We're coming up on the one-year anniversary of one of the most significant trades in Tampa Bay Rays history.
Dec. 20, 2017 is when the Rays sent most of Tampa Bay into full panic mode when they shipped their all-time best player to San Francisco.
Happy holidays and so Longo.
Evan Longoria spent 10 marvelous seasons in Tampa Bay. He was a rookie of the year. He went to three All-Star Games. He won three Gold Gloves. He gave the franchise its most iconic moment with his Game 162 home run. And, most importantly, he led the Rays to their only four postseason appearances, including that magical 2008 season when they went to the World Series.
Longoria wasn't just a part of the Rays. He was the Rays.
It was the end of an era and it looked to be the end of a competitive baseball team in Tampa Bay, at least for a while. It looked like a fire sale. It felt like a white flag.
The Rays, it seemed, were in full rebuilding mode. Slashing payroll. Tanking. It was one of the most depressing days in Tampa Bay sports history. It wasn't even the end of 2017, and already it felt like the Rays were eliminated from playoff contention in 2018.
Nearly a year later, look at that trade again.
The Rays didn't tank. They didn't fall off the face of the earth. Not only didn't they raise a white flag, they nearly raised a playoff banner. They won 90 games. The future looks as bright as ever.
Meantime, Longoria is coming off his least productive season in the majors, and now the Giants are stuck with a 33-year-old third baseman who is due to make more than $56 million over the next four years.
Hmm, maybe the Rays knew what they doing.
And maybe they still know what they are doing.
When word first came down Thursday that Tampa Bay had traded Jake Bauers, you couldn't help but question the intelligence of trading a promising 23-year-old lefty power hitter with a sweet swing. Wasn't Bauers supposed to be the Rays first baseman for the next decade? The early return from fans was one of disappointment, anger and confusion.
Will Bauers turn into a really good major-leaguer? Yeah, maybe. Who knows?
But when are we going to learn to just trust the Rays? Everything they do these days seems to be the smart move.
They kept manager Kevin Cash at a time when many thought Cash was overmatched and should have been fired. Turns out, Cash was in the running for American League manager of the year in 2018. Think about it: Cash looks to have more job security these days than Joe Maddon.
What about that idea of using relief pitchers to start games? All of baseball mocked the Rays, saying it was nothing more than gimmick to keep payroll down. Now it's a growing trend in baseball after the Rays proved you can win a lot of games that way.
Baseball rolls its eyes at all the Rays' 21st Century out-of-the-box ideas, like using shifts and analytics and other untraditional baseball methods. Then when they stop rolling their eyes, they set their sights on the Rays' think-tank, hiring away coaches such as Rocco Baldelli and Charlie Montoyo to manage their teams.
Then there are all the transactions. Since the end of 2017, the Rays have parted ways with some of their most productive and popular players, including starting pitchers Chris Archer, Nathan Eovaldi, Alex Cobb and Jake Odorizzi, closer Alex Colome, catcher Wilson Ramos, sluggers Corey Dickerson, Logan Morrison and Steven Souza Jr. And, of course, Longoria.
Every time this happens, talk radio lights up and Twitter goes bananas. Rays fans start pulling their hair out, calling the Rays dumb and/or cheap.
Then what happens? The Rays keep winning.
It's not all unicorns and rainbows. No matter what the Rays do, they are still stuck in the American League East with the Red Sox and Yankees. Those are hard hurdles to clear.
But not impossible when you have smart people in the front office, smart people in the dugout and talented players put in their best positions to succeed on the field.
A year ago, we were wondering how far the Rays would sink.
Now, we're wondering just how far they can rise.