The Tampa Bay Rays and Evan Longoria Blockbuster: A Season Later
By Austin Reimann
As a fan of the Tampa Bay Rays, I would be lying if I said I still didn’t walk into the Trop looking for Evan Longoria to be penciled in the lineup at third base.
I would be lying if I said that over the course of this past season I didn’t expect “Down and Out” to start playing as the three-hole hitter walked to the plate. But as the season progressed for the Tampa Bay Rays and reality set in that number three wasn’t playing and hitting third, I stopped looking and listening. Matt Duffy settled into the hot corner and the Rays moved on. The Rays went on to win ninety games and Evan Longoria’s Giants almost lost ninety.
Was Erik Neander right to trade the face of the franchise for Matt Krook, Stephen Woods, Denard Span, and more importantly Christian Arroyo? Denard Span, a veteran outfielder, and native of Tampa added leadership in the clubhouse and a reliable bat, that is until he was shipped off to Seattle in May.
Stephen Woods didn’t throw a pitch for the Rays this year and Matt Krook had a less than desirable year at AA Montgomery posting a 4.26 ERA in 74 IP during which he struck out 95 but walked 50. The centerpiece of this trade though was Christian Arroyo who battled injuries and struggled for playing time behind the ever-consistent Matt Duffy. Arroyo hit .264 and had an OBP of .339 in 59 plate appearances. Whether or not he is the long-term solution at third base is still to be determined.
Tampa Bay Rays – Evan Longoria Breakdown
At the plate, Longoria had yet another underwhelming campaign. Over 512 plate appearances, he hit .244, slugged .413, had a .281 OBP, and a .274 BABIP. He hit 16 home runs (in AT&T Park) and drove in 54 runs.
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Coming off a Gold Glove season in 2017, Longoria’s glove didn’t exactly follow him to the west coast. In a season in which he played 1,051 defensive innings and had 300 chances, he made 15 errors and posted a lowly .950 fielding percentage. That represents the lowest fielding percentage in his career when playing in over 1000 innings. In 2017, Longo made 3 less errors in 75 more chances.
All in all, he posted a WAR of .4, his offensive regression continued and his defense was unrecognizable compared to previous years in which he has earned three gold gloves.
Tampa Bay Rays – Matt Duffy Breakdown
In 560 plate appearances, Matt Duffy was as consistent as one could ask for. Hitting .294, slugged .366, had a .361 OPB, and a .353 BABIP. He only hit 4 home runs but did drive in 44 runs. His .727 OPS is 33 points higher than Longoria’s .694 clip.
Over the course of 53 more fielding chances over 1,063 defensive innings, Duffy committed only 13 errors and posted a .963 fielding percentage. Manning the hot corner proved to be an easy task this year for Duffy as he looked smooth and provided a reliable glove at third base.
Overall, he posted a WAR of 2.4, he didn’t break any slugging records but fit right into the Rays plan during the 2018 campaign, all while providing quality glove work at third.
Tampa Bay Rays – The Comparison
Longoria put together an average to below average year in 2018 where Duffy outperformed him in every category except for slugging. Duffy might never reach the 10 home run plateau again after his slew of injuries but if he maintains his production at the plate, the Rays can find power elsewhere.
Could Longo have hit more home runs if he wasn’t playing in AT&T Park which is infamous for swallowing long fly balls which might find their way over a wall in other parks? Even if he played in a more hitter-friendly park, I would think he maybe hits 20 vs 16.
The Rays added power in Tommy Pham, have projectable power throughout the infield in Jake Bauers, Willy Adames, and Brandon Lowe. This added power can hide the fact that Duffy might only hit 5 out a year. He puts the ball in play and minimizes his strikeouts better than Longoria.
2018 might have been a fluke for Longoria in the field, but it could also be the beginning of regression just as we have seen at the plate. If he is taking a step back then this trade looks even better over the long run for the Rays.
After a year?
As the fire sale in the offseason spiraled and the 2017 roster quickly evaporated, I had little concern for whether or not Longoria would be missed. Why? Well, quite frankly, even if Longoria hadn’t been traded and had another all-star campaign, hit 30 home runs and drove in 100 runs, it wouldn’t have mattered. We were going to lose 90 plus games, right? 90 Longoria-less wins later, I can only help but ask if we had only kept Longo, could we have won more? The answer is no!
Was his diminishing power missed? No. Was his diminishing offensive prowess missed? No. Was his defense missed? Not this year. Was the only franchise player in team history missed? Yes, but it surely didn’t cost us any wins, and wins are what count, right?
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Although I hate to admit it, as much as the Rays fan base hates to admit it, Duffy was an upgrade at third base in 2018. Neander was right in trading the face of the franchise for Matt Krook, Stephen Woods, Denard Span, and more importantly Christian Arroyo. Thank you for all the memories, Evan, you were the greatest Ray I ever saw, but in the end, it was a good trade.
A season later, Neander was right.