Quick: Who's the second-best player in Tampa Bay Rays history? Obviously, that's a question that has some opinion wrapped up in it, so everyone might have their own answer, but if you're looking at an objective measure, you could try Baseball-Reference WAR. Who, according to bWAR, has provided the second-most value to the Rays in their 20-year history?
The answer is … Ben Zobrist, with 36 bWAR. Check out some of the names in the Rays' top 12: Melvin Upton (ninth, with 15 bWAR), Julio Lugo (10th, 13), Desmond Jennings (11th, 13). Desmond Jennings! Jennings is one of the 12 best Tampa Bay Rays of all time. I'm not even sure Desmond Jennings is one of the 12 best players named Desmond. Let's see … Ian … Scieneaux … Beatty … Desi Relaford … OK, fine, Desmond Jennings is one of the best 12 baseball players named Desmond. But you get my point.
For a franchise like the Rays -- one World Series trip, four postseason appearances and six winning seasons in 20 years -- a trade of their best player ever, by a wide margin, is going to feel seismic. For 10 seasons, Evan Longoria has been the Tampa Bay Rays. His rookie year, they made the World Series. (In which he sadly went 1-for-20.) He made three All-Star Games, won three Gold Gloves and finished in the top 20 of the American League MVP Award voting six times. He even got his own commercial in which he chased a Rays fan around Florida to get a hat.
The Rays have had two eras: The Devil Rays era, and the Longoria era. So today, the day that the Rays have traded Longoria to the San Francisco Giants, is the end of that second era, the best Rays era of all. It's sad and a bummer for Rays fans and a sign that roughly 95 percent of them need to get a new jersey with a new name on the back. Longoria is a fantastic guy and a fun player to root for and exactly the type of dude you want to have as the face of your franchise.
So now that all that's said: The Rays probably just got away with one.
It is important to remember the context of a Longoria trade. As many have noted, Longoria's 10-and-five trade veto rights kick in about two weeks into the season, and even though it's difficult to imagine the Rays would ever trade Longoria without consulting with him first (he had to have had some idea), we saw with the Giancarlo Stanton trade just how hamstrung teams can be when they want to trade a player to a place he might not want to go. The Rays were looking to move him, even though he still has a team-friendly contract for the next five years, and there were many teams rumored to be interested.
But -- and this is key -- most of those teams saw Longoria as part of a larger package … the lesser part, for that matter. The Rays' key trade assets this offseason have been Chris Archer and Alex Colome, and they've had teams knocking down their door for those guys. The Cardinals, in particular, wanted Colome, and could have been OK with Longoria as a potential third-base option, but they reportedly almost saw him as a throw-in, helping the Rays by taking his contract off their hands as a way to facilitate a Colome (or even Archer) deal. Longoria was a trade chip for the Rays, but not a primary one.
The reason is not that Longoria isn't good; he is. But that's all he is: Good. An argument could be made that a large reason the Rays never quite broke through the way they were set up to over the next decade is that they thought they had, in Longoria, a superstar at a discount price for 10 years … and it turns out they just had an above-average player. Teams like the Rays have little room for error on the margins. They were counting on Longoria turning into Mike Schmidt. He turned out to be Ron Cey. A good player! But not Schmidt.
Look at Longoria's OPS-plus numbers before and after he signed his 10-year extension in 2012. (Remember that 100 is a league average OPS-plus.)
When they signed that deal, when Longoria was still only 27 years old, the Rays expected him to expand on his numbers, not decline. But Longoria just has never been the huge bat the Rays thought he was going to be, and needed him to be. He has been an excellent player. (The best in Rays history!) But he never ascended to the elite level the Rays, and most of baseball, expected. He never turned into Schmidt.
And here's the problem: The Giants are trading for Longoria like, well, like he's Schmidt. They just gave up their top prospect, Christian Arroyo (who is likely going to be ready to start for the Rays on Opening Day), Denard Span (who is a free agent after the 2018 season) and Minor League pitchers Matt Krook and Stephen Woods (No. 25 and No. 29 on the Giants MLB Pipeline prospect lists). OK, that's probably not a Schmidt package. But it's definitely the Giants emptying out the prospect tank. Arroyo is the only Giant prospect currently in the MLB Pipeline Top 100 … or at least he was. The Giants had one of the weakest farm systems in the game before this trade, and now it's even weaker. You only get to trade your only top 100 guy once. And the Giants just gave him up for a 32-year-old who was a league-average hitter in 2017.
And now look at the Giants' payroll coming up:
When @PavlovicNBCS said Longoria sets up Giants great for 2018 but 2019/2020/2021 versions are in trouble, he was dead on. Here are the Giants' future commitments, via Cot's. A staggering amount committed to players in their 30s -- and that's without a Bumgarner extension. pic.twitter.com/DKfuVKcXdd- Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 20, 2017
And don't forget: This is a team that lost 98 games last season. The Giants are a proud franchise that does not handle losing 98 games well, and they clearly set about trying to improve that dramatically this offseason, including their thwarted attempt to bring in Stanton. Stanton would have helped the Giants, though, arguably, still not enough. But as perfectly fine of a player as Longoria is, he will never be confused with Stanton. The Giants felt like they had to get somebody. But it is certainly a question whether or not Longoria is that somebody.
This is a sad day for Rays fans. They have lost their franchise icon. This may be the first move of many in the coming weeks. But Longoria's stock had fallen enough that other teams were considering him a throw-in to a larger trade. Now the Rays just got a top-100 prospect -- one who could theoretically slot right in where Longoria was just playing -- for him.
Longoria has been stuck on teams with losing records the past four seasons. The Giants might be better with him in 2018. But it's just as likely that they'll struggle like they did last year, and then be older the year after that, and they've got real questions on their hands as Madison Bumgarner's contract expires and they're still paying all these guys in their 30s.
The way this is trending: It'll probably be Rays fans that applaud this deal in five years, and Giants fans who rue it. That's hard to see right now. But that's the likeliest outcome. The Giants think they're getting 2008-2012 Evan Longoria for the next five years. It is just as likely that they're getting Desmond Jennings.
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