After Rays’ trade, Longo is long gone

by Gary Shelton on December 21, 2017 · 3 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Rays

Longoria's fingerprings were all over Rays' successes./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Longoria's fingerprings were all over Rays' successes./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Wednesday, 3 a.m.

And so it is time for goodbye once again. This time, it is Evan Longoria who switches off the light, who closes the door, who walks away to be part of someone else's future. This time, it is Evan Longoria, the Ray who mattered the most, packing up his bat and his glove and memories. He is someone else's now. There is a hole at third base... and in the hearts of his fans.

Farewell, Evan.

And, man, does this stink.

You don't need to be reminded, do you? Following sports is a series of goodbyes, and they never get easier. It can tear a hole

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Longoria was moved to the Giants Wednesday./CARMEN MANDATO

Longoria was moved to the Giants Wednesday./CARMEN MANDATO

in your faith, and it can present a challenge to your loyalty. In this town, less successful at games than many, we have already said our farewells to Lee Roy Selmon and to Derrick Brooks, to Warren Sapp and Tony Dungy, to John Lynch and Ronde Barber. We have shed a tear for Dave Andreychuk and Martin St. Louis, for Vinny LeCavalier and Brad Richards, for Brad Bishop and John Tortorella. We have waved from the platform as Carl Crawford left, and James Shields, and David Price. We have watched as Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff and Joe Madden walked away. Every few months, it seems that a bit of greatness leaves us.

And now it is Longoria's final scene.

And, damn, is this hard.

Longoria grew up as a Tampa Bay Ray./CARMEN MANDATO

Longoria grew up as a Tampa Bay Ray./CARMEN MANDATO

He was ours, from the day the Rays gave him his first hat to the days he wore it in a World Series. He won silver bats and gold gloves and a platinum bond with the fans. He made All-Star games. He was Rookie of the Year.

With the Rays, however, there are no golden years, and darned few silver ones.

Look, it is as eventual as time. No one plays forever. I get that. There always was going to come a time when Longoria was not at third for the Rays. But as it happens, it reminds us all of our age, and of his. No one wants to say farewell, especially when a great deal of the reason, it seems, is because the Rays would prefer to spend the money at other positions than for a 32-year-old third baseman.

But now? At 32? For a prospect, an extra outfielder and two minor leaguers? Oh, and the honor of not paying him.

That's the hard part of following the Rays, isn't it? Eventually, players price themselves out of a franchise that surfs on a dime. If this was a team trading a popular player for a rising one, well, that's sports. But if Longoria wasn't due $86 million, this trade doesn't happen. Not for a journeyman outfielder and a prospect who hit .192 in his brief time in the bigs and two minor league pitchers who might as well be named Starskey and Hutch (actually, it's Woods and Krook, but you get the idea). Aren't you weary of trades that are basically about saving money?

“I wished maybe they would decide to commit to adding to the roster and trying to contend year in and year out," Longoria said. "I guess I understand that that’s not the way the organization has done it historically. There’s a part of me that is let down by that, but it’s been the way that it’s been as long as I’ve been here, so I guess that’s not too much of a surprise.”

He grew up here. He met his wife, and had his kids. He remembers his first day taking batting practice, and how he got "two balls out of the infield." He jokes that the Rays must have wondered what they got with the No. 3 pick in the draft.

Here's a hint: The national headlines were calling this the “Longoria trade.” No one called it the “Denard Span trade.”

Longoria was one of the more likable Rays. He was a grinder, always on his way from one drill to another. He was big in the big moments, like game 162, when he had the 12th-inning home run to get the Rays into the post-season. He spoke with the maturity of Andreychuk or Barber or Steven Stamkos. And to his last at-bat, he was the Ray you most wanted to see come to the plate with a runner in scoring position. He had a capable bat and a dependable glove and admirable leadership skills. And the fans trusted him.

There is a reason that this trade will be unpopular:  Bluntly put, the fans trust Longoria more than they trust the team's front office. We've seen too many misjudgments and blown draft picks over the years. We saw too many wonderful moments by Longo.

Now he is gone.

Longoria admitted Wednesday that a part of him “was let down” to be traded. That tells you something right there. A lot of players would be tossing confetti over being sprung from the bottom of the AL East. Not Longoria.

"I don't blame them," he  said. "I feel they felt they are in a position they need to make some drastic changes. … I think they felt this was the best time for them to rebuild from the ground up."

But do you do that by shuffling off your best-known player? Does this feel like the Rays are getting more essential … or less?

At the moment, it feels like a team has traded its face, its legacy, its trust. For the moment, if feels as if the Rays are in reverse. They're falling, and there are rocks below.

Look, you move on. The Yankees said goodbye to Jeter and the Padres to Gyinn and the Red Sox to Ortiz. But this feels all wrong. It feels too soon. It feels there should have been more memories to come.

Goodbye, Evan.

While you were here, you did good.

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