In the season’s opening weekend, there was a smaller, more heartfelt storyline in Tampa Bay. The Tampa Bay Rays made a franchise-defining trade which signaled the end of competitive baseball for the time being and the beginning of a rebuild at Tropicana Field. The Rays pulled the trigger on trading their star third basemen Evan Longoria to the San Francisco Giants. In exchange for Longoria, the Rays received Denard Span, a veteran outfielder, and San Francisco’s top prospect, Christian Arroyo in addition to other prospects. Tampa Bay incurred Span’s $9-million contract, with a $4-million buyout. San Francisco took on Longoria’s hefty $81-million contract with a $13-million club option.
Denard Span, 34, is a native of Tampa Bay. Before becoming a major league baseball player, Span went to Catholic High School in Tampa Bay before being drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 2008. Even in his return back to his hometown, Span was unsure about his role with the team, and the Rays were not going to guarantee the 10-year veteran anything once he arrived.
However, when the Rays decided to deal Corey Dickerson to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Span’s role with Tampa became clearer. As one of the faces of the 98 loss Giants, Span is coming off his worst defensive year in his career. In 1039.1 innings, Span posted a -27 Defensive Runs Saved. So his return to Tampa could be a good place to have a bounce-back year defensively, in addition to a return home. On opening day Span found himself starting in left field against Boston Red Sox ace, Chris Sale.
Span’s batting line on Thursday: 3 AB, 1R, 1H, 1BB, 3RBI
The Red Sox lead the Rays 4-3 at the bottom of the 8th and were on their way to spoiling Tampa Bays home opener at Tropicana Field until Span came up to the plate and drove in three runs on a three-run triple. The Rays would rally for six runs at the end of the eighth inning. As quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday, Rays manager Kevin Cash said that starting Span in the opener was, “a bit sentimental given his local roots and veteran standing”. For Span, it’s not only the hit that made him happy to be home, but the energy of his teammates made Span grateful to be back home. The Rays are in rebuild mode but for the first game of the season, the Tampa Bay lineup showed some flash, Span, specifically.
The 2018 Giants are in reload mode. San Francisco doesn’t have a deep farm system, and the few pieces they did like were traded away in order to acquire Longoria and Andrew McCutchen. So without a good farm system to rely on, the Giants dipped into the free agent pool in order to put what the Giants hope is a contending product on the field. San Francisco acquired outfielder Austin Jackson. For the Giants, they ended the weekend with a split against their arch-rival Los Angeles Dodgers in LA, which given the injuries the Giants incurred even before the season started, was the best case scenario for the Orange and Black.
Longoria batting line from Thursday: 4 AB, 0 R, 0 H, 0 BB, 0 H
While Clayton Kershaw is arguably the best pitcher in MLB, Longoria struggled on opening day. He went hitless in the entire series against LA and finished the weekend 0-for-15. Other Giant newcomers have struggled as well. McCutchen is 1-for-16 and Jackson is 1-for-12. With the Giants having ace Madison Bumgarner, and pitcher Jeff Samardzija on the disabled list, San Francisco will rely heavily on their new look offense; and by the look of it, the new offense is getting off to a slow start.
It’s a fresh season and both teams are in dire straits. Tampa Bay just started a rebuild and it will be a while before they’re back to competitive baseball. And for the Giants, they are vying to stay competitive in a division that has been controlled by their rivals, the Dodgers for five consecutive years.
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