Despite being the name of both a Tropicana ballpark feature and the daily DRaysBay article linking to all your Rays news, the Tampa Bay Rays have never really gone the route of the Marlins and fully tanked. (In wrestling terms: A Full Loria.)
Sure, the team has ranked in the bottom three of MLB payrolls each of the past five years, but the team has never truly cashed in on their top chips as is being rumored (and suggested) in certain areas this offseason.
With rumors of Chris Archer and Evan Longoria as potential trade targets, this should ring alarm bells for Rays fans. Of course it should, those are the Rays two most famous players, both of whom are in their relative primes and are still contributing vast amounts of value above their inexpensive contracts.
DRB’s Ian Malinowski has Longoria worth $38 million in excess value over the rest of his contract, and Archer at a crazy $125 million in excess value for his remaining years under contract.
You can review those calculations here.
Moving either of these star players would be an extreme shift from what the Rays have done throughout their franchise history.
In the early years (the Devil Days), the team put an emphasis on bringing in big names who were maybe a bit past their prime, but the team certainly wasn’t in the “fire sale” mindset that their 1990s-Florida-MLB-expansion brethren in Miami were imbued with. In 2000, in their third season in the league, the Rays ranked among the top ten in payroll, topping $60 million in a time when no team had a payroll higher than $92 million.
Looking through Rays history, 2003 was the only season in which the Rays took a Marlins approach to payroll, as their $19.6 million payroll was less than half that of any other team in baseball. That being said, the biggest piece that was moved from the 2002 roster was Randy Winn. It didn’t take much effort to Tank.
Even when the Devil Rays did sell off a few pieces in 2005-2006, it was names like Toby Hall, Aubrey Huff, and Julio Lugo who were shipped out of town. We all love Huff Daddy, but he was never even close to the player Longoria and Archer are.
During the infamous 2010 offseason that led to the epic 2011 draft class, it was free agency that gutted the Rays roster, not a series of trades involving their best players.
The Rays have never ditched a player like Longoria. Part of that is because Longoria stands alone in Rays history, but it’s also because the only twice in Rays history have they traded a player who led the team in WAR during the regular season during that ensuing offseason (the aforementioned Winn in 2002, and Ben Zobrist in 2014).
The Rays have certainly been known to move on from some of their best players (David Price, James Shields, Carl Crawford, etc.) but most often, they do so after those players’ primes, and when the player’s contract has become unmanageable.
By comparison, Chris Archer isn’t even 30 yet, and he’ll be absurdly inexpensive in 2018 ($6.4 million). Longoria is a bit longer in the tooth, but he’s still inexpensive given his production (10.6 WAR for the price of $35.5 million over the past three seasons, 1 gold glove, 2 finalist seasons), plus: he’s Evan Longoria. To paraphrase Vinny from Entourage: He is Tampa Bay Rays Baseball.
It’s the offseason, so it’s natural to see these rumors floating about day-after-day. It’s a slow time of the year, and people eat up offseason trade rumors articles like they’re bacon-wrapped caviar. However, if the Rays stay true to franchise form, don’t expect to see Longo or Archer in any other than the blue and gold of Tampa Bay in 2018.
Thanks to resident Tampa Bay Rays historian Adam Sanford for help with this piece.