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Wil Myers trade haul buoys Rays' optimism

Steven Souza could replace Wil Myers in the Rays' lineup. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Published Dec. 20, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — Trading young slugger Wil Myers and catcher Ryan Hanigan were the latest in what has been a flurry of Rays moves, baseball operations president Matt Silverman joking Friday they were "testing the definition of tweak," which was the buzzword for their plans heading into the off­season.

But in getting new starting catcher Rene Rivera and promising power-hitting outfielder Steven Souza to highlight a five-player return in the deal made official Friday, Silverman maintained they have "a better club this year and going forward" and — despite skepticism around the game — at least as good of a chance, if not enhanced, of getting back to the playoffs.

"Heading into the offseason, we expressed optimism about the 2015 team," Silverman said. "That optimism is just as strong as we stand here today. While there's been a lot of change, the talent level at the major-league level remains very high, and we should be a formidable club."

Despite the loss of closer Jake McGee for at least April because of elbow surgery, Silverman said the roster has more depth, talent and flexibility with the additions of veteran relievers Ernesto Frieri (free agent) and Kevin Jepsen (trade for Matt Joyce) and right-hander Burch Smith (likely to open at Triple A).

"We are even more confident about the roster that we have today compared to a couple months ago," said Silverman, who took over in mid October.

The Rays would seem to need at least one more bat as they try to improve what was the league's least-productive offense, and Silverman acknowledged either a lower-end free agent signing or a trade acquisition was possible.

And though he didn't rule out dealing another veteran — free-agent-to-be Ben Zobrist is popular among other teams and could command a huge return — Silverman indicated there were no plans for a massive sell-off (i.e., franchise cornerstone Evan Longoria), saying they are always willing to talk about any player but did not anticipate any "seismic changes."

Silverman said the Rays hadn't lost faith or confidence in Myers, the 2013 American League rookie of the year, nor were they looking to deal the 24-year-old outfielder. But they found considerable interest and cobbled a franchise-largest 11-player, three-team deal with San Diego and Washington.

"This isn't about giving up on Wil Myers. That's your characterization of it," Silverman said in response to a question.

Initially, the deal will be gauged by the play of Rivera, whom the Rays consider better than Hanigan (whom the Padres reportedly are flipping to Boston for Will Middlebrooks) as their primary catcher, and Souza, whom they don't yet have a specific role for but expect to eventually be a "mainstay" in their lineup.

Rivera, 31, was someone they've admired from afar, noting his pitch-framing, throwing and some pop in his bat. He hit .252 with 11 homers. "And the more we learned about him, the more excited we got about him being the captain of our staff and manning home plate for us for many years to come," Silverman said. "Pitchers really appreciate the way he goes about his work, the way he receives, the way he calls the game. And he's going to fit in very well to our staff."

Souza, 25, was someone they had targeted, especially after he hit .350 with 18 homers, 75 RBIs and 26 steals in 96 Triple-A games. He can play every outfield spot plus first and third. "He's an outfielder with tremendous talent," Silverman said. "He has talent on both sides of the ball. … He's someone that we're excited to have … and hope we can grow with over the next several years."

Souza was "pumped" to join the Rays, eager for the opportunity to compete for a spot on the roster and in the lineup, which he wouldn't have had in Washington. "I'm just really excited," he said. "I'll embrace whatever role they have for me, but I'm coming in to win a job."

Reliever Brandon Gomes was designated for assignment.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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