The Rays Trade Longoria | The Process Report

The Rays Trade Longoria

This is a sentence we knew we would have to type up eventually, and that time has come.

Ideally, a trade involving Longoria would have happened last year when he was coming off a 123 wRC+ season. A trade did not happen for a couple of reasons. One factor was that there was no clear backup plan at third base. The free agent market last winter at the hot corner was very thin and Matt Duffy‘s health was in limbo due to the surgery on his heel that eventually kept him out for the entire 2017 season.  This winter, the decision came down to whether the club viewed this roster as the same type of contender that it was this time last year while balancing that decision against the plans for the club in the rest of this decade. This deal signals where their mindset is.

As it were, Longoria was one of five players on the 40-man roster with a guaranteed contract and stood to make more in 2018 than the combined salaries of Chris Archer and Kevin Kiermaier. Both of those players have affordable salaries for the next four to five seasons, but the roster needs more depth than that as the front office looks to rebuild the structure of the roster. Given the constant financial limitations, due in part to the constraints of Tropican Field, the club needs to find ways to free up (or pony up) money to offer the next wave of youngsters pre-agency deals to control the costs through the arbitration years and potentially incentivize the player to put off free agency for a year or two. All options must be considered when “ballin’ on a budget,” even trading the most popular player in the history of the franchise.

While the overall value of Longoria on and off the field in the Tampa Bay area is tough to put a price tag on, his costs on the field are fixed. He is due at least $86M over the next five seasons, or $94M if his club picks up the final option of the deal. Longoria has provided the Rays with nearly $350M of value and has been paid just under $60M in that time. The combination of his two long-term deals, particularly the first one, has been a substantial reason why the club has been able to stay competitive throughout most of his time here despite the limitations in payroll. Had the club, or any club for that matter, given him that contract in this current free agent they would have been strongly criticized. Todd Frazier, a player of similar production and age, is projected to get roughly half of that deal when he eventually signs this winter.

Keeping Longoria throughout this second deal would have limited the club moving forward given there does not appear to be any influx in stadium revenue this decade. He has played nearly every day of the past five seasons, and at least half of those have come on artificial surface. Longoria even mentioned looking forward to playing on real grass in his exit interview today with writers.

At age 32, his best years are behind him and production both at the plate and in the field will decline from here on out. One could argue that the offensive has already been present save the aforementioned 2016 bump.

Where that path goes from here remains to be seen. Longoria was one of the best players at his position in the game in the front half of his career, and in recent years has been slightly better than league average both at the plate and in the field. It would be unfair to compare him to a similar “face of the franchise” type in Chipper Jones, but he is included on the graph below to show how Jones is an outlier when talking about aging at the hot corner. More appropriate names to the conversation are the likes of Scott Rolen and Matt Williams:

Simply put, the club would have been at risk paying the franchise player considerably more than what he was producing on the field. That is something larger clubs will do to acquire and retain talent as they have the financial luxuries to do so. Given the tremendous value Longoria has produced compared to what he has been paid, the club could have simply retained him and looked at these waning years as the cost of the extremely beneficial front end of the career. The fact of the matter is the Rays do not have that luxury with their current financing and we know after interviews today that the club let Longoria know what they were planning on doing and he was open to being dealt somewhere he felt he had a chance to win in 2018. In return, the club has received a shorter financial commitment in a useful Denard Span, a top 100 prospect in Christian Arroyo, and two pitching prospects. It allows Matt Duffy to go back to third base and open up more opportunity for Willy Adames as the club appears to be going back to its pitching and defense roots.

It was not easy when Matt Garza was dealt. It was not easy when David Price was dealt, and it was not easy when James Shields was dealt. Those deals brought back Chris Archer, Adames, Wil Myers, and Jake Odorizzi. This deal may not produce that level of return, or it may when combined with a potential contract extension of someone such as Steven Souza Jr, Adames, Brent Honeywell, or Blake Snell. It stings today, and it should if you are a fan of the franchise, but this is still dealing a player whose overall popularity exceeds his recent production. That is not meant to sound heartless, but it is reality. If Longoria’s production matched his reputation, this deal does not happen.

Let’s revisit this deal in two years to see how the reallocation of assets has affected the club’s position to remain competitive. The 2018 roster, as it stands now, is not in a complete rebuild mode, but the constant rumors of trades involving Odorizzi, Alex Colome, and even Archer could mean a major remodeling project is just getting under way.



  1. Jonathan wrote:

    If the club won 6 more games this deal does not happen, it’s tough knowing we were that close.

    • Jason Collette wrote:

      I’m not so sure about that. They’ve lose Morrison and Cobb from last year’s team and Odorizzi isn’t too far behind them. Maybe Miller bounces back, Snell gets better, Honeywell comes up and does well. Still, that’s an awful lot of what if’s to try to capture a wildcard when NYY, BOS, LAA, TEX, SEA, HOU, CLE, MIN are all better on paper.

  2. rb3 wrote:

    Thanks for the cogent and clear analysis. I really needed it today.

  3. Starmand wrote:

    Regardless of what happens, it was always fun beating the Red Sox and the Yankees with a team with 1/5th the salaries.

    I know that the remaining players have that in their minds too. Now, if they can only get Cash out of his own way…

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