I’m not sure a team has ever telegraphed its intent to make a splash more than the Giants. The Giants were one of the finalists for Shohei Ohtani. They were, of course, disappointed to not get him. They were also one of the finalists for Giancarlo Stanton, before Stanton invoked his no-trade clause. The Giants and Marlins had otherwise worked out an agreement. Turned down by their top two options, the Giants kept on exploring the market, looking to make an impact move. Such a move is now official. The Giants have made a big trade with the Rays.
Longoria used to have, for several years, more trade value than almost anyone else. It was almost impossible to imagine the Rays letting him go. But now the best player in Rays history is on the move, because, ultimately, the Rays have to act like the Rays have to act, and Longoria isn’t what he was when he was younger. Rays fans will get to remember his 20s. Giants fans will get to look ahead to his 30s. The Giants have gotten better for today, but the future of the club now looks even more challenging.
To the Rays’ credit, it looks like they handled this right. It’s never easy to let go of the face of a franchise, and Longoria has meant more than anyone else to the team and the community, but the Rays were open about this process, and Longoria was open about the fact that he didn’t want to go through another rebuild. That looks to be where the Rays are headed, so they’re giving Longoria an opportunity to star for someone else, someone in the same state where Longoria grew up. The Marlins drew some criticism for not being so open with Stanton while they were in trade talks. With Longoria, the Rays didn’t do anything wrong. That doesn’t mean this isn’t painful, but at the end of the day, Longoria’s 32, and he’s due almost another $90 million. The relationship was going to come to an end.
Enter the Giants. The Giants needed help at third base. Truth be told, the Giants needed help in lots of places, but the Giants needed help at third base. Longoria is a great deal better than Pablo Sandoval, so, in that sense, this is a fit. The Giants will now be better in 2018. Yet Longoria’s under contract through age 36. And in case you haven’t paid close attention to his career, here is a very quick summary.
|2008 – 2013||22 – 27||3419||11%||21%||135||15||15||6.2|
|2014 – 2017||28 – 31||2732||7%||19%||108||-1||3||3.2|
Younger Longoria was one of the very best players in baseball. More recent Longoria has settled for being above-average. He’s lost some of his skill at third base, and he’s also lost some of his power. By no means am I trying to suggest that Longoria has declined all the way to bad, but he’s also coming off a 96 wRC+. He’s coming off career-low offensive output, in his age-31 season. Longoria’s results got worse, and his expected results also got worse.
Because every article has to mention Statcast, there’s something alarming about Longoria’s average exit velocities. In 2015, he averaged about 90 miles per hour. In 2016, he averaged about 91. In 2017, he averaged about 87. There are 293 players who knocked at least 100 batted balls in each of the past two seasons. Longoria showed the eighth-greatest exit-velocity drop. And in case you’re wondering what that could mean, the 25 biggest drops between 2015 and 2016 averaged about -2.4 miles per hour. Come 2017, there was absolutely zero recovery, again on average. The exit velocities remained lower.
Something could be awry here, then. Longoria is missing some pop. He is, at least, coming off a career-high contact rate, and there’s value in balls in play, but the Longoria of old might be gone forever. He might now be a contact-hitting adequate defensive third baseman with roughly average power. The fact that he’s been durable is a good thing, and I’m sure the Giants also love that Longoria is a character guy, a proven leader. But, if Longoria were a free agent, I doubt he’d get $86 million guaranteed. That means his contract would be a little underwater.
Now, the Rays are including some money. I’m not sure how much. If I had to guess, it’s money for just 2018. And money is also why Span is a part of this — the Giants wanted to shed his $13-million guarantee. Span is too expensive for a veteran fourth outfielder. But then there’s also Arroyo, not to mention Krook and Woods. The Giants should have the flexibility left to add an outfielder, but just what do they think they’re going to be?
Here is a pessimistic evaluation:
Post-Longoria trade, Giants now project at 75.0 wins and have the game’s 29th-best farm system. Also, depending on calculation, possibly MLB’s highest payroll.
— NEIFI Analytics (@NEIFIco) December 20, 2017
Our own projections see the Giants around .500. Neither good nor bad. No one disagrees about the state of the farm system. The Giants are pushing to get into wild-card position. I can’t imagine they’ll end up as good as the Dodgers. They’ll be pestered by the Diamondbacks, Rockies, Cardinals, and, perhaps, the Mets and Brewers, too. It’s not that the Giants don’t have hope, and you could still picture big things from a rotation led by Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, and Jeff Samardzija. But things pretty much need to work out in 2018. After that, it gets ugly.
In 2019, Cueto, Samardzija, Longoria, Buster Posey, Mark Melancon, Brandon Belt, and Brandon Crawford will combine to make about $124 million. The youngest among them will be 31. The following year, they’ll make the same money, and the youngest among them, of course, will be 32. After that, Melancon and Samardzija come off the books, but you’re still talking about $94 million combined, with the youngest player being 33. Each of these players is talented, but the 30s tend to be unkind. The Giants will have much of their payroll tied up in older players, necessitating an infusion of cheap young talent, and that’s not an infusion the farm is poised to deliver. It could take a small miracle for the Giants to avoid the fate of the Tigers and Phillies.
They might just be embracing that. It’s possible the Giants know the future will be dark, so they’re trying to give it one last go. That still doesn’t mean adding Longoria was the obvious thing to do, given his long-term commitment, but maybe it’s not actually as simple as just signing Todd Frazier instead. Longoria, in isolation, isn’t a terrible investment. He just piles on to the longer-term issue. Ideally, perhaps the Giants would’ve elected to start their own tear-down. It’s just so hard to imagine them trading Posey or Bumgarner. It was once hard to see the Rays trading Longoria, but, from a business perspective, maybe the Giants don’t want to think about that until they know for sure they’re screwed. For now, 2018 still has a glimmer of hope.
All this and I’ve barely even mentioned the Rays’ side of things. Longoria will probably be a bigger loss off the field than on it, since he’s more popular than he is valuable these days. The Rays just can’t afford to have a contract like his on the books for so long, not given how they operate. Span, if he sticks around, will fill in in the outfield from time to time. A few years from now people will forget he ever belonged to Tampa Bay. Arroyo is the centerpiece, a 22-year-old infielder who’s ranked as a top-100 prospect before. He’s coming off a rough big-league debut, and he also missed a half-season with an injury, but Arroyo has contact skills while being shortstop-capable. In this era, you don’t want to discount any young player who can put the bat on the ball.
Both Krook and Woods are low-level pitchers with strikeouts and control problems. They’re fliers, as prospects, worth a few million apiece. Woods is the righty and Krook is the lefty, and while, again, Krook has struggled to throw consistent strikes, he ended last season with a terrific run as a reliever, and his fastball and curveball give him a rather extreme ground-balling profile. You could therefore see Krook move pretty fast, although I should also note he’s already had Tommy John surgery once. He’s just interesting, is the point.
The Rays were probably going to have to do this eventually. Players just don’t stick around their whole careers anymore, certainly not with operations like Tampa Bay’s. The Rays handled this well, as they prepare for just another reloading or rebuilding attempt. As far as Longoria’s concerned, the Rays have now given him an opportunity to try to win. From the Giants’ side, they’d sure like to be able to win in 2018. Because, after that, it’s going to be awfully hard. As such, I’m not sure how future Longoria is going to feel about this. But the Giants don’t want to think too long or too hard about the future. They just want to focus on the very next season, because if they do things just right, they could squeak to 85 or 90 wins. From there, who knows? I don’t envy the Giants’ overall positioning, but if you’re heading for a cliff anyway, I guess you might as well make the most of the trip.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.