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Rays’ Jose Siri on mission to show he’s the best centerfielder in MLB

SARASOTA — Jose Siri brings a lot to the Rays.

Start with the endless energy. The steady chatter and trash-talking. The dances. The passionate celebrations and shows of emotion. The general playfulness. The style, swag and bling. And what the kids call “rizz,” short for charisma.

“He is the most entertaining man in baseball,” said bench coach Rodney Linares.

“In all different ways,” hitting coach Chad Mottola added.

And that’s before we even get into what he does on the field.

Siri, 28, has at times shown the elite defensive skills in centerfield that could earn him a Gold Glove and the accompanying respect that he covets.

He in stretches has combined his blazing speed and surprising power from a lithe build to be an offensive force, hitting 25 homers last season in only 101 games while posting a .761 OPS.

Which explains the topic that comes up most when Siri’s bosses and teammates talk about him moving forward.

“It’s all about kind of consistency,” manager Kevin Cash said, “(and) finding that.”

Siri has the same idea.

“It’s always the goal,” he said Monday via team interpreter Manny Navarro.

The Rays saw the upside at the 2022 deadline when they traded for Siri, who had been sent back to Triple A by the Astros. They then allowed their previous centerfielder, Kevin Kiermaier, to leave as a free agent.

That gave Siri, who played seven seasons in the Reds’ minor-league system before quickly moving from Seattle to San Francisco to Houston, an opportunity he hadn’t had — to play regularly in the majors.

What he did last season, despite two stints on the injured list (right hamstring strain in April, broken right hand in September), was good. But the Rays think he can do more.

“This is a big year for him,” Cash said Monday.

While still making some spectacular plays, Siri wasn’t as good overall defensively last year. Cash suggested it could have been a residual from the hamstring injury lingering and limiting Siri’s range. “I don’t know if he ever got quite right,” the manager said.

Though Siri went deep 25 times in 338 at-bats for a well-above-average home run percentage of 6.9, his strikeout rate (35.7%, with 130) was among the worst in the majors.

Mottola said the problem is bad swing decisions, especially in trying to hit homers. The challenge is channeling Siri’s energy without changing how he plays.

“There’s some guys you want to speed up, and there’s some guys you want to slow down,” Mottola said, “and he falls in that category.

“But the energy is the important part. So, we don’t want to strip him of that. We don’t want to turn him into a robot. He has the personality to shine, and we need his personality to shine.”

Siri is talking about improving his on-base percentage (.267), which would allow him to make better use of his speed. He stole only 12 bases last season. But Mottola doesn’t want him looking for walks, either; he’d rather Siri swing at pitches in the zone.

The goal is to find the right balance so Siri can just go out and play his best.

“You realize that you just go catch the ball, do what you do and you’ll end up with 30 homers without even trying,” Mottola said. “I hope that’s not his goal, but he can accidentally do it. That’s how much power he has. … That’s the type of player he could be.

“But if he goes out there trying to be that player, that’s not going to happen.”

Heading into his final season for arbitration-eligibility and the hefty raise that comes with it, this year may determine Siri’s future with the Rays. He likes playing for the team and says it has “100%” made him feel comfortable with its relaxed clubhouse culture.

He said he is ready to prove how good he can be, especially on defense.

When the finalists were announced in November for the American League Gold Glove award — Kiermaier (who won with Toronto), Luis Robert Jr. (Chicago) and Julio Rodriguez (Seattle) — Siri took a screenshot of a photo of the three and texted it to Cash, saying he would make the list this season.

“I want everybody to know I’m the No. 1 centerfielder in the big leagues,” he said.

To show it, he plans to be more demonstrative after making good plays, pounding his chest in illustration and saying in English, “like, ‘I’m the boss here.’”

Is Siri the most entertaining man in baseball?

“It’s true,” he said.

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