Evan Longoria is, quite simply, the face of the Tampa Bay Rays. More than anyone else, Longoria is the player that most people associate with the Rays. He is also the player that the Rays have hitched their wagons to long term, having Longoria locked up for the next nine seasons.
Last season, Longoria quietly suffered through another injury plagued season, his third year in a row that he had injury issues. Although he was able to manage his plantar fasciitis enough to play in 160 games for the first time in his career, Longoria was simply not the same after the injury, hitting only .240/.320/.449 after injuring his foot.
However, Longoria is still easily the most feared bat in the Rays lineup, hitting 32 home runs to easily pace the team. Paired with Wil Myers, the Rays could potentially have a formidable pair of power hitters in the middle of their lineup for the first time since Longoria was paired with Carlos Pena in Pena’s only All-Star season.
In 2014, Longoria may be even better than he was last season. Even though a .269/.343/.498 batting line would be excellent for most players, it could still be considered a down year. His OPS+ of 134 was his lowest since 2009, and his 162 strikeouts were the most in his career. It was obvious that his foot was an issue in the second half of the year, as he appeared to have trouble getting to pitches low and away.
A healthy Longoria would likely remain not only the best hitter in the Rays lineup, but one of the top players in the American League. Yet, can the Rays depend on Longoria to remain healthy? Not only does he play a relatively demanding position at third base, but he plays half his games on AstroTurf, which may not be the best for someone with potential injury problems.
Depending on what the Rays do in free agency, they could potentially look to play Longoria more at DH to try to keep him healthier. Although Longoria is a premier defensive player at third, the Rays may need to keep him off the field periodically to make sure he is in the lineup more often. One reason for optimism, though, is that Longoria wearing down may have been as much from tiredness than any particular injury–2013 saw Longoria play over double the amount of games he had the year before. With the workload of a full season back under his belt, the Rays have to hope Longoria can stay stronger as the year goes on and make with the nicks and bruises of the 162-game grind a little less noticeable.
Evan Longoria undeniably remains a major part of the Rays hopes for next year. As good as the Rays offense was this season, should they be able to keep Longoria healthy for at least 150 games next year, they may be able to improve on those numbers. It is great that Longoria stayed on the field in 2013, and hopefully he can take the next step next year and deliver the type of season we are used to from beginning to end.