ST. PETERSBURG — In admitting the pain of trading Logan Forsythe to the Dodgers on Monday night, Rays officials raved about how valuable he was hitting atop their lineup, playing a sturdy second base and providing professionalism and by-example leadership in their clubhouse.
But, they insisted, the talented pitching prospect they got back in right-hander Jose De Leon will make the deal well worth it.
"The way we have him evaluated and his proximity to the big leagues, it was an opportunity we felt we couldn't pass up as an organization," Rays general manager Erik Neander said.
De Leon, 24, is ranked among the top advanced pitching prospects in the game, having posted dazzling numbers through the minor leagues — such as 446 strikeouts in 3302/3 innings — and made it to the big leagues at the end of last season.
The Rays may have De Leon open at Triple-A Durham, but expect him to join their rotation at some point this season and stick around for a long time.
"Adding Jose where he's at certainly deepens our starting pitching depth. That's very important as we try to have success in 2017 and into the future,'' Neander said.
Still, dealing the respected Forsythe did not go over well with current Rays.
"I'm surprised and upset at losing a player, clubhouse presence and friend like Logan," Evan Longoria told the Tampa Bay Times. "He's a rare player."
And Chris Archer tweeted: "I'm really, really, really going to miss Logie bear.''
The Rays will consider several internal options to replace Forsythe, who emerged in 2015 then moved to the leadoff spot last year and produced a career-high 20 home runs.
First choices would appear to be Tim Beckham or Nick Franklin, who were in line for reserve duty, with rookie Daniel Robertson a longer shot. Another option to consider is moving Brad Miller, who was shifted last season to first from short, then signing a first baseman from a pool of free agents still on the market, such as Chris Carter, Mark Reynolds or Logan Morrison, who was with them last year.
"We're going to keep an open mind to just about every consideration," Neander said, including externally.
The Dodgers, led by former Rays boss Andrew Friedman, have been seeking a second baseman, trying first to get Brian Dozier from the Twins, who wanted more than De Leon. In trading Forsythe, which Neander said was not on the winter "to-do list,'' the Rays shed his $5.75 million salary this season and a $9 million option for 2018.
De Leon, who relies primarily on an sharply controlled 89-93 mph fastball and a changeup, missed a month early in the 2016 season with shoulder issues, but Neander said the Rays did extensive study and were confident it was "an isolated incident with no higher risk for recurrence" than any other pitcher.
As proof, they point to his final five Triple-A starts, where he went 3-0, 1.56 with 45 strikeouts and two walks. Overall, De Leon was 7-1, 2.61 at Triple A and 2-0, 6.35 in four starts for the Dodgers.
Though acknowledging how important Forsythe was to their lineup and clubhouse, Neander said the move did not signal a retreat from their intentions to field a team able to compete in 2017.
"Our expectations for 2017 I think are still focused on being competitive,'' he said. "Just how we go about doing that, it's going to have to happen in a little bit of a different way.''
Also Monday, the Rays finalized a one-year, $1 million deal with reliever Shawn Tolleson, who saved 35 games for the Rangers in 2015 but struggled through a rough 2016. Tolleson can make up to another $1.15 million in incentives based on appearances.