Tampa Bay Rays: The Future of Evan Longoria
There are so many narratives that can be crafted about how Evan Longoria‘s 2015 season for the Tampa Bay Rays compared to his 2014. His consistency from month to month and his vastly improved defense according to Ultimate Zone Rating are great things–his subtle declines in quality of contact and plate discipline are not. According to one measure, he mashed fastballs to his greatest extent since 2011, but on the other hand, he didn’t stand out against any type of secondary pitch.
We can debate the merits of all of these different statistics, maybe in the comments here or possibly in another piece, but let’s discuss the more overarching issue right now. Longoria is owed $110.5 million over the remainder of his contract counting the $5 million buyout of his 2023 option. He is owed that much money as a player who debatably improved this season compared to 2014 but is certainly no longer one of the best players in baseball. Is he worth retaining?
One thing that most of us can hopefully agree upon is that his contract is not an albatross. He will make $11.5 million next year, $13 million in 2017, $13.5 million in 2018, $14.5 million in 2019, and $15 million in 2020. Those figures are quite high by Rays standards, but we are still talking about an above-average major league third baseman even if he isn’t a superstar and many teams would be fine paying that amount of money. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe quoted a GM who said that the contract is long but reasonable.
The big fear is that Evan Longoria turns into Eric Chavez–and it’s disconcerting that his #1 comparable player according to Baseball-Reference is none other than Chavez. Both players were incredible all-around third basemen but declined precipitously in the first years of their multi-year contracts (2005 for Chavez, 2014 for Longoria). What if Longoria gets hurt like Chavez did and all of that money goes to waste?
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Injuries are always a concern, but there is reason to believe that Longoria will be just fine. Chavez’s performance got worse each year while Longoria at least stayed constant this season. Chavez played in only 125 games in 2004 and 137 in 2006 before his injury problems began in earnest–Longoria had his issues in 2011 and 2012, but now we are talking about a player who has played in at least 160 games each of the last three years. We can’t know what the future will hold, but there is a reasonable chance that Longoria will be a good (if not great) third baseman for at least three or four more years. Then from there, as we have discussed, there is a precedent for third baseman rebounding quite well from a couple of down years. With some luck, his career will have a second wind.
There is also the fact that the Tampa Bay Rays are going to be compared with the Miami Marlins whatever they do. If the Rays trade Longoria, it will be a baseball decision, but people will lump it in with the Marlins’ trades of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, etc. nonetheless. People would be saying that the Rays couldn’t even keep Longoria, their team’s best-ever player. Is the value that the Rays could get from trading Longoria worth the ill will that such a transaction would create?
That is especially important considering the Rays certainly don’t have a third baseman who is ready to take over for Longoria right now. Richie Shaffer has talent, but he has serious strikeout issues, needs more time at Triple-A, and hasn’t been considered one of the top prospects in baseball. He is also far from a Longoria-esque defender. Maybe he will make further strides this year and turn into a useful player–perhaps he will even find his way to everyday time–but don’t claim that the Rays could trade Longoria and easily find a suitable replacement.
Things might be different in the future. Only one of Daniel Robertson and Willy Adames is going to be able to play shortstop, leaving the other to play third base. Then at second, Logan Forsythe could very well be a keeper or a guy like Ryan Brett could make himself into a valuable starter. If several prospects work out, then Longoria might be more expendable. However, there is always more risk with minor leaguers than we care to admit and the chances of any one of them turning into a reasonable facsimile of Longoria is quite low. The Rays will take all of the talented position players they can get, but they would much rather have them build a foundation around Longoria than try to fill the void left by him.
We will have to see what happens with Evan Longoria in the coming years. Is he going to regain his previous form? Will he remain stagnant and be a reliable but less-than-spectacular third baseman? Or will his decline continue and make his contract harder to bear? Whatever the case may be, though, there are few scenarios where trading Evan Longoria truly makes sense. Risk exists with his contract, but there is enough reason to believe that he will be good for a few more years and maybe have a little bit more greatness left as well.