Evan Longoria on the Rays: ‘I feel like an outsider looking in’

Evan Longoria of the San Francisco Giants is all smiles after hitting a three-run home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first inning on Sunday, April 29, 2018 at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group/TNS) 1229836
Evan Longoria of the San Francisco Giants is all smiles after hitting a three-run home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first inning on Sunday, April 29, 2018 at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group/TNS) 1229836
Published May 10 2018

PHILADELPHIA — There's still a couple pieces of the Rays with Evan Longoria on the field every day, a blue rubber bracelet in honor of Joshua Fisher, one of the many cancer-stricken kids he met at the Trop, and the size 11 black New Balance cleats that fit better than any of the new ones he's gotten yet.

But otherwise, the 10 history-filled years he spent with the Rays are clearly in his past.

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Sure, he'll check in occasionally with some of his friends still playing there, including Matt Duffy and Brad Miller, who are renting his St. Petersburg waterfront house. He'll check up on some of his former mates, mentioning Chris Archer and Blake Snell, to see how they're doing generally, along with manager Kevin Cash. And he'll check out an inning or two if the Rays happen to show up on a TV in his sight.

"I keep an eye on it,'' Longoria said Thursday. "But there's no part of me that's rooting for or against. I feel like an outsider looking in now.''

For most of those 10 years, he was the Rays, the cornerstone of the franchise as it was transformed literally from worst to first, making a run of four playoff appearances in six years that seems so long ago.

So don't take that frosty sounding quote — Longoria is not one to come across warm and fuzzy publicly anyway — to mean he doesn't cherish the memories either, as the jerseys hanging in his Arizona off-season home and boxes of Rays equipment and memorabilia in his garage serve as proof.

"It's a part of my life that obviously I'll never forget,'' he said, "and it's not going away anytime soon.''

But business is business.

And when the Rays decided to trade him, and most of the $86 million guaranteed left on his contract, to the Giants on Dec. 20, Longoria, understandably, moved on, physically and emotionally. (Though he does admit to still dropping an occasional "we" into a casual conversation when the Rays come up.)

Longoria made mention again of appreciating how professionally and transparently the Rays handled his departure, especially compared to some of the messes other teams made in dealing their franchise players (such as the Rockies and his good friend Troy Tulowitzki).

And he revealed that as part of the process Rays general manager Erik Neander flew out to Arizona a few weeks ahead of time to tell him face to face that a trade- somewhere — "was a real possibility," classily wanting him to hear it directly rather than via rumors and reports.

Longoria's departure turned out to be the first step in a massive makeover of the roster, as the Rays let veterans such as Alex Cobb and Logan Morrison leave as free agents and traded Brad Boxberger, Corey Dickerson, Jake Odorizzi and Steven Souza Jr.

Though Longoria didn't agree with how some of the moves were made, particularly Dickerson, who was first DFA'd then dealt, and said so publicly, he said Thursday he understood and, in a way, applauded Neander for committing to something of a rebuild, though noting Archer could be next.

"I respect him for kind of going at it fully,'' Longoria said. "He gave up probably as much as he could have given up while still maintaining that level to be able to go out there and compete.''

Life with the big-market Giants is different, and not just because Longoria is wearing orange and black and an odd-looking No. 10 (since 3 is retired), or because he's living in a high-rise condo in downtown San Francisco and riding an electric bike to work at often-filled and always vibrant AT&T Park.

The transition to the Giants didn't start well, as he struggled on the field, admittedly trying to do too much to initially impress, and adjusted to not having wife, Jaime, and kids Elle (5) and Nash (4) with him, since they stayed home in Arizona most of the time. (And when they did visit, having to explain to the kids that mascots Raymond and DJ Kitty wouldn't be there, but Lou Seal would.)

Longoria has since gotten more comfortable and productive, hitting .241 with a .756 OPS overall, though his stat line still looks weird with as many errors as homers (seven) and only three walks. He reached two milestones that once seemed far away, 1,500 career hits and 10 years of service time in the majors.

"You love being in a place where you know year in and year out they are going to do everything they can to compete and to win,'' Longoria said. "Obviously (the Rays) have to do it the way they're trying to do it where you hope that you make the right moves, get the right prospects in deals, draft correctly, and then put yourself in a position to win down the road. … They're doing it the right way, giving themselves the best chance to succeed with the opportunity they have. … I hope it works out for them, I really do.''

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays