It's become somewhat of a baseball cliché to say that the best deadline move a team can make is to get a certain player (or players) back from the disabled list. No prospects are lost, payroll does not increase and a boost from the player who was filling in is almost guaranteed.
Evan Longoria and the Tampa Bay Rays would certainly seem to fit that description with the third baseman making a return on Tuesday after missing 85 games with a partially torn left hamstring. Longoria and his manager Joe Maddon, however, don't want to embrace that storyline just yet and their hesitation is understandable. While Longoria did go 1-for-3 with a sac fly in Tuesday's 4-1 win over Toronto, no one is willing to place a 100 percent healthy sticker on him. The plan is for Longoria to serve as the team's designated hitter for the time being and Maddon isn't even sure how many games Longoria can play before needing a day off to heal. (Maddon says three, but Longoria believes it can be more.)
"I'm not the savior,'' Longoria said. "I'm really happy to be back. And hopefully I'm able to change the complexion of the lineup. Maybe not go out and hit two home runs a night, but maybe allow other guys to see some better pitches and allow them an opportunity to get going. ... Hopefully I can provide some kind of spark and get the offense going, but I try not to put all the weight on my shoulders.''
It's actually nice to see the player and franchise proceeding with caution. And here's the thing, the Rays aren't in a position where they really need one savior. The team entered Wednesday's action trailing the New York Yankees for the AL East lead by six games and were 1 1/2 games behind Baltimore and Oakland for the second wild card spot.
Contrast the current situation to Aug. 8, 2011. Though the Rays had three more wins at the time, they trailed Boston for the AL East lead by 11 games and the Yankees for the sole AL wild card by 9 1/2. They'd stage a historic comeback to kick the Red Sox out of the playoffs on the last day of the season, but that isn't necessary this year. All they need to do is to find some of the consistency that has eluded their lineup this year — a deficiency that has been created in part to Longoria's absence — and continue receiving the great pitching performances. (Rays starters have the best ERA in the AL, their relievers own the third best.)
Would it be nice for Longoria to replicate the numbers he posted from Aug. 8 onward last season? Considering that he went .278/.398/.585 with 15 homers and 41 RBI in those 49 games, of course it would. But that's not reality. What is reality is that his bat is back in the lineup and he's working toward a day when Maddon can stop treating third base like it's a carousel where everyone gets a spin. It's a not an addition along the lines of Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers in 2008 but it's a good one in its own way.