A look at significant Rays moves of the recent past
Talks, trades, signings and more. This is a time to shape the future.
Baseball’s winter meetings will be held next week in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and the Tampa Bay Rays will continue towards their plans for 2014.
Will the Rays produce another?
Here’s a look back at five key trades and signings that have impacted Tampa Bay of late …
1. Rays sign Evan Longoria to a six-year, $100 million extension (2012)
The skinny: In November 2012, the Rays locked up their most important asset with an extension that will pay him $136.6 million over 10 years. In many ways, this move was a no-brainer: Longoria had earned three All-Star selections, two Gold Glove Awards, a Silver Slugger Award and American League Rookie of the Year in 2008. In a franchise no stranger to turnover, the star third baseman’s signing meant stability for a centerpiece of the Rays’ power and instant credibility for seasons to come. Longoria has enjoyed what he has built in this region, so the Rays were wise to guarantee he’ll stay put.
Impact: Much of it remains to be seen. A left hamstring injury limited him to 74 games in 2012, when he hit .289 with a career-low 17 home runs and 55 RBI. He rebounded by playing a career-high 160 games last season, when he hit .269 with 32 home runs and 88 RBI. With Wil Myers’ arrival, the Rays have the pieces in place for a potent one-two punch for years to come. Longoria provides a clear stabilizing presence in the clubhouse, and the guarantee that he’ll remain that way far into the future means good things for Tampa Bay.
2. Rays trade for Ben Zobrist (2006)
The skinny: The Houston Astros selected Zobrist in the sixth round of the 2004 draft, but his time with the franchise was short-lived. He was traded to Tampa Bay in July 2006 with right-hander Mitch Talbot for outfielder Aubrey Huff and cash considerations. Zobrist made his Major League debut at age 25 that season, and he has grown into one of the most stable pieces of the Rays’ lineup. He’s a two-time All-Star, the second appearance coming last July. He has a career .263 batting average with 104 home runs and 459 RBI. He’s also known for his quality glove both in the outfield and infield. Behind Longoria, he’s the Rays’ most valuable everyday player.
Impact: The production speaks for itself. Zobrist has been a stable presence in Tampa Bay’s lineup, playing at least 151 regular-season games in each of the past five seasons. He has hit no worse than .238 (2010) in that span, and he has earned respect around the league for his consistency. There’s little reason to expect anything less to come. Zobrist is comfortable with the Rays, and it’s easy to see him staying here beyond his 2015 club option. From an unproven Astros prospect to a Rays staple, Zobrist has carved out a notable career.
3. Rays sign Fernando Rodney (2012)
The skinny: The Rays signed Rodney to a $1.75 million deal in January 2012 with a $2.5 million club option for 2013. After two so-so seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, Rodney produced a historic 0.60 ERA with a career-high 48 saves in 2012. He was stellar in his breakout season: He had 76 strikeouts and 15 walks in 74 2/3 innings. He allowed five earned runs — the fewest since giving up 12 with the Detroit Tigers in 2002 — during his rookie year. But he was humbled last season when his ERA ballooned to 3.38 with a career-worst eight blown saves.
Impact: Given Rodney’s struggles last season, “inconsistent” isn’t too strong a word to describe his Rays tenure. He was impressive in 2012, and he followed that effort with a highlight-worthy showing in the World Baseball Classic, where he helped lead the Dominican Republic to the title. Bad stretches were revealed early in his second Rays campaign when he had five blown saves by late May. He stabilized over the next two months, but he faltered again in August by blowing three saves in three weeks. A lack of command was the main culprit, as shown by his 36 walks, which were the most since he allowed a career-worst 41 with the Detroit Tigers in 2009.
4. Rays trade for Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi (2012)
The skinny: The Rays and Kansas City Royals made one of the largest splashes of the offseason last December when they were partners in a seven-player trade that has the potential to shape both franchises’ future. The Rays gained four players. Myers, an outfielder, and Odorizzi, a right-hander, were the most notable hauls in a deal that sent workhorse right-hander James Shields to Kansas City. Both Myers and Odorizzi made impacts in the Majors last season. Myers’ promotion, especially, will be recalled as a watershed moment for Tampa Bay if he lives up to his potential following his AL Rookie of the Year campaign. The Royals made a move for the present, while the Rays collected assets for the future.
Impact: The Rays missed Shields’ stability in the rotation, but it’s hard to argue with what Myers gave his new team after his promotion in June. The steady 22-year-old finished with a .293 batting average with 13 home runs and 53 RBI. He started hot — he hit a season-high .352 in July — but his rookie year included predictable growth moments with his progress. Odorizzi, meanwhile, closed with a 3.94 ERA in 29 2/3 innings. It’s clear the right-hander still needs some seasoning, but he served admirably from the bullpen late in the year when he struck out eight batters and allowed one earned run in 11 2/3 innings in August and September. Keep a close watch on these two in the coming years.
5. Rays trade for Yunel Escobar (2012)
The Skinny: Escobar came with some red flags after he was traded from the Miami Marlins for infielder Derek Dietrich in December 2012, but he evolved into one of Tampa Bay’s most pleasant surprises last season. He was suspended three games for writing a gay slur on his eyeblack as part of the Toronto Blue Jays in September 2012, an unfortunate incident that will remain part of his resume. However, after a slow start, he repaired his reputation and grew into a reliable teammate and defensive talent at shortstop. There’s no question he helped lift the Rays to their fourth postseason appearance in the last six years.
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