Rays Trade Away Face Of The Franchise For Bad Reasons

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Various baseball insiders are reporting that the stove is hot this morning. Rays third baseman Evan Longoria has been shipped to the Giants in exchange for Denard Span and some other stuff:


Structurally, this looks like a perfectly fine trade for both sides. The Giants are getting an aging but remarkably consistent slugger and sliding under the luxury tax by jettisoning Span; meanwhile, the Rays are getting a well-regarded prospect in Christian Arroyo and gaining future payroll flexibility by ridding themselves of a commitment to Longoria that runs through 2022. Teams make deals like this all the time and everyone shrugs.

The standard salary-dump logic doesn’t really apply to the Rays’ half of this trade, though, because Longoria has only ever signed extremely team-friendly deals. He’s set to make an average of $15.6 million per year for the next six years, which is a more than reasonable price to pay for someone who consistently puts up 3-4 WAR seasons—probably half his market value. It’s a salary roughly on par with what Dave Robertson makes, but gets you a guy who can feature as an everyday player on a World Series champion.


Yes, the Rays are a micro-market team that is always going to have to make tough decisions about who they can and cannot afford, but this is Evan Longoria! The entire point of locking down a player like that to team-friendly deals early in his career is to make him a lifer fans can feel safe getting attached to (as well as being able to underpay for an excellent player). Having players like Longoria, who fans can grow up and grow old rooting for (and who are at worst good), is one of the few ways in which a two-bit franchise like the Rays can go about becoming a real institution that doesn’t have to worry about the bottom line quite so much. The best way to fill the coffers is to give fans a consistent reason to come the park, and the best one of those is to see players they like playing well for a winning team. Longoria couldn’t make the last part happen alone; he did as much as anyone can about the first two.

Longoria has unequivocally been the face of the Rays for a decade, and there’s no reason—financial or otherwise—why he shouldn’t have gone on continuing to be that for the next six years. Now the Giants have a popular and fine player, and the Rays won’t have to worry about underpaying a franchise cornerstone three years from now.