ST. PETERSBURG — This is a big reunion week for the Rays.
The first meeting with former franchise icon Evan Longoria Friday in San Francisco will be the headline attraction.
But before that, they’ll host the Rockies, who have a couple of pitchers who came up together closely in their system — “Like the Bobbsey twins,’’ farm director Mitch Lukevics said — and achieved fame and/or fortune elsewhere, Wade Davis and Jake McGee.
Plus, another pretty good one who got away, German Marquez.
Marquez was just a 20-year-old prospect with a 7-13, 3.56 record at Class A when the Rays packaged him with McGee in January 2016 to get outfielder Corey Dickerson and minor-league infielder Kevin Padlo from Colorado.
The deal, like many, can be evaluated different ways. The Rays got two pretty good years of the offense they wanted from Dickerson, then awkwardly designated him for assignment last spring to facilitate a trade, didn’t get much in return (minor-leaguer Tristan Gray) and watched as he cut way down on strikeouts and won a Gold Glove in Pittsburgh. Padlo has battled injuries and yet to get past Class A. McGee did well enough in his first two seasons with the Rockies (2-5, 4.11, 18 saves) to get a new three-year, $27-million deal.
But the breakout star has been Marquez.
Over the last two seasons he is a dandy 25-18, 4.05, and while pitching half his games in Coors Field. Marquez (HAIR-mahn MAR-kehz) made the Topps All-Star Rookie team for his 2017 work, winning 11. Last year he had a Rockies record 230 strikeouts, a 3.77 overall ERA that was eighth best in team history (and 2.95 road ERA that ranked among NL leaders), was 3-1, 2.14 in September and started the NL West tiebreaker and decisive NLDS Game 3 (though losing both).
“To see what he’s evolved into is awesome,’’ said Rays Cy Young award winner Blake Snell, who teamed with Marquez at Class A in 2014-15. “He was a kid that really, really had a lot of talent. I liked his arm, his body, everything about him. He could always pitch, and he learned. That was the best thing, he always learned. And he was a great kid. Can’t wait to see him.’’
Ryne Stanek, another minor-league mate, raved similarly: “The dude had really, really good stuff. You could tell it was all there, it was just one of those things when it all got completely put together. And he’s showing it now.’’
The Rays will see for themselves Wednesday, as Marquez, now 24, follows up a strong Friday season debut in Miami with a chance to pointedly remind them what they could have had, another highly talented young core player.
GM Erik Neander, naturally, doesn’t look at it quite that way.
He said the Rays felt good about the reason they made the deal at the time, namely to boost offense, and “about the contributions Corey gave us.’’ Also that they’re “happy” about the success Marquez is having and “how his major-league career has gone to this point.’’
Did the Rays whiff in not expecting Marquez to be this good? Maybe? Kinda?
Neander noted any prospect making it big is the exception, but with Marquez “the abilities and the ingredients were there to have this type of impact in time … so in that way not surprised.’’
Plus, he said trades can’t always be judged on a W-L basis, and that can change over time. And, with as many deals as the Rays make, they truly aren’t going to win them all.
“To make trades at the volume and frequency at which we do you have to be very comfortable knowing you’re not going to get them all right,’’ he said. “That’s something we understand and expect, and are willing to accept that because we think the total volume of the transactions we make are best for our organization.
“That doesn’t mean you’re going to win every single transaction. Without knowing exactly what winning a transaction even means because a lot of them are made with different goals at the time between the teams.’’
* With the decision to close the upper deck supposedly for the full season, wouldn’t it be a better look to extend the tarps to cover all empty seats, not just the upper rows? Or drape the area? Maybe that money went for the Brandon Lowe and Snell extensions?
* Interesting that principal owner Stuart Sternberg, when asked, said his biggest concerns weren’t the closer-less bullpen, but, in order: Over-optimism, meshing new players with the returnees and the lack of enough veteran presence to help down the stretch. Related, he said they’re positioned to add come June/July with “some room payroll wise” and “some pieces we could move” to do so.
* Leader of the effort to bring baseball back to Montreal, Stephen Bronfman, was said to be noticeably more confident talking at last week’s exhibitions, which drew only 24,482 and 22,502, half of previous years. He said they are working toward securing land for a new stadium, thinks this “is a big year’’ for their effort and they “are ready.’’
Minor-league rosters will be announced Monday; good guesses are Brendan McKay to Double-A Montgomery, uber-prospect Wander Franco to Class A Bowling Green. … In addition to the “Openers are Humans Too” T-shirts, Rays pitchers are sporting another with “Remember the 94,’’ a reference to the percentage of first pitch strikes that aren’t hits. … The cownose rays are missing from the Touch Tank but are expected back for the next homestand. … A USAtoday.com For The Win headline from Thursday’s announced Trop crowd of 25,025: The Tampa Bay Rays had the saddest Opening Day “sellout.” … More upcoming homecomings: Tampa native/area resident Dave Magadan coming back as Rockies hitting coach, outfielder Avisail Garcia going to Chicago, where he played the last 5 ½ seasons. … Kevin Cash got multiple votes as the manager players would most want and not want to play for in poll of roughly 250 by The Athletic; Joe Maddon won most, Gabe Kapler not. Also, St. Pete/Tampa Bay wasn’t among 15 cities getting votes as most enjoyable to visit. (Worse, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee were.) … Per betonline.ag, teams getting most “over” bets on projected win totals were the Rays (84 ½), Rockies (84 ½) and Phillies (89 ½). … Funny tweet from Jessica Faria (wife of Jake), noting Lowe’s extension also locks up his wife, Madison, for the next six wives’ charity softball games. Madison, who starred at Maryland, played along, responding: “Confirmed, @RaysBaseball took my OPS into consideration when finalizing the contract.’’ … Saturday is an interesting night for the organization with the Rays and Rowdies soccer team, which they bought in October, also playing at home, at nearby Al Lang Stadium.
Ones who got away?
Among players the Rays traded as prospects who did well elsewhere, with career WAR:
Trea Turner (10.4): Infielder flipped from Padres to Nats in Steven Souza Jr. deal in Dec. 2014
German Marquez (8.8): Pitcher dealt to Rockies with Jake McGee for Corey Dickerson in Jan. 2016
Stephen Vogt (6.9): Catcher sent to A’s for cash in April 2013
Mike Montgomery (6.2): Lefty sent to Mariners for Erasmo Ramirez in March 2015
Felipe (Rivero) Vazquez (5.4): Left-hander dealt to Nats, with two others, for Nathan Karns in Feb. 2014
Derek Dietrich (4.8): Infielder sent to Marlins for Yunel Escobar in Dec. 2012
Worth noting: Josh Hamilton (28.3 WAR) was left exposed in Dec. 2006 Rule 5 draft
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.