Rays trade closer Alex Colome, outfielder Denard Span to Mariners

Having just learned he and Alex Colome were traded to the Mariners on Friday night, an unhappy Denard Span answers media questions at Tropicana Field. He says he expected to be dealt at some point this season, but the timing took him by surprise.[JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
Having just learned he and Alex Colome were traded to the Mariners on Friday night, an unhappy Denard Span answers media questions at Tropicana Field. He says he expected to be dealt at some point this season, but the timing took him by surprise.[JIM DAMASKE | Times]
Published May 26, 2018|Updated May 26, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG – In January, sure.

In July, absolutely.

But, now?

And, once again, for someone who they hope helps in the future.

The Rays made a shocking trade at a surprising time of year Friday, dealing All-Star closer Alex Colome and Tampa-raised veteran outfielder Denard Span to Seattle for pair of pitching prospects.

The Seattle deal saved the Rays about $9.1 million, after the $4.75 million they gave the Mariners. It landed them a starting pitcher, Andrew Moore, they see as part of their not-too-distant future core. It opened additional opportunities now for some of their young players, with others coming up in June.

But it stripped away two players who played big roles in the surprising success the Rays had after their miserable start, battling back to .500 last week and building confidence, at least in their clubhouse, of battling for a playoff spot.

"I don't think you take that chance away. I think there were a lot of people who didn't give this group any sort of chance to even be at this point,'' general manager Erik Neander said, ticking off names of unheralded contributors. "At some point you have to give some of the younger players the chance to play and the opportunity to sink or swim. We like a lot of the guys we have.

"You have to be honest about your focus, which is that we're trying to build and learn as much as possible about as many players as possible. Not just for 2018 but for the future. I think our focus on this deal had some of that in mind. And that's something that's been fairly consistent dating back to the winter and even previously to that. … But when it comes to today, and the players you're taking off, you call it for what it is.''

And that, as is often the case for the Rays, is that it's more about the future.

"Erik is on record saying that it doesn't make our team better today, which is a little frustrating to hear,'' top starter Chris Archer said. "We got off to a slow start, but the last month or more we've been playing a lot better baseball.

"Everybody in this room wants our team to continue on the path that we've been on, and it's going to be tough to do without the guy who led off for us most of the last two months and the guy who's been pitching the ninth inning for the last three years for us.

"Hopefully we see some type of return, maybe some of younger guys get called up soon. But, again, I'm not here to be mediocre or just be competitive. I want to win. I want to win on a regular basis. Hopefully we can keep our head above water until we get injected with that new blood they say is coming.''

Neander insisted the Rays were not looking to dump salary or even make any kind of deal at a time when teams are primarily focused on the upcoming draft.

It actually dropped on them like a present. Armed with about $11 million freed up after the suspension of star second baseman Robinson Cano, Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto, on his Thursday birthday, pressed the offer. Neander, on his Friday birthday, accepted. Both, presumably, had cake.

Colome, 29, a Rays lifer who was a 2016 All-Star and the major-league saves leader last year, had been having an inconsistent season, to put it politely, 2-5, 4.15, converting 11 of 13 saves. Though better of late, the Rays might have seen him trending downward and, more significantly, his trade value diminishing.

Colome, making $5.3 million in his first year of arbitration eligibility, hugged clubhouse security guard Tom Berte on his way out but offered reporters only a friendly wave. Agent Rafa Nieves said: "We were surprised by the timing, but we always knew this day would come.''

The Rays don't have an obvious replacement, likely to go by matchups and committee, unless they shift Sergio Romo back.

Span, 34, was openly shocked and disappointed to be dealt, immensely enjoying the chance to play for his hometown team after being foisted on the Rays by the Giants in the Evan Longoria December blockbuster trade. He was hitting .238 though with a team-high matching 28 RBIs.

"It's a bittersweet day, more bitter than sweet though,'' Span said. 'I never thought that I would enjoy being home and playing for my hometown team as much as I did.''

The Tampa product knew enough to know he would get traded again at some point, but not now, and not with the Rays playing better after the 4-13 start.

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"Just seeing even the first two months of this season, how this team had already grown and gotten better, it was just a joy to see,'' said Span, making $9 million, and due a $4 million 2019 option buyout. "And just the atmosphere in that clubhouse, it's unlike any atmosphere I've ever been a part of to be honest. It's loose. It's fun. I told Erik and (senior VP) Chaim (Bloom) that they have a good thing going here.''

Moore, 23, was the key to the deal for the Rays, who see much more than his numbers in the majors last year, when the 2015 second-round pick pitched in 11 games (nine starts) for the Mariners, going 1-5, 5.34. He was sent back to Double A to start this season and is 3-1, 3.04.

Neander said they see him as a Jake Odorizzi/Marco Estrada type pitcher with great makeup, and they are sending him to Triple-A Durham with a chance to see him later this season. "Andrew Moore is a player we value highly and think fits in really well to the group we have in place,'' Neander said.

The Rays also got right-handed pitcher Tommy Romero, who joins Class A Bowling Green.

In an unrelated smaller deal, the Rays got twice-dumped reliever Wilmer Font (0-2, 12.71) from Oakland for Class A pitcher Peter Bayer.