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Evan Longoria is the Tampa Bay Rays

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It’s time for another Evan Longoria Appreciation Post

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays-Media Day Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Evan Longoria is everything a franchise could want in a cornerstone player. He has the complete package; the ability to lead, the talent to rank among the best, and is very affordable in an age that’s seen salaries skyrocket. This is not debatable. It is fact.

Yet despite these attributes, some have decided to ponder “Life after Evan Longoria for Rays? Something to talk about.” Ok then, let’s talk about it.

But before we do, let’s take a look at where things stand so that we get a clear view of what it is we’re talking about here.

Evan Longoria: Statistically Speaking

Here’s what Longoria accomplished thus far statistically among peers at Third Base:

  • 2016: 6th in HRs, SLG, and RBI, 5th in ISO, 8th in HR/FB, 9th in Hard Contact% and wRC+, 10th in WAR
  • 2016: Defensively, he ranked 10th in UZR/150 and 11th in overall Def rating

Ok, so we’ve established that Longoria still ranks firmly among the top 10 3B in the game, but it’s not only there that the stats matter. What about among the Rays?

Evan Longoria led the team in the following categories (with the differential with those still on Rays roster in brackets): HR (by 6), Runs (8), RBI (17), ISO (.009), OBP (.041), SLG (.039), wRC+ (12), Off (9.1), WAR (0.7)

In short, Longoria remains the heart and soul of the Rays offensive abilities. In fact, without him in the lineup this team would have a seriously hard time scoring runs, let alone be able to man the hot corner at an elite level.

The Rays - even with the strong performances from traded players like Logan Forsythe and Steven Pearce - ranked poorly in most offensive categories aside from ISO and HRs. Most notably, their inability to get runners on base has caused much of their power to be of less impact than it otherwise would be.

It wouldn’t get any better with Longoria playing on another team, that’s for certain.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Evan Longoria: Financially Speaking

Here is the contract Longoria is currently playing under, signed 11/26/12 (from Cot’s Contracts):

6 years/$100M (2017-22), plus 2023 club option ($1M signing bonus)

17:$13M, 18:$13.5M, 19:$14.5M, 20:$15M, 21:$18.5M,22:$19.5M, 23:$13M club option ($5M buyout)

*2023 option may increase $5M to $18M based on 2022 awards (rank in MVP vote, Gold Glove at third base, Silver Slugger or All-Star)

**$11M in salary deferred without interest ($1.5M each in 2017-18 and $2M each in 2019-22)

***as part of the deal, Tampa Bay exercised 2014-16 club options in previous contract

****TB converted $6M salary for 2013 to $2M in salary & $4M signing bonus (for total of $5M in bonus money to be paid in 3 instalments in 2013)

Most recently, a similar aged Justin Turner signed a 4-year $64M contract with the following payments (and amount less or more Longoria will be making in comparison):

17:$12M (+1M), 18:$11M (+2.5M), 19:$18M (-3.5M), 20:$19M (-4M)

An important distinction to make here is that Turner also received a $4M signing bonus, pretty much wiping out the extra money Longoria will be making through 2018 and then some. The more important point, however, is how much of a bargain Longoria becomes beginning in 2019.

That’s what makes it hardest to view a deal of Longoria a financially advantageous one. If he ages like Adrian Beltre has aged, he’s certainly going to earn that contract and continue to lead the way in the clubhouse.

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Evan Longoria: Organizationally Speaking

The Tampa Bay Rays need to build a certain level of consistency and excellence within the organization. Leaning on aging superstars to set the tone in the clubhouse and within the organization as a whole can become a powerful tool.

The prime example for this is David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox, who most recently hung up the spikes after a long and fruitful career. Sure, right now we remember his “out of this world” final season in MLB which set records for someone his age, but if we look back far enough it wasn’t always so rosy. In 2009, at 33 years old, Ortiz hit only .238/.332/.462 with 28 HRs, going as far as blaming “dry eyes” for his struggles at one point. Some - many, if not most - thought his career was coming to an end, forcing Ortiz to defend himself, stating “Trust me, I am not finished.”

Now, it seems easy to sit here today and tell ourselves “yeah, he was right”, but at the time Red Sox fans were very much in favor of trading him.

Imagine how different the young players’ experience would have been on the Red Sox had his presence not been there. Even a veteran like Hanley Ramirez praised Ortiz for helping mentor him to a new and more mature level of play. He was essential to welcoming incoming players into the clubhouse, was an everlasting presence, an ambassador to the rest of baseball for his team, and provided for a resilient environment that made the entire organization better.

And that’s what Evan Longoria is for the Rays. He’s the man everyone looks to when they arrive, he’s the one answering all of the questions from the start, and he’s the one that sets the tone in the clubhouse. His presence within the organization makes it much better than it otherwise would be.

Although you can’t put dollar signs on that value, young Rays players like Willy Adames, Jake Bauers, and Casey Gillaspie surely look to and appreciate all of the advice he can provide them as they break into MLB. Just as Ortiz did in Boston, Longoria can continue to do that for the remainder of his contract and retire with the Rays.

Evan Longoria: The Rays Way, An Ambassador

Let’s assume that Longoria does remain a Rays player for the remainder of his career. Who better to go out there and recruit other players to the Tampa Bay area than Evan Longoria? Between him - and hopefully Chris Archer - the organization has an opportunity to build its own legacy of excellence, and one that isn’t a “develop them and then ship them out” only legacy. Perhaps his stalwart nature can even inspire other position players like Kevin Kiermaier to keep their careers in Tampa Bay.

If things are going to work out for the long term in the Tampa area, with a new Stadium and TV Contracts, this organization needs to look at the long term appeal of its franchise - to both fans and players.

Imagine for a brief second that Longoria is traded. Who is the player - right now - on this team that incoming players will look to? I’m not sure that player exists.

And let’s assume he is traded and wins a World Series wherever he lands, is he still going to be willing to return to Tampa at some point and become an ambassador of the game in the area, or will he adopt the landing spot in that manner?

That brings me to the HOF consideration.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox, Game 4 Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Evan Longoria: The HOF

There’s a very good argument to be made that Longoria will be able to make it into the HOF if he can continue to produce at an above-average rate for another few years and have a lengthy career thereafter.

He is 31 years old and if we average out his production over the remainder of his contract with the Rays (with attainable totals), he’d accomplish something that approximates the following:

  • Hits (1311): avg of 150/yr = 2361 (would be 81st among HOF)
  • 2B (305): avg of 35/yr = 550 (would be 19th among HOF)
  • HR (241): avg of 25/yr = 416 (would be 28th among HOF)
  • OPS (.834): avg HOFer has a .839 OPS
  • RBI (806): avg of 85/yr = 1401 (would be 50th among HOF)

Longoria has also played average or better defense throughout his career, even earning the 2013 Wilson AL Defensive Player of the Year award. His WAR rating has been among the top 8 in MLB during 4 seasons, he has a Silver Slugger award (2009), ROY award, two Gold Glove awards (2009 and 2010), and another nomination in 2015..

The one area that would seriously help his chances of making it into the HOF which he hasn’t had a chance to address effectively is the opportunity to win a World Series. If he and the Rays could add that to his resume, there’s a very good case to be made for his induction (assuming the stats average out as listed above). It would cement his legacy.

The focus here is that in no way, shape, or form does anyone want him to make it into the HOF wearing another team’s cap because he had more success there (playoff wise). If he does find his way into the HOF, shouldn’t it be with the Rays cap he’s worn thus far and wore with more success than any other player in the franchise’s history?

New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Closing Thoughts

It’s easy for Rays fans - and Rays media coverage - to get all wrapped up in the continuous roll over of players once they get too costly for the team to hold onto. I get it, and it makes sense for a team with this kind of budget in this industry.

However, that doesn’t apply here. The Rays can - and should be willing to - afford Longoria as they bring in what may be the most talented wave of players they’ve ever brought in simultaneously.

Having a potential future HOFer rubbing shoulders with young players like Adames, Gillaspie, Bauers and Smith will be a major benefit the franchise long-term, and dealing him now would only increase the pressure they feel without some of the support that could help them get over those trials and tribulations.

But discounting all of that, the reason the Rays should most want to keep Longoria around is that he’s an outstanding person, an outstanding competitor, and he’s still well-within the top 10 third basemen in the game.

Evan Longoria has committed himself to the organization more than any other player in their history and he’s hungry to win now. Those who champion his trade value have merit, but I believe it’s misguided and overlooks the excellence that he brings to the Tampa Bay Rays organization.

Instead, let’s appreciate the fact that the team has one of the best leaders in the industry within its core and that it can afford to keep him around for the remainder of his career, something that has a tremendous amount of value for such a budget constrained franchise.

Rays fans get to watch a potential future HOFer every home game they go to, and they get to decide whether or not they embrace him as such from now through the end of his career. Hopefully they decide to embrace him and we can watch him lead the next charge to and through the playoffs soon.

Evan, if you’re reading this:

Thanks for committing to this franchise and playing your heart out for the Rays for so long. We appreciate it, regardless of how things shake out, and more fans want to keep you around than those who want to look at possible trades. May you become the first bronze statue outside the next Tropicana Field.

Sincerely,
Rays fans

Let’s finish off this appreciation post with an outstanding highlight package from ‘16.