DUNEDIN — Willy Adames was given the stunning news Friday afternoon that the Rays had traded him to the Brewers for two relievers. He had processed what it meant, saying goodbye to the organization with which he had grown up over the past eight years and for whom he had developed into a clubhouse and emotional leader. He walked around TD Ballpark, hugging the players, coaches and staff he had become so close to.
On his way out, he stopped to talk to a reporter he had known since arriving in the majors in 2018. He had one request before taking questions.
“Don’t make me cry,” he said. “I’ve been crying the whole afternoon.”
Adames being traded, along with Trevor Richards, for right-handers J.P. Feyereisen and Drew Rasmussen was certainly a big surprise — to Adames, and to others around the team and the game.
Also surprising, at least to some, was what the Rays are doing to replace Adames, calling up Taylor Walls from Triple-A Durham rather than the more-heralded Wander Franco or Vidal Brujan.
The Rays made the trade, general manager Erik Neander said, for several reasons.
One, they really liked the return over the short and long term, especially Feyereisen, who will join them on Saturday and is being targeted for high-leverage and late-inning duty.
Two, with the competition for playing time at the big-league level — with Ji-Man Choi’s return pushing Yandy Diaz back to third base more regularly and Joey Wendle to shortstop, as well as the prospects developing at Durham — Adames was somewhat expendable.
The teams had been talking conceptually on and off for months about how their strengths and needs matched up, and the deal came together quickly when the Brewers made clear they wanted Adames.
“I think you look at it as really just a good baseball trade,” Neander said.
What he didn’t say but also was a factor was that Adames, hitting .197 and ranking among the league leaders with 51 strikeouts, was playing his way out of full-time duty. As a result, his value could further decline. He was likely going to be moved at some point this season and certainly before next, when he will be arbitration-eligible for the first time and in line to make $3 million-$4 million.
Adames understood that the game is a business and that’s how the Rays operate. Just not now, in mid-May, with the team on a roll.
“To get that news out of nowhere, it was tough,” he said. “You’ve got to see every side of the situation and every view and take the positive. Just enjoy everything we’ve done here and continue to have those memories and take it with me. That’s all I can do.”
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Neander and Rays manager Kevin Cash raved about Adames’ personality and role as an emotional leader. Acquired as an 18-year-old in July 2014 from Detroit in the David Price trade, Adames was quickly labeled the Pied Piper by former farm director Mitch Lukevics for his infectious personality and clubhouse presence. He maintained that enthusiasm in the majors, always the first to congratulate teammates.
“You can’t create a better human being than what Willy is, and that makes decisions like these especially hard,” Neander said. “We’ve watched him grow up in our organization. ... We wouldn’t have accomplished all that we’ve accomplished over the last several years without Willy.”
Cash raved similarly, saying this kind of deal is tough, “at times tear-jerking for a lot of us.” While there was no team meeting, Cash and coaches talked to players prior to Friday’s game about the deal. Some also were in tears.
“There’s genuine disappointment,” Cash said. “It’s a guy they’ve been really close to for a long time. But they seem to have very much understanding of what’s trying to be accomplished.”
Though Wendle will continue to see time at shortstop, both Cash and Neander said Walls, a 24-year-old from Florida State, will get the chance to play a lot.
As good as Adames has been — Cash saying Friday that from what he’d seen so far this year Adames was “the best defensive shortstop in baseball” — some Rays personnel say Walls is even better.
That defense, his additional year and higher level of previous competition than Franco, good reviews from the Durham coaches and his own strong start offensively — a .327 average, two homers, 10 RBIs, .958 OPS — made him sound like an obvious choice over Franco, who was hitting . 281-3-10-.844.
“Taylor is one that does tend to fly under the radar in a lot of those conversations, but you’re talking about as good a defensive shortstop as you’re going to find,” Neander said. “You’re talking about a switch-hitter that can put the ball in play, do a lot of things that help you win tight games.
“... Just felt like it was the right player, talking with the staff, for the opportunity that exists now — the defense being a big part of it, but want to make sure that we don’t undersell what he can do offensively, as well.”
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