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Denard Span excited to play for hometown Rays — if they keep him

By Roger Mooney, Times Staff Writer
FILE- In this July 7, 2017 file photo, San Francisco Giants' Denard Span celebrates after hitting a home run against the Miami Marlins during the ninth inning of a baseball game in San Francisco. The San Francisco Giants have acquired infielder Evan Longoria and cash from the Tampa Bay Rays for outfielder Denard Span, infielder Christian Arroyo and two minor league pitchers. The teams announced the moves Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File) NY173

ST. PETERSBURG ó Wednesdayís trade that brought him from the Giants to the Rays did catch Denard Span by surprise, but it was one he welcomed since playing for his hometown team is something the Tampa native always hoped could happen.

"I always thought it would be cool to play here during the latter part of my career," Span, 33, said.

Span is a 10-year veteran and centerfielder by trade, and has experience playing the corner outfield spots.

Where he fits in with the Raysí youth movement is to be determined. That is, if he fits in at all.

"Centerfield is spoken for here, so thatís probably not going to be it," Rays general manager Eric Neander said. "But this is a guy who does have experience playing on the corners, played them extremely well early in his career. Really good bat-to-ball skills, can be an ignitor for an offense, get on base, can do those things. Offensively itís a different profile than some of the guys we have."

The addition of Span adds depth to the Rays outfield, which could allow the team to trade Corey Dickerson this offseason.

Of course, Spanís contract calls for $9 million this season and $12 million or a $4 million buyout for 2019, so Span could be the outfielder on the move.

"Nothing would surprise me if I get traded or flipped or whatever the terminology is," Span said. "I guess until I show up to spring training then it will probably sink in that Iím a Ray. There are so many possibilities, but I definitely would love to put on this hometown uniform. It would be a dream come true. It was something I always imagined."

Span, a product of Tampa Catholic where he won a state title in 2001 and is a member of the schoolís hall of fame, attended games at the Trop before the Twins took him in the first round of the 2002 draft.

"I remember vividly going to see Ken Griffey when he came to play when he was with Seattle," Span said. "That was a treat."

Span and Neander spoke the day of the trade, so Span is well aware of the transformation that is in the works at the Trop.

"(Neander) said obviously they have a young ballclub. He said theyíre still mulling some things over," Span said. "Iím excited. Iím a Ray today. Iím excited to be a part of this team, hopefully."

The Rays could keep Span and tap into his experience since they just shipped Evan Longoria, their most experienced player, to the Giants. A veteran described by Neander as "an A-plus person, a highly skilled player with a track record of success" is never a bad thing to have in a largely young and unproven clubhouse. Especially if that veteran is willing to be a leader, which Span said he is.

"For sure, I would try my best to fill (Longoriaís leadership role) by just being that vet," Span said. "Iím not a vocal guy. I lead by example. If something needs to be said, I will say it. I would definitely embrace that and leave my imprint and help some of these guys learn to prepare and learn to compete on an everyday level."

Will he get that chance?

"We donít know at the end of the day how it all fits together," Neander said. "Who plays where, how it all fits is something weíre going to take time to figure out."