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Rays trade All-Star Joey Wendle to Marlins

The return for the versatile and hard-working infielder is outfield prospect Kameron Misner.
Joey Wendle has been a key player for the Rays, and somewhat of a team leader, over the last four seasons.
Joey Wendle has been a key player for the Rays, and somewhat of a team leader, over the last four seasons. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]
Published Nov. 30, 2021|Updated Dec. 1, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG — Joey Wendle got a heads up from his Rays bosses a week ago that he might be traded, but that didn’t make the reality of saying goodbye any easier Tuesday when he was dealt to the Marlins for outfield prospect Kameron Misner.

“It would be confusing if I wasn’t sad,” Wendle said from his Pennsylvania home. “The people here mean so much to me, the organization means so much to me. I was given an opportunity here, an opportunity to be a major-leaguer here and play four years for a great organization.

“I don’t feel like they owe me a thing. Honestly, I remember when I came in like four years ago saying I’m just thankful for an opportunity. And four years later, I’ll say the exact same thing — thankful for the opportunity, thankful for three trips to the postseason, thankful to have had the relationships and build those over the last four years. So it’s a special place to me, a special group. I mean, there’s definitely some emotion there.”

The Wendle deal was part of a busy day as the industry heads toward an expected lockout and transactions freeze Wednesday night. The Rays finalized a two-year, $10-million deal with reliever Brooks Raley, signed first baseman Ji-Man Choi for $3.2 million and tendered contracts to their 13 remaining arbitration-eligible players, including pitcher Tyler Glasnow. They also had some trade talks about centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier.

In dealing Wendle, 31, the Rays opened a needed spot on their 40-man roster to add veteran starter Corey Kluber on Wednesday, saved a projected $4 million in salary and created playing time in their crowded infield for prospect Taylor Walls and/or others.

But they also lost a versatile infielder who was a key player, hard worker, example setter and somewhat of a team leader in the four seasons since being acquired in a seemingly minor December 2017 trade with the A’s, who had designated him for assignment.

“These last four years have been really successful for us, and Joey has been front and center in all the games that we have found a way to win and we won a lot of them,” Rays baseball operations president Erik Neander said.

“The onfield contributions have been evident, y’all see that. But that’s just a small part of what Joey has meant to this organization. The consummate professional. The best teammate you could ask for. We often talk about how selfless this group is, the buy-in aspect of it for (manager Kevin) Cash. And Joey has unquestionably been an extension of those beliefs and has helped create that environment throughout our clubhouse, and we’re going to miss that. … He will leave a lasting impact on this organization by the way he carried himself and help our younger players have been around him carry that on.”

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Wendle, who made the All-Star team and was a Gold Glove finalist at third base this past season, said he was most proud “just being a part of the teams that we were, making the playoffs three years in a row.”

He also had a running commentary trading barbs with Cash, and in saying he was “truly excited” to join the Marlins also joked that with six-time All-Star and former AL MVP Don Mattingly as his manager, “I am looking forward to somebody who can actually coach me.”

Neander said the decision to trade Wendle was extremely hard, but they did so for good reasons.

One is to open playing time for Walls, the slick-fielding switch hitter who Neander said “has a pretty good chance to profile in a similar way” to Wendle, but will have to earn the job. Vidal Brujan, a promising prospect who also debuted in 2021, is another possibility, and Neander said there could be additional options added.

“Felt it was probably the right time to open up a little space and see what some of those guys can do,” Neander said.

The other was to get Misner, a power-hitting, 6-foot-4, 218-pound centerfield prospect who was the No. 35 overall pick in the 2019 draft out of Missouri, where he first impressed Rays scouts.

Misner, 23, split 2021 between High-A and Double-A, hitting .253 with 12 homers, 59 RBIs and a .788 OPS in 102 games, and then hitting .205 with seven homers, 14 RBIs and an .885 OPS in 23 Arizona Fall League games. He is expected to start 2022 at Double-A.

“A player we’ve been high on for a while and that we are excited about getting back in a deal like this,” Neander said. “Good fit in our system. Centerfielder, tall, strong, athletic, has power.

“We feel that the hit tool itself is kind of the carrying question mark there, the contact skill, that’s something that we see ... improving as time goes on and really the rest of his game is very well-rounded, very dynamic.”

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