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In the case of Willy Adames, parting really is sweet sorrow

John Romano | Tampa Bay’s wildly popular shortstop was traded to Milwaukee in a deal that was disappointing but, ultimately, inevitable.
Published May 22
Updated May 22

It is a day for gloomy adjectives. Sad? Yes. Depressing? Of course. Heartsick? Understandably.

Willy Adames has been traded away from the Rays, and Tampa Bay has lost its Most Valuable Smile. It’s fair to say that few local athletes have ever captured so many hearts in such a short amount of time. It wasn’t the breadth of his talent, but rather the authenticity of his personality.

Willy was joyful and generous. He was funny and energetic. He was full of hugs and laughs and dance steps. Mostly, he was the kind of player you hoped your kid might be if he were lucky enough to reach a big league dugout.

So, yeah, this day was bound to be a bummer.

It was also bound to happen.

You knew that, right? The Rays certainly knew it. Even Willy knew it, on some level. There were too many factors that were pointing in this direction, not the least of which is the conga line of future infield stars biding their time in the minors. An impending salary raise through arbitration for Adames in 2022 was another major point to consider.

So the only real question was how soon it would happen. And, ultimately, Adames supplied that answer himself.

He may have been among Tampa Bay’s most valuable performers during the shortened 2020 regular season, but he followed that up with a horrible offensive showing in the postseason. And a similarly slow start in 2021 may have finally forced Tampa Bay’s hand.

The Rays were too polite to say it, but if you read between the lines you can see the team was concerned about his future playing time this season. Between Ji-Man Choi, Yandy Diaz and Joey Wendle, the Rays had a logjam of first/third basemen who are all hitting the ball better than Adames. And with Taylor Walls, Wander Franco and Vidal Brujan off to hot starts at Triple-A Durham, they had another logjam of prospects.

The easiest solution was clearing space at shortstop. For now, that means Walls and Wendle sharing the position. In the not-too-distant future, that probably means Franco taking over.

And, with a .197 batting average and a strikeout rate of 36 percent, Adames made it a little too easy for the Rays to pull the trigger on the trade with Milwaukee on Friday. His exit velocity suggested he was hitting the ball harder than a lot of teammates, but he wasn’t driving it over the fence often enough to justify the number of swing-and-misses.

The Rays have too much potential as a contender to give away at-bats, but turning Adames into a part-time player would have further damaged his trade value. If this wasn’t the optimal timing for a trade, it was at least justifiable.

“Over time, we’ve been fortunate to accumulate a lot of talent throughout our system,” general manager Erik Neander said. “Some of the challenges that come along with that is making sure you make the most of the talent you have, and this is one of those incredibly difficult decisions that comes with that.”

In this case, that meant trading a position of surplus (infielders) for a position of need (relievers). Milwaukee pitchers J. P. Feyereisen and Drew Rasmussen were not near the top of any prospects list, but the Rays have had success unearthing hidden gems before.

Feyereisen, in particular, could immediately stabilize a late-inning bullpen that has lost some of its panache without Nick Anderson. If he isn’t routinely pitching in high-leverage situations in the eighth and ninth inning by midseason, this trade is going to look a lot less promising. If Feyereisen does for the Rays in 2021 what Anderson did in 2019 after a trade with the Marlins, the Rays’ front office will be doing handstands.

Meanwhile, this is the rare deal that you hope ends wonderfully for both teams. A Rays fan should not have one second of envy or regret about any success Adames might have in Milwaukee. Tampa Bay’s list of shortstop prospects is stacked high enough to have reinforced the logic behind this trade, and Adames is too likable to ever wish him misfortune.

So it’s time to say goodbye to Willy Adames in Tampa Bay.

Regretfully, sadly, but inevitably.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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