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The Rays should trade Evan Longoria, but they won’t

We don’t live in a world of “should.”

MLB: Spring Training-Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

There’s another piece at the Tampa Bay Times on Life After Longoria — that lingering threat that the Rays cannot afford to keep their franchise player — and frankly, I hated it. There was one quote that caught my eye, though:

"This has been my home. I have not thought of going anywhere else. The city and the team and everybody has been great to me. And I love being here. But I love winning more. And that's the simple answer."

There are other quotes that put this in more context, but to be clear, Evan isn’t asking to be traded. What he’s doing is what we often hear Evan do in an interview: arguing with himself.

Yes, Evan Longoria, like every Rays fan, firmly believes that he should retire a Ray (with multiple championships). But also like every Rays fan, Evan Longoria doesn’t live in the world of should. He lives in a world where sometimes things that shouldn’t happen, happen anyway. And when they do, you need to make the most of it.

So should the Rays trade Evan Longoria to the Pirates — whose starting third baseman Jung Ho Kang was just placed on the restricted list after a conviction for a third DUI, and who is now having visa issues? Hell no. They shouldn’t. Longo’s too important to the franchise, and his contract, while not as great as it once was, is still pretty good.

But if the Pirates call and offer something “crazy”? The Rays might anyway.

So here’s some idle speculation on what “crazy” might look like, using just one team as an example in this thought experiment. What would it take?

It Can’t Cripple the 2017 Team

The top of the Pirates’ system is loaded with prospects. You could easily work out a dream scenario where the Pirates send a bushel of those guys for Longo, and it would be a fair trade. It would also get Stu hung in effigy. So there’s no way a Longo for Glasnow/Meadows/Mitch Keller/Cole Tucker deal goes down. It shouldn’t and it can’t and it won’t.

Proven major league talent needs to come in this trade. Like maybe this guy:

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates-Media Day Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The guy the Rays should have drafted instead of Wade Townsend (ugh) would make a nice starting point for this deal.

Is Andrew McCutchen the player he used to be? No. In fact, last year was the worst of his career as he slashed .256/.336/.430 on his way to just 0.7 fWAR. Something to keep in mind, though, is that a large part of the dropoff in fWAR comes from his declining skills as a centerfielder.

In the corner, where he’s agreed to play for the Pirates this year, and where he’d play for the Rays as long as Kiermaier is on patrol, that number would look more respectable. More worrisome were the career low walk rate (10.2%), a career high strikeout rate (21.2%), and an ISO (.174) that was the lowest since his rookie year.

So no, he’s not the player he used to be. But he’s still Andrew McCutchen, and a career low BABIP suggests that maybe he’s primed for a bounce back in his age 30 season. His contract runs through this year, with a team option for 2018, both of which are comparable to Longo’s salary.

It Must Include More Than One Top Prospect

In the real world, Longoria for McCutcheon is pretty close to an even deal already, at least for the short term, though recent performance and Longo’s contract slant it toward the Pirates. But we aren’t looking to make a “fair” trade; we’re trading away the face of the franchise. It’s going to take more than that.

Pittsburgh doesn’t have a deep system, but the top looks really good. And I don’t think the Rays can pull the trigger in good conscience without nabbing at least two of them. For me, that starts with Austin Meadows

Meadows is a left handed hitting outfielder entering his age 22 season. Drafted in the first round of the 2013 draft, he has climbed steadily through their system and up the rankings. Currently Baseball America has him as the game’s sixth best prospect. While he did struggle a bit in a small sample after his call up to AAA Indianapolis, and injuries have bit him off and on, he's nearly major league ready. And as a five tool guy, he would be a prize catch.

RHP Tyler Glasnow, a fifth round pick in the 2011 draft, is also almost major league ready. A bit of the shine has come off this formerly shiniest of new toys, but the 23 year old is still the 23rd best prospect in the game according to Baseball America. With a big fastball and a plus curve, the stuff is there (11.6 K/9 throughout his milb career). As with a lot of guys with electric stuff, command is a concern (4.4 BB/9 over his milb career, and 13 in 23.1 major league innings last year). But the ceiling is high with this one.

Josh Bell is BA’s 35th ranked prospect. The switch-hitting first baseman/corner outfield isn’t much with the glove no matter where you put him, but the bat is real. There are doubts that he’ll ever tap his true power potential due to his line drive swing, but he has a great batting eye and a mature understanding of the strike zone. He's also knocking on the door of a major league clubhouse.

Mitch Keller is the furthest away of the Pirates top prospects. He also might be the most interesting. The 20 year old second round pick from 2014 lit up A-ball across two levels last year, posting a 2.49 ERA and striking out 138 while walking just 19 in 130 innings. Excuse me, I’ve gotten drool on my keyboard.

Give me Meadows and one of those other guys, and now we're talking.

It Will Involve the Rays Sending More Pieces

After the top line guys, the Pirate system is pretty weak, so they’ll likely need somebody back to play Cutch’s spot and pick up his at-bats. Plus, let’s face it: as great as Longo is, he’s not worth what we’re asking. The Pirates aren’t running a charity here. So it is with great sadness that I nominate Steven Souza Jr.

Souza catches a lot of flack around here, some deserved, some not so much. No, he hasn’t turned into the player we hoped he’d be. Yeah, he still strikes out way too much. Also, he might be made out of papier-mâché. But he’s a league-average bat with still-intriguing upside, who should be affordable for a while if the Bucs decide they’d like to keep him around (he’s entering his first arb year in 2018).

Closing the Deal

Make no mistake, the Rays don't make this trade unless they “win” it. But there's more to it than just the skill and potential of the players involved. People skills are also important (more important than we Rays fans probably realized a few years ago), and Longo has worked hard at developing this aspect of his “game.”

The Pirates would be getting — and the Rays would be losing — a community minded guy, highly marketable guy, with loads of hard earned leadership skills. They don't grow on trees. For the Rays’ sake, they better grow them in Santiago, Dominican Republic — Willy Adames’ hometown — but the odds aren't good, because the odds are never good that some kid is going to grow up to be Evan Longoria.

So how about it, Neal Huntington? Longoria/Souza for McCutcheon/Meadows/Keller and maybe throw in Alen Hanson for a low-A arm just because this writer has had an unreasonable crush on Hanson these last three years now? Who says no?

Oh. Oh my. Now that I see it written out... No. No, that's terrible. We can’t trade Evan Longoria for just that. Are you nuts?

The guy who bet on this team when we still had Devil Ray stink on us? The guy who homered in his first two postseason at bats, which just happened to be the first playoff game in team history? The guy who walked it off in Game 162, the most exciting night of my life, and that includes my wedding night and the birth of my kids? Trade that guy?

No! No, I say! A thousand times, no!

Sorry, Neal. It’s a nice offer. I know we should jump at it. But we just can't.