Tampa Bay Rays 3B Evan Longoria is expected to return from an oblique injury sometime during the Rays‘ next home stand (April 29-May 5).

This inevitably means that somebody on the current 25-man roster is going to be without a spot. So who should be the man to go? You could make strong cases for Casey Kotchman, Dan Johnson, and Elliot Johnson.

But the player to go should be Felipe Lopez.

It has nothing to do with statistics or his play on the field, but it has everything to do with team chemistry and Lopez’s attitude.

He just isn’t getting it.

Rays’ manager Joe Maddon pulled Lopez from Friday’s game with the Blue Jays for his lack of effort. For the second time this week, Lopez has had to be reprimanded for not running hard to first base.

That is one time too many for a player who has been in the big leagues since 2001. We aren’t talking about a rookie player who needs a little coaching on how to play the game of baseball the right way.

Lopez has been with eight organizations in his 11-year career. Certainly somebody along the way has told him that you always run out a ground ball.

Then again, perhaps his lack of hustle is the reason why he hasn’t stuck with a team. In fact, he was released from the Cardinals last season due in large part because he was late to a game.

Part of the success of the Rays in recent years has been the team’s extraordinary team chemistry and willingness to give maximum effort for nine innings. Game after game.

Lopez just doesn’t fit that mold.

This is the same player who flipped his bat towards the mound after hitting a home run against the White Sox a few weeks ago. He drew Maddon’s ire then as well.

No player should ever try and show up the opposing pitcher. But a player with 90 career home runs in 4,768 plate appearances? Come on.

Lopez has done an admirable job as the primary clean-up hitter in the absence of Longoria and the now retired Manny Ramirez. He deserves a certain amount of credit for that.

Still, if it were not for Sean Rodriguez’s mystifying inability to hit right-handed pitching, you have to wonder if Lopez would even be playing much at all.

The Rays have many hurdles to overcome if they want to contend in 2011. They can’t afford to have a player on the team who doesn’t believe in giving 100 percent.

Sean Rodriguez and Elliot Johnson can do a more than adequate job as the utility infielders.

Lopez needs to go. The team will be better off without him.

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