ST. PETERSBURG — Jose Siri said all the right things leading up to his first meeting with his former Astros team.
How he appreciated the opportunity they gave him after nearly eight years in the minors. How he was looking forward to seeing them this week at Tropicana Field and next week in Houston. And, with a broad smile, how he was hoping to show them what they’re missing since trading him Aug. 1 to the Rays.
“Claro que si,” he said in Spanish. “Of course.”
His ex-Astros teammates and bosses had plenty of nice things to say about the 27-year-old speedy outfielder with multiple high-end tools and extreme talent, raving about him as a player and a person.
“What an amazing athlete and he’s certainly one of the best centerfielders in the game,” infielder Alex Bregman said. “He’s a really good friend. I love him. I hope he has an amazing career. I’m glad he has this opportunity with the Rays and I hope he takes advantage of it. The Rays, I think, have a really good one in Jose Siri.
“He’s super fun. He brings so much energy to the ballpark every single day. When you’re hanging out with him, he’s a super humble guy and just very nice. He’s a great human being and a great teammate. I’ll be rooting for him forever.”
And from pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., the Tampa native:
“Jose Siri is one of the most easy-going, free ballplayers I have ever been around. We already miss him a lot. He’s a great dude, a great clubhouse guy.
“But when you have a great organization like the Astros, guys are going to come in and then they’ll go to other organizations. And they will make impacts on those teams, which is what Siri will do for the Rays. … I’m happy for Jose because he gets to play every day and he’s going to be a great player.”
Siri’s upside was the primary downside the Astros had to weigh in deciding on the three-way trade that brought them the bat they felt they needed in Trey Mancini (plus minor-league pitcher Jayden Murray) and sent pitching prospects Seth Johnson and Chayce McDermott to the Orioles.
“He’s one of the most naturally-gifted players that I’ve ever been around and continues to play quite possibly the best centerfield defense in the league,” said Astros general manager James Click, a longtime Rays executive. “It was a difficult trade, because we know the potential that he has. …
“With his natural talent, we knew that there was a possibility he could continue to blossom into a very, very productive major-league player, and just his energy, his enthusiasm, it’s a really impressive package.”
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Siri’s energy and enthusiasm can drift toward exuberance and beyond, at times, in how he celebrates his successes, pounding his chest, tossing his bat and admiring hits.
That became a bit of an issue during a June game against the Mets, when Siri took a long look at a homer he hit with the Astros leading 7-2 in the eighth.
There were some words from New York third baseman Eduardo Escobar as Siri rounded the bases, a ninth-inning batter’s box conversation between Escobar and Houston catcher Martin Maldonado, and a post-game scolding from Astros manager Dusty Baker, who said, “I wish he’d ran. Back in our days, the next guy would’ve gotten drilled. … He should’ve ran.”
Which led to Siri tweeting, and then deleting, a colorful dismissal of “bad opinions” in favor of having fun,” then apologizing for his actions at the plate via comments to the media — “I know I made an error there” — and earning praise from Baker for doing so.
Asked Monday if tempering that enthusiasm will come with maturity for Siri, Baker said, “Yeah, hopefully. You never know until you get to that point. Different guys get to that point at different times of their career. And who says it’s about maturity?
“I mean, it could be just how you are as a person. Everybody’s different. The world revolves around being different people doing different things and different strokes. So either you have to accept it or you don’t because it’s just how he is. And he’s a good guy. I mean, he’s a great guy.”
Click was adamant that any suggestion of Siri having attitude issues was a false narrative.
But there seems a sense in both clubhouses that Siri will be more accepted by the Rays, given their younger team and the more casual and relaxed atmosphere they pride themselves in having. For what it’s worth, he has played better here. Having been sent back to Triple-A by Houston shortly before the deal, Siri in 42 games for the Rays has hit .270 with three homers, 11 RBIs and a .723 OPS.
“This is a very unique place,” said Rays reliever Brooks Raley, who spent the two previous seasons with the Astros. “You wouldn’t know how much time (in the majors) anybody has in this room. … I know that’s not everywhere, and it’s just a very comfortable atmosphere kind of no matter your service time, no matter your success in the big leagues. You’re welcome here and there’s an opportunity to kind of maybe take advantage of a situation and make the most of it.”
Siri said as much to some Astros personnel this week, that he relishes the freedom the Rays provide. (For example, his latest pre-game ensemble of bright pink shoes and wrist bands probably wouldn’t have gotten accessorized with a matching belt in Houston.)
“I think sometimes players who are exuberant, depending on the environment, there can be a narrative that gets created one way or the other,” Click said. “But Jose has always carried himself very respectfully. He fit in very well with a successful veteran team, which is a hard thing to do as a young player. And I don’t think he gets enough credit for that. ...
“I think this is a great environment for him here in Tampa. He fit in great with us, I think with this group, in particular being the young team that the Rays always seem to be, I think he’ll blossom here.”
Times correspondent Joey Johnston contributed to this report.
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