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Rays manager Kevin Cash, right, sits on the deck of Charlotte Sports Park with General Manager Erik Neander, middle, and Senior VP of Baseball Operations Chaim Bloom for the introductory press conference prior to pitchers and catchers reporting today.

In four of the past five seasons, the Tampa Bay Rays’ 90-win mark last year would’ve put them in the Major League Baseball postseason. But with the Boston Red Sox winning 108, the New York Yankees winning 100 and the Oakland Athletics earning 97, the Rays were out of contention.

Though Tampa missed out on the postseason despite being one of the hottest teams in baseball down the stretch, there is a great sense of optimism surround Charlotte Sports Park as the team gets ready to open spring training today.

“(Our greatest strength is) probably our versatility on the pitching side and on the position players side,” Cash said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can play different roles for our club and hit in different points of the lineup. We showed last year that we have a pretty special pitching staff that can pitch at different parts of the ball game, and we’re gonna utilize that again.”

Cash, along with General Manager Erik Neander and Senior VP of Baseball Operations Chaim Bloom, took to the outfield deck of Charlotte Sports Park for the introductory press conference before pitchers and catchers reported today.

The biggest question they had to answer was, ‘How can they top last season?’

In what should’ve been a rebuilding year, Tampa finished with its best record since 2013 and became the first club to use 23 rookies and finish at least 18 games over .500.

“When you have a young club that just won 90 games, it’s easy to have a lot of optimism about what’s ahead, but it’s also hard to win 90 games,” Neander said. “A lot of things went our way last year that helped us get there. I think this group will stay humble and be motivated to come out to prove that last year, and certainly the last few months of the season, weren’t a fluke.”

Through trades that included prominent players such as pitcher Chris Archer and first baseman Jake Bauers, they have continued to build their young core.

In return, they got promising youth in outfielder Austin Meadows, pitcher Tyler Glasnow and the versatile Yandy Diaz, who Cash said will get plenty of looks at first base, along with others.

They also continued to build in free agency, signing two all-stars in RHP Charlie Morton and outfielder Avisail Garcia. Typically not big spenders in free agency, after Morton signed a two-year, $30 million deal in January, it looks like there’s a major push by the Rays to contend sooner rather than later.

“Our whole goal here is to get to the point where we have a core of players that could compete in this division and compete for the postseason,” Bloom said. “You look at what happened on the field last year and what began to take shape as the year went on, and we certainly feel there’s something that’s building here.

“We’re at the point where we want to be competing for the postseason, so anything we do is with that in mind.”

Winning 90 games might not be enough to reach the postseason in 2019, and Cash knows that. So anything they can do in the spring to help gain a slight edge, they intend to explore.

“You can’t deny that as an organization, we’re in a division that two teams win 208 games,” Cash said. “And you can only think that Baltimore and Toronto are only gonna get better. The expectations, we’ll control them from the inside, but for being around these young guys that didn’t have a ton of experience, they carried themselves really well in some pretty high-pressure environments.

“I expect them to learn from that, continue to grow and put it to good use.”

Email Jacob Hoag at jacob.hoag@yoursun.com and follow him on Twitter @ByJacobHoag.

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