MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Longoria knows the Rays always find a way

Third baseman keeps faith in organization after busy offseason

Longoria knows the Rays always find a way

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Throughout an offseason of change for the Tampa Bay Rays, Evan Longoria always believed it would turn out OK.

"On paper, it might have looked strange," he said Tuesday.

That it did as Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon took jobs with other organizations and as Ben Zobrist, Wil Myers, Jeremy Hellickson and a long list of other players were traded.

Onward, Evan?

"It's tough to see all these guys go that you played with for so many years and have become close with and close with their families," Longoria said. "It's just the confidence I have in their ability to put together a team and see the big picture."

At one point during the flurry of trades, the Rays' third baseman took to Twitter to ask fans to "relax" and trust the people in charge. During Longoria's seven seasons, the Rays have been arguably baseball's smartest and most efficient operation. Despite a payroll annually ranked near the bottom, Tampa Bay has made four postseason appearances, including 2008 when the Rays won the American League pennant.

Longoria's faith in the Ray Way was unshaken during a tumultuous offseason in which the president of baseball operations (Friedman) and manager (Maddon) took jobs with the Dodgers and Cubs.

They'd both achieved iconic status, having been central figures in resurrecting the Rays. But Longoria's faith remained in the people who didn't leave, especially team owner Stuart Sternberg, who promptly turned the baseball operations over to his team president, Matt Silverman.

Silverman undertook a sweeping series of changes, including trading away Zobrist, one of the most popular players the Rays have ever had. Still, when he was done, he'd created a brand new team, a young team, but one that might very well win the AL East.

Outlook: Longoria, 3B,TB

Because the Rays will be counting on so many players with almost no track record -- among them outfielders Steven Souza Jr., Kevin Kiermaier and Brandon Guyer and infielders Nick Franklin and Tim Beckham -- the Rays may never be favored.

But all those talented young guys and a starting rotation that likely will be one of the best in baseball, make the Rays an impossible team to overlook.

"It goes back to the track record of those guys from the beginning," Longoria said of his front office. "Pretty much all the moves they've made have been great for our organization. I had to put my faith in that. I'm just excited to be back. Everybody here is looking forward to a new year and just a fresh start, something that's different. Sometimes, things are necessary and needed to keep you on track."

He loved Maddon and will always be appreciative of all he did for his career and for helping the Rays become successful. He's also looking forward to playing for the new guy, 37-year-old Kevin Cash.

2015 Spring Training: Rays

"We're really looking forward to getting to know Kevin as a manager and as a guy," he said. "He's really positive. That's the one thing I was hoping we wouldn't stray too far away from -- that sort of tone and perspective that Joe brought every day. It was just today-is-a-new-day attitude. We're to have fun and win ballgames. He epitomizes that, and Matt did a really good job of finding that in a manager."

And all those trades?

"It's going to be a good year," Longoria said. "Young team. Bunch of guys eager to learn and get out there and win games. That's really what I'm looking forward to."

Longoria's numbers were down across the board last season. He played 162 games, but his .253 batting average was 18 points below his career average. He also finished with 26 doubles, 22 home runs and 91 RBIs.

That his season was considered a disappointment is reflective of how high he has set the bar for himself. As teammate Chris Archer said, "He's just so solid. I have a feeling more people are going to be on base in front of him, and a couple of those fly balls are going to stretch five more feet and be home runs. He's a 25-30 home run guy. He's a 100-RBI guy."

Archer on Rays' identity in 2015

Silverman echoed those comments, saying, "Evan has been a strong leader in our clubhouse for years. There's not much more for him to do except continue to work the way he does, communicate the way he does and lead by example. He knows his position within our organization. He embraces it and is going to be a very key part of what we do this year and going forward."

Only three teams -- the Reds, Braves and Padres -- scored fewer runs than the Rays last season. That lack of offense almost certainly impacted Longoria's numbers, both in terms of opportunity and in trying to do too much.

When asked about his personal numbers, he steers the conversation back to the Rays going 77-85 and missing the playoffs for only the second time in five years.

"I'm surprised that we haven't won more," he said. "I want to play into the postseason every year, and I want to contend and have a chance to win championships. I understand it boils down to me being the center-point of the team and trying to perform to the best of my abilities. I try not to look back. I don't want to dwell on what I did or didn't do. I worked as hard and did as much as I could have done. Sometimes, it goes well, and sometimes it doesn't.

"We all want to do what we're capable of doing, and sometimes more. And that's where we have to draw the fine line. When you're playing well as a group, you're not really worried about yourself. You're worried about the team, and everybody's numbers are better."

Still, as Cash said, 90 percent of big league players would love to have the numbers that disappointed Longoria in 2014. His steadiness is part of what has made this franchise special. In that way, the Rays hope absolutely nothing changes in 2015.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.