What Trading Evan Longoria Means For The Tampa Bay Rays

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The day most Tampa Bay Rays fans were hoping would never come has arrived. The Rays on Wednesday announced they had traded third baseman Evan Longoria to the San Francisco Giants. In exchange, the Rays received outfielder Denard Span, infielder Christian Arroyo, and a pair of pitching prospects, right-hander Stephen Woods and left-hander Matt Krook.

What Trading Evan Longoria Means For The Tampa Bay Rays

The Return

Span turns 34 in February and, like Longoria, is a veteran of 10 MLB seasons. He broke in with the Minnesota Twins in 2008, then moved on to the Washington Nationals in 2013 before signing with the Giants prior to the 2016 season. Span has a $9 million base salary in 2018 plus a $2 million signing bonus. He then has a $12 million mutual option for 2019, but it’s much more likely the Rays will exercise the $4 million buyout of that option, provided he stays with the team through the season. That means Tampa Bay will owe Span $15 million for one season. Also, Span is a native of Tampa who still lives there in the offseason.

In 542 plate appearances over 129 games for the Giants in 2017, Span hit .272/.329/.427 with a career-high 12 home runs, as well as 43 RBI and 12 stolen bases (102 WRC+). He’s a career .283/.348/.396 hitter (104 WRC+). While Span’s offense may not have fallen off that much, his defense in center field has. In 1,039.1 innings in center field in 2017, Span was worth a horrific minus-27 defensive runs saved. He’s essentially a contract dump, and the main reason the Giants wanted to get rid of him was his defensive decline.

The good news for the Rays is that they have center field covered with Kevin Kiermaier. Their hope will be that Span’s defense can bounce back by moving him to left field in a smaller ballpark. Also, while Tropicana Field may not be a great hitter’s park, pretty much anything is better than AT&T Park for a left-handed hitter, and the rest of the AL East teams have hitter-friendly homes. So perhaps his offensive numbers will also see a bit of a spike. Either way, at this stage of his career, Tampa Bay seems like a better fit for Span than San Francisco. If he’s having a nice season and the Rays aren’t contending, they’ll likely look to move him.

Then there’s Arroyo, who is the biggest piece of this trade for the Rays. MLB.com ranked him as San Francisco’s top prospect (granted, the Giants don’t have a very good farm system). Just 22, a blazing start to his 2017 season in Triple-A, and a need at third base for the Giants, earned him a call up. However, he didn’t seem ready for the big leagues, slashing just .192/.244/.304 with three home runs and 14 RBI in 135 plate appearances. Then a hand injury cost him most of the season.

In 25 Triple-A games, he hit a ridiculous .396/.461/.604 with four home runs and 16 RBI in 102 plate appearances. Arroyo profiles as an all-around good defender and a good contact hitter with limited power. He was a first-round draft pick (25th overall) by the Giants in 2013.

Woods and Krook are the lesser pieces of the deal. MLB.com ranked them 25th and 29th, respectively, in San Francisco’s system. Woods, 22, made 23 starts in Single-A in 2017. He went 6-7 with a 2.95 ERA and 3.71 FIP. The 113 strikeouts in 110 innings are nice, though the 64 walks, less so. He was an eighth-round pick by the Giants in 2016.

Krook, 23, made 25 appearances in High-A in 2017, 17 of which were starts. He went 5-9 with a 5.12 ERA and 4.52 FIP. Like Woods, there’s a live arm there, evidenced by the 105 strikeouts in 91.1 innings. Like Woods, the control could use some work, as he issued 66 walks. He was a fourth-round pick by the Giants in 2016.

What The Rays Gave Up

Where to begin with Longoria? For one, he’s the greatest player in Rays history. He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in games played (1,435), home runs (261), RBI (892), doubles (338) and extra-base hits (618). He’s one of two players in Rays history to hit for the cycle. With the Rays, won the AL Rookie of the Year Award, three Gold Gloves, and made three All-Star teams. During his incredible 2008 rookie season, the Rays made their transformation from bottom-feeders to contenders, making their first World Series. In the first ever playoff game in franchise history, Longoria hit two home runs. While most of Tampa Bay’s stars eventually left for bigger paydays, Longoria was extremely loyal, signing below-market contracts and expressing his desire to spend his whole career with the team.

Unfortunately, that won’t happen now. The Rays would’ve loved to have kept Longoria around as the pillar they could build around. In the end, he just wasn’t performing like a superstar anymore. In 156 games in 2017, Longoria hit just .261/.313/.424 with 20 home runs and 86 RBI over 677 plate appearances (96 WRC+). His offensive numbers were actually worse than Span’s. Here are Longoria’s numbers over the last four years.

2014: 160 games, 693 PA, .253/.320/.404, 22 home runs, 91 RBI, 105 WRC+

2015: 162 games, 700 PA, .270./.328/.435, 21 home runs, 73 RBI, 109 WRC+

2016: 160 games, 685 PA, .273/.318/.521, 36 home runs, 98 RBI, 123 WRC+

2017: 156 games, 677 PA, .261/.313/.424, 20 home runs and 86 RBI, 96 WRC+

The outlier is the power spike Longoria enjoyed in 2016, which regressed back to its 2014-2015 levels this past season. Outside of that, we have four years that suggest Longoria is more of a solid player than a great one now. With that in mind, and with him now being 32, the $86 million he’s owed over the next five seasons probably didn’t look so team friendly to the Rays anymore.

The fact that he had 10-and-5 rights kicking in next season also meant there was some urgency on the part of the Rays to move Longoria now if they were concerned about the direction he was trending and wanted to move his contract. Longoria doesn’t have a no-trade clause in his contract, but any player with at least 10 years of MLB service time, and at least five with their current team, has to consent to being traded. They saw how that hurt the Miami Marlins in their efforts to trade Giancarlo Stanton, who rejected trades to the Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, forcing the Marlins to take a lesser deal from the New York Yankees for him.

Are The Rays Rebuilding?

It’s a question people have been asking not just of the Rays, but also of the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays. The Yankees and Boston Red Sox were way ahead of the rest of the AL East in 2017, and with New York’s acquisition of Stanton, many have been wondering how the rest of the AL East is supposed to keep up right now.

However, the Rays are already a fairly young, inexpensive team. Baseball America’s post trade deadline rankings also gave them MLB’s sixth best farm system. They have five top 100 prospects likely set to make the jump to the big leagues in 2018 — SS Willy Adames, RHP Brent Honeywell, RHP Jose De Leon, 1B/OF Jake Bauers, and now Arroyo. To me, that does not seem like a team that should be rebuilding.

Yes, the Rays have been mediocre for the last four years. But it’s not like they’ve been ignoring their farm system while going all in on the present and failing to win. They’ve already spent the last few years building up a good system, and they’re about to start seeing the fruits of their work. The system got another boost with this trade and the addition of Arroyo — and, to a lesser extent, Woods and Krook — and will likely get another boost later this offseason, as the Rays still seem likely to trade guys like Jake Odorizzi and Alex Colome.

Trading away players they feel are getting too expensive is just part of how the Rays have to operate. Unless they trade someone like Kevin Kiermaier or Chris Archer, I don’t believe they’re rebuilding in the sense of not trying to be competitive in the present. Also, with the second Wild Card, there is a path to the postseason that doesn’t involve finishing ahead of the Yankees or Red Sox. Remember, the Twins got the second Wild Card this past season after losing 103 games in 2016.

What Do The 2018 Rays Look Like Now?

The Rays lineup will look weird without Longoria, a staple in the three-hole and at third base for so long. My guess is that Matt Duffy, who missed all of 2017 recovering from a heel injury, will begin 2018 as Tampa Bay’s third baseman, provided he’s finally healthy. The Rays will hope Duffy can regain his rookie form from 2015 with the Giants before injuries derailed him over the last two years. In 149 games for San Francisco in 2015, Duffy hit .295/.334/.428 with 12 home runs and 77 RBI in 612 plate appearances. He also played strong defense at third base, leading him to post an impressive 4.7 fWAR that season.

As for the rest of the infield, Adeiny Hechavarria will likely begin the season at shortstop, at least until they’re ready to call up Adames. Brad Miller and Daniel Robertson look like a platoon at second base. With both Logan Morrison and Lucas Duda free agents, Tampa Bay’s first baseman on Opening Day probably isn’t on the roster right now. Bauers will likely start the season in Triple-A, and the Rays will at least need a placeholder for a while. They’ll have a full season of Wilson Ramos catching, with Jesus Sucre still around as the backup.

In the outfield, Span likely takes over as Tampa Bay’s primary left fielder, with Corey Dickerson moving to DH. Kiermaier is still in center, and they still have Steven Souza Jr. in right field. Mallex Smith will likely serve as the fourth outfielder.

Of course, it’s still fairly early in the offseason. There’s a lot we don’t know yet about what the 2018 Rays will look like, and what direction the Rays want to go in. All we do know right now is that Evan Longoria is no longer a Tampa Bay Ray. If you’re a Rays fan, it’s a sad day.

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