This offseason, perhaps more than any other over the past few years, there is speculation of whether or not the Rays will (or should) begin a rebuilding phase.
This has been a baseball team that refuses to rebuild, but as a small market team in an unbalanced baseball economy, the Rays have traded away major players near the ends of their contracts with an eye both toward the future and the present, trying to reload with prospects and compete with younger contracts at the same time.
This week, the Rays have two star players on long-term contracts who have trade rumors swirling around them. Long term, as in no where near the end of their contracts.
If the Rays trade Evan Longoria and Chris Archer, that means it’s the first rebuild in Tampa Bay since 2003, and the first under the ownership group that bought the team after the 2005 season. Why would the Rays listen now?
To understand, we’ll take a look at those contracts, and try to put numbers to what exactly the two faces of the franchise are worth on the trade market.
To put everything in context, I’ve used the concept of “surplus value.” For an explanation of the concept and how I’ve calculated it, as well as for a tool to calculate it yourself, read this.
Evan Longoria has long been the face of the franchise. A gold glove winner in 2017, Longoria brings value beyond his contributions on the field, both in the community and in the clubhouse, but it’s obvious that going into his age-32 season, his on-field ability is not what it used to be.
Last season, for the first time in his career, Longoria’s bat was below league average, with a wRC+ of 96. And he’s owed a lot of money, at least compared to what the Rays usually pay.
Evan Longoria’s Contract
|2023 Option||37||$13 million|
Is his contact an albatross?
Don’t be ridiculous, Longoria can still play.
Allotting Longoria a modest projection of 3.0 Wins Over Replacement (WAR) next season, and declining that by half a win over replacement every year, yields a projected surplus value of nearly $34 million in excess of what his contract will pay over his remaining five years (assuming the 2023 option is not picked up).
The majority of that value is in the first three years, with 2021 being projected as fair value and 2022 as -$5.5 million in value.
Right now, this projects the 2023 option as having negative value, but of course, it will only be picked up if a team thinks age-37 Longoria is still a 1-WAR or so player.
To be clear, I don’t think that a small market team like the Rays wants to be paying $20 million in 2022 to a veteran roleplayer. But Evan Longoria’s long-term contract (and extension) has been a GREAT deal up to this point, and it should continue to be a GOOD deal.
If the Rays don’t want it (and they should think long and hard before trading Longo), someone else will.
Chris Archer Contract
|2020 Option||31||$9 million|
|2021 Option||32||$11 million|
FanGraphs Depth Charts projects Archer as a 4.4 WAR player in 2018.
Yes, he’s that good.
Evan Longoria’s contract has just under $40 million in projected surplus value remaining on it. Chris Archer’s contract has $40 million in projected surplus value next year.
Archer has $35 million in projected surplus value for 2019, and then two team options for 2020 and 2021 with projected surplus values of $27 million and $20 million (and remember, a team option has higher value than stated here, because of the way it mitigates team risk).
This is a four year contract we’ve projected to be worth $125 million in surplus value. That’s huge.
The Rays can keep him and enjoy that value as they attempt to compete within the next four years, or they can trade him and rebuild. If they do, the return would be immense.
Depending on who you are and what you believe, the goal of a baseball team is to:
- Make the playoffs and win the World Series
- Play competitive, entertaining baseball
- Increase the value of the investment of the ownership group
- Produce liquid assets for the ownership group
Based on which one of those you chose, you will have a different perspective of what to do with the surplus value on the contracts of Evan Longoria, Chris Archer, and other Rays potentially being discussed around the league this offseason.
These surplus value numbers cannot tell you whether the Rays should trade a player or not, but they can help you discuss trades intelligently, regardless of your goal.
Bottom line tgough, Longoria and Archer are talented baseball players on excellent baseball contracts, making them the kind of asset in high demand.