The Tampa Bay area has one daily newspaper, and therefore only one print outlet that follows the team. That is the Tampa Bay Times, which acquired its rival and narrowed the beat writers deployed to one. Marc Topkin is the last man standing. He was been with the Times and has been documenting the Rays from the start: he was on the story before there ever was an expansion team.
Twenty years later, you have to assume he has his finger on the pulse of Tampa Bay baseball. You have to assume he knows how the front office operates, and that to the extent they tip their hand to any journalist, they share information with him.
Topkin has dedicated his energy this offseason, in every other tweet and every other article, to proclaiming that the Rays are about to trade Evan Longoria. Seriously, check out his blog and Twitter feed: you’ll find “Longoria” and “trade” in the majority of posts.
Longoria: A player to whom the Rays have committed with two long term contract extensions, with an intent to make him the first player to debut and retire in a Rays jersey with a borderline-Hall of Fame career.
The Topkin argument, which often gets picked up by other sports media, seems to go like this: the front office wants to move Evan Longoria, who won his third gold glove in 2017, before his veteran no-trade clause (called 10-and-5 rights) kicks in this spring.
In support, Giancarlo Stanton is put forward as the cautionary tale. His no trade clause dramatically restricted the Marlins when they were trying to move his large contract. They ultimately could find only one destination for the NL MVP: the Yankees. Consequently, New York was able to acquire him from Derek Jeter’s Marlins for peanuts. Honestly, it’s one of the worst trades you’ll ever see in your lifetime and it only made the richest team richer.
The system is broken, but does that mean the Rays should get ahead of a no-trade clause by trading the best player in team history who remains on a team friendly contract?
Let’s review a few reasons to be skeptical of the “Longoria must be traded” argument.
First, this argument assumes that Longoria’s contract is an albatross from which the team must free itself. But that is not the case.
The value of a win is somewhere between $9 million and $11 million in the current baseball market. Longoria has averaged more than 4 WAR over the last five seasons, with 20+ HR in each year and sterling defense, and he’s getting paid only $13.5 million next season, with minimal increases moving forward.
Even a modest projection of Longoria’s contributions yields a valuable contract to the Rays. He’s worthy of the team’s investment.
Second, the Rays are not facing a Marlins-like rebuild and salary dump. Sure the Rays are always listening on players, and it would be bad baseball to not offer teams your ear. History has shown, however, that the Rays have never entered a rebuilding stage, so why would they start now by dealing the face of the franchise?
Third, while Longoria does not have the right to veto a trade, it is very unlikely that this front office would not consult him before making this sort of move, and have some concern for his wishes. Certainly it is hard to imagine that they would trade him to the bitter rival Yankees, as Topkin suggested this morning.
The only philosophically consistent aspect of a Longoria trade rumor is that the Rays front office has never said a player is untouchable. Another team is always free to offer a trade suggestion, just as the Rays are always free to laugh. To be sure, if they trade Longoria this off-season it would fundamentally change everything we know about this franchise. But nothing’s impossible.
Evan Longoria is a franchise third baseman with stellar defense on a team friendly contract. If he remains with the Rays his number will be retired in a beautiful new stadium in Ybor City. He’s not ready to let that moment slip away, and neither is the front office.
Why, then, is the Rays beat reporter spending his winter speculating about Longoria trades?
Perhaps Topkin really does know something we don’t. Maybe the Rays really are kicking the tires on a Longoria trade and have shared that information with him.
Or maybe Topkin realizes that “Longo Trade Rumors!” generates clicks and re-tweets. His speculation not only gets us Rays fans to check out his work; it also generates traffic as it is repeated by national outlets like MLB Trade Rumors
Which of these scenarios is more likely?