Evan Longoria is arguably the best hitter on the Tampa Bay Rays when healthy. In fact, over the fifteen year history of the Rays franchise, only Carl Crawford has a higher WAR than Longoria. Needless to say, Longoria is the most indispensable piece on the Rays roster and they have to find a way to keep him on the field.
At only age 26, Longoria is still under control through 2016, which would take him until the middle of his hypothetical prime. Yet, there is a potential cause for concern – Longoria’s recent injury history. In 2011, he left the second game of the season with an oblique injury that sidelined him for a month. This past season, he missed 86 games due to a torn hamstring. While it is far too early to think that Longoria is becoming injury prone, given the combined salary of $36Million over the next four years if all the options are picked up, the Rays may need to think about protecting their investment.
As such, the Rays may need to look at ways to avoid subjecting Longoria to the wear and tear he would receive from playing third base the 150 times per year he has when healthy. The best way to do that would be to rest him a bit more frequently, but the Rays need to keep his bat in the lineup. So, why not turn him into at least a part time DH? Or, considering the present hole at first base, convert Longoria to first?
The Rays do have a potential option to fill in at third base in Ryan Roberts, who has proven to be a solid defensive third baseman. Yet, Roberts, aside from a passable 2011 season, has shown to be below replacement level offensively. Yes, he can hit the occasional home run and can steal a base here and there, but do the Rays really another member of the lineup batting .240 with middling power over the course of the season? And if Roberts is at third base, who plays second base for the Rays?
With the possible concerns that the Rays have at first base and catcher this offseason, it would appear as though finding a third baseman would be one of the last things that should be on their itinerary. However, the Rays are a franchise that thinks outside the box better than most other ballclubs in the MLB. Should a quality third baseman became available, would it behoove the Rays to consider making a move on that player?
As the free agent market for third baseman is essentially barren – Scott Rolen is probably the best one that is likely to be available, but he is strongly considering retirement and coming off a very mediocre season – the Rays may need to make a trade to acquire such a player. Given the pitching depth the Rays have, they should be able to make the moves needed to fill out their lineup with enough quality bats to complement Longoria and Ben Zobrist. However, they may not have enough pieces, nor the inclination to go after a third baseman, particularly when it would not be a pressing need.
While Evan Longoria is likely to remain at third base this year, this may be something the Rays need to consider going forward. Should Longoria suffer through another injury plagued year, he may find himself laying at another position in 2014.