardless what they do — or don't do — between now and spring training, it's difficult to imagine them undergoing anywhere near as much change as last winter, which began with the surprise departures of former executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon.
In addition to losing the duo instrumental in guiding Tampa Bay to four playoff berths in seven seasons from 2008-14, the roster was overhauled through a series of trades that trimmed this year's opening day payroll to a little more than $70 million, while also bolstering the level of talent in the club's minor league system.
Nevertheless, the team's 80-82 record was disappointing from the standpoint Tampa Bay entered its first season under Cash with expectations of contending for the AL East title.
Injuries that depleted the pitching rotation for much of the season, an offense that sputtered for much of the summer, and an overworked bullpen that struggled to protect leads down the stretch contributed to the Rays finishing fourth, 13 games behind division champion Toronto.
Tampa Bay led Blue Jays in the standings as late as July 28, but went 28-31 the rest of the way, compared to Toronto's 43-17.
Part of the problem was inconsistency at Tropicana Field, where the Rays won five of six on the final homestand to finish 42-42 (including three Orioles home dates moved to St. Petersburg because of rioting in Baltimore).
"I think if you look at Joe Maddon's era and what he accomplished, one of the big things was the Rays always played well here when they were good," Cash said, "and we need to get back doing it."
Eighty victories was a three-game improvement over 2014, the team's last season under Madden, who has the Chicago Cubs in the playoffs this year.
It's only the second time Tampa Bay has posted a losing record since the franchise changed team colors and stopped calling themselves the "Devil Rays" in 2008
"I don't think our season is going to be defined," by finishing two games under .500, despite various obstacles, Cash said.
"Ultimately we did not get where we wanted to get, and I think everybody in this building knows that," the manager added. "But we're going to look at the positives. We learned a lot about a lot our guys, and that's a good thing."
Some things to know as the Rays enter the offseason:
MEANINGFUL GAMES ... AGAIN: Management insists the goal each season is to play "meaningful games" the final month of the season, not necessarily make the playoffs. Despite not being much of a factor in the pennant race, the Rays weren't officially eliminated from wild card contention until Sept. 27. Since changing nicknames in 2008, the team has only played 27 games in which it was already eliminated from postseason contention.
GETTING OVER THE HUMP: The Rays were not good at overcoming late deficits or winning close games. They were 26-30 in one-run games, 3-66 when trailing after eight innings and 2-13 in extra innings. They had three walk-off wins (April 20 vs. Boston, Sept. 20 vs. Baltimore, Oct. 3 vs. Toronto), compared to a franchise-record 13 walk-off losses.
CHIEF ASSET: Pitching still drives the Rays. Starters Matt Moore, Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi and Alex Cobb all spent time on the disabled list, leaving Chris Archer to carry the rotation much of the season. The right-hander pitched well enough to be named an All-Star for the first time, but went 3-8 after June 28 to finish 121-13 with a 3.23 ERA and 252 strikeouts in 212 innings.
RARE FEAT: Archer is only the seventh pitcher since 1900 to fan at least 250 batters without finishing with a winning record.
SAGGING ATTENDANCE: Sagging home attendance continues to be a problem for the Rays, who drew 1,247,668 — down from 1,446,464 last season.