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Trading your “face of the franchise” is not (totally) unprecedented

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Other teams do this — and survive

MLB: Spring Training-Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the dust has settled and we have all come to terms with the fact that our beloved Evan Longoria is headed west, we have time to discuss just how rare it was for the Rays to actually part ways with their Face of the Franchise.

There are many ways this question could be answered. The way that immediately jumped out to this stats-loving writer was as follows: Measure the percent of total franchise WAR (as either a pitcher or hitter) that a certain player had been worth in their time with the franchise before being traded.

Let me explain further by using an example.

The Kansas City Royals came into existence in 1969. George Brett reached the majors in 1973. Over the course of the next 21 seasons, Brett was worth 84.6 fWAR for the team. When he retired in 1993, the franchise had been in existence 25 years, and every hitter in their franchise history to that point had combined for 443.8 WAR. By that logic (which I’m sure is mathematically twisted to the point that Russell Carleton has officially gouged his eyes out; sorry BP), Brett was worth an incredible 19.06 percent of all offensive fWAR in Royals franchise history when he retired. As in, not total franchise WAR as of 2017. Here are a few more Face of the Franchise types:

Classic Faces of the Franchise

Franchise Franchise Years Franchise WAR Player Player Years Player WAR Percent of Franchise WAR
Franchise Franchise Years Franchise WAR Player Player Years Player WAR Percent of Franchise WAR
Royals 1969-1993 443.8 George Brett 1973-1993 84.6 19.06
Padres 1969-2001 470.6 Tony Gwynn 1982-2001 65 13.81
Brewers 1969-1993 420.8 Robin Yount 1974-1993 66.5 15.80
Rockies 1993-2013 291.5 Todd Helton 1997-2013 54.8 18.80
Rays 1998-2017 379.4 Evan Longoria 2008-2017 49.6 13.07

I included Longoria in there to show that he was tracking to join that select company of Face of the Franchise types who truly defined entire generations of fandom for the Royals, Padres, Brewers, and Rockies. You’ll note that all four of those players ended their careers with the team for which they made their MLB debut.

In fact, it took a while to find a player who contributed such a large portion of his team’s early-franchise success and was then dealt. We’ll get to that player in one second, but first: here are a few other comparisons that I found particularly interesting in researching this piece.

Here are a few just stupefying percentages:

Crazy Outliers

Franchise Franchise Years Franchise WAR Player Player Years Player WAR Percent of Franchise WAR
Franchise Franchise Years Franchise WAR Player Player Years Player WAR Percent of Franchise WAR
Diamondbacks 1998-2004 136.1 Randy Johnson 1999-2004 49.6 36.44
Mets 1962-1976 199.7 Tom Seaver 1967-1976 63.1 31.60
Yankees 1901-1934 761.6 Babe Ruth 1920-1934 148.8 19.54
Rays 1998-2017 379.4 Evan Longoria 2008-2017 49.6 13.07

Johnson and Seaver are unique in that they came to their respective franchises almost exactly at the franchise origin, and they left town (Seaver via trade; Johnson via free agency) while they were still at their peaks. Seaver might have been an interesting comparison for Longoria if it wasn’t for the fact that Longoria appeared a full decade into Rays history. Also, Longoria is amazing, but Seaver is arguably one of the ten greatest players of all time.

And Ruth. His team had been around 20 years before he got there, and he still managed to contribute a significant percentage of the franchise’s entire offensive WAR by the end of his time in New York. And that was with Lou Gehrig hitting next to him in the Yankee lineup. Just bonkers.

One comparison that came up frequently when Longo was moved was Troy Tulowitzki:

Tulo vs. Longo

Franchise Franchise Years Franchise WAR Player Player Years Player WAR Percent of Franchise WAR
Franchise Franchise Years Franchise WAR Player Player Years Player WAR Percent of Franchise WAR
Rockies 1993-2014 310.9 Troy Tulowitzki 2006-2014 33.3 10.71
Rays 1998-2017 379.4 Evan Longoria 2008-2017 49.6 13.07

The comparison is pretty close, and the Rockies have certainly recovered well from their offloading of Tulowitzki. They made the playoffs a mere two seasons later, and they look to be set up well for the future. Where I think the comparison gets bogged down is that as great as Tulo was, he wasn’t quite the rock of the franchise that Longo was. If we’re looking at this simply from the stats, there’s a decent comparison, but I think the impact lost in the clubhouse and in the community isn’t quite the same when comparing Tulo and Longo. Our final comparison will check that box with aplomb.

Here’s one final interesting comparison before we get to the closest comparison. It’s the other big-name, previously-Florida-based Face of the Franchise who was moved this winter:

Florida-based Exports

Franchise Franchise Years Franchise WAR Player Player Years Player WAR Percent of Franchise WAR
Franchise Franchise Years Franchise WAR Player Player Years Player WAR Percent of Franchise WAR
Marlins 1993-2017 426.8 Giancarlo Stanton 2010-2017 34.1 7.99
Rays 1998-2017 379.4 Evan Longoria 2008-2017 49.6 13.07

The Marlins have been around a bit longer, and Stanton wasn’t with the team as long as Longoria, so it’s not too surprising to see Longo get the significant advantage in terms of franchise contribution before being shipped out of town.

No more delaying. Here’s the most interesting comparison:

Closest Longoria Comparison

Franchise Franchise Years Franchise WAR Player Player Years Player WAR Percent of Franchise WAR
Franchise Franchise Years Franchise WAR Player Player Years Player WAR Percent of Franchise WAR
Expos 1969-1984 302.7 Gary Carter 1974-1984 53.2 17.58
Rays 1998-2017 379.4 Evan Longoria 2008-2017 49.6 13.07

Gary Carter was the Golden Boy of the Expos’ early days. He debuted as a 20-year-old as was nicknamed both “Lights” and “The Kid” in reference to his precocious success with the franchise. He was an All-Star and the Rookie of the Year runner-up in his first full season, and he didn’t look back from there.

As you all know, Longoria was the third overall pick of the 2006 draft and made his debut less than two years later, to hype and pressure aplenty. Of course, he thrived as the Face of the Franchise tag, becoming the most beloved Ray in franchise history.

The story was much the same for Carter. He lived up to the Golden Boy hype, and he produced to the extent that he was a seven-time All-Star in his ten full seasons with the Expos. However, the Expos were a small market team, and they traded him when his contract demands became too onerous. This isn’t exactly the case with Longo and the Rays, but the “small market team can’t afford Face of the Franchise” narrative isn’t far off.

How you read this comparison depends on whether you tend toward optimism or pessimism. If you are a glass half-full sort, take note of the fact that Carter came back to the Expos to retire as a part of the franchise with which he had such a strong relationship. If you see the glass half-empty, take note of the fact that the entire Expos franchise was moved from Montreal just 12 years after Carter left for good. Their inability to retain Face of the Franchise types was far from the only reason they ended up doomed in Montreal (noted Expos historian, Jonah Keri, for his money, notes that the team simply needed one big benefactor to undertake the mission of saving baseball in Montreal), but it was certainly one of the first signs of the writing on the wall.

Rays fans will just have to hope the outcome is a bit different 1,500 south and 30 years removed from the Gary Carter and Montreal Expos story.