Monday, February 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Wil Myers' emergence coming too late to help Rays

NEW YORK — Wil Myers has good reason, besides seeing some old mates, to look forward to returning to the Trop tonight.

In his second season since being shipped to San Diego, Myers has emerged as the kind of all-around impact player and All-Star he was supposed to be for the Rays, hitting .276 with 23 homers, 70 RBIs, 21 steals and an .854 OPS while moving from the outfield to settle in at first base.

"I'm excited; I think it's going to be pretty fun," Myers said last week of facing his former team for the first time since being traded. "I've really felt like I've grown as a big-leaguer, grown as a teammate. That's one thing I really wish that I could've given Tampa. That's something I don't think I really learned until this year. … It's one of those things where you live and learn. I learned a little bit later, but I really enjoyed my time there in Tampa."

Myers' return for his first games against the Rays spurs two significant questions:

• Did president of baseball operations Matt Silverman give up on him too early, dealing him just two years — and only 175 big-league games — after Andrew Friedman made him the centerpiece acquisition in the blockbuster trade of James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals?

Given that Myers is still only 25, the wrist problems that concerned the Rays appear to be resolved, maturity seems to have taken hold, and he won't start making any money via arbitration until next season, you can make a good case for a solid Yes.

• Will Steven Souza Jr. emerge as an impactful replacement, having been acquired — albeit in a complicated three-team deal involving nine other players — essentially to take his place?

Given that Souza is 27, muddling through another offensively inconsistent, defensively adventurous and injury-marred season and is still described by his bosses as a work (and a perhaps too-hard-for-his-own-good worker) in progress, you can listen to the positive spin and say it's uncertain, though it may be trending toward No.

"We have a lot of players in that boat that are still learning on the job," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "We have every belief (Souza) is capable of being the guy that we anticipated, and he has definitely at times shown spurts of that. It's the consistency."

There were times last season when Souza was playing well and Myers wasn't, or was injured, that it looked as if the swap might be working out for the Rays.

But Myers' development has shifted the pendulum, and the onus is now on Souza to show he can be what the Rays expected.

Not that he, understandably, sees it that way.

"I'll leave that up to you analysts to decide who won and who lost," Souza said.

"My career is not going to be defined by how good Wil Myers is and how bad Steven Souza is, or how good Steven Souza is and how bad Wil Myers is. I'm not going to live that way. The trade is what it is. I'm enjoying being here and having this opportunity at this point. And that's all I really try and focus on."

Actually, measuring Souza against Myers isn't the only scale.

In the original December 2014 deal, the Rays sent Myers, no-longer-wanted catcher Ryan Hanigan and minor-league pitchers Jose Castillo and Gerardo Reyes to the Padres for catcher Rene Rivera, pitcher Burch Smith (since injured) and three promising, highly rated prospects — first baseman Jake Bauers, pitcher Joe Ross and middle infielder Trea Turner, their top draft pick that year.

But feeling they needed to replace Myers in rightfield to remain competitive, and not having an internal solution, the Rays made a side deal to get Souza (plus Class A pitcher Travis Ott) from Washington for Ross, who has emerged as a quality starter (currently on the disabled list with a shoulder issue), and Turner, who is already in the majors and looks like a future two-way impact player. (They kept Bauers, who is impressing at Double A.)

While maintaining no one trade can be viewed "in a vacuum" and time can change views, Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg acknowledges this one could read better.

"The one part, if you look at it, is the guys we traded out to Washington who've turned into something. And that's not something we normally do," he said. "But we thought we had a winning baseball team last year and this year, and Souza gave us the best chance to win last year and this year, and those guys would not have.

"So if we had just done that trade of Myers for those two guys (and not flipped them to the Nats), it would have been a tremendous trade. But we were actually trying to win baseball games the last two years."

Myers had his flaws, issues and conflicts with players — from Evan Longoria down — and staff while with the Rays, so maybe trading him was the right move.

Now it's up to Souza to show that getting him wasn't the wrong one.

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