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The Hit Show: Catching up on the Rays offseason

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Go Rays!

The Hit Show (recorded 2/3/2018)

<<FULL TRANSCRIPT>>

Note on the transcript - This is an experimentation and as such, there may be minor spelling or grammatical items. Please forgive those as we work our way through a new tooling process.

Danny: Welcome back to The Hit Show. My name is Danny Russell, and I am thrilled as always to be with my fabulous co-host Darby Robinson. Hello, Darby!

Darby: Hello, Danny, and hello everybody listening. It’s good to be back. It’s been awhile.

Danny: Yeah, since September and not for lack of trying. We did make attempts and technical difficulties and fate got in the way, and then the offseason dragged on, and then the Rays ruined everything, and now we’re in this weird world where we’re less than two weeks away from spring training. We pretty much don’t know whether or not this is the team that’s going to be rolling. Jeff Passan says there’s 70 free agents who haven’t signed yet, and so it’s been a crazy offseason. Let’s start with the elephant in the room.

Danny: For the first time since April 2008, the opening day third baseman will not be Evan Longoria. What kind of roller coaster have you been on Darby?

Darby: That trade definitely took me by surprise. I think it took a lot of Rays fans by surprise. Being a Rays fan you’re used to going to the offseason and knowing that the team could look very different the next year. Nobody is a sacred cow, but the most potentially sacred of all of the bovines would have been Evan Longoria, but you still think of guys like Chris Archer, David Price, James Shields, BJ Upton, Carl Crawford. We’ve seen amazing players here, and they always eventually leave. Sometimes they stick around, but there’s a shelf life.

You love them while they’re here, and you get the best out of them, but Longoria was one of those guys where you’re like, “well anything can happen, even a trade of Longoria, but probably not that.” I think we all come in at the off season thinking maybe Archer’s going to get traded this season maybe Souza, Dickerson, you know even Kevin Keiermeyer’s a possibility, but even though Longoria’s the guy that maybe had the most talk because of a number of factors: his price, his age, injuries, decline, and eventually if he went into the season he would have no-trade rights.

Danny: Let’s circle back on that because that was a crazy narrative, but I had a very public emotional breakdown about this.

I tried to burn it all down. I wrote a scathing immediate reaction of the trade once it was official. I really laid this at the feet of ownership. I have yet to walk that claim back because a lot of this trade seems built around Financial flexibility in the future, and I think that’s extremely unfair to what I think was an underpaid Superstar, but I could be wrong about that underpaid element and we can get into that as well. And then I just really went into it on Twitter. Not to relitigate my own tweets, but I think one thing that I said on there that bears repeating is, “I only own Evan Longoria jerseys.” I mean, I’ve got a James Shields shirt, my sister stole my Carl Crawford shirts, you can go down the list, but when it comes actually making that huge purchase, that big investment, I’ve only ever trusted myself to own an Evan Longoria jersey.

I mean preseason 2014, Brian Grosnik of the DFA podcast had a preseason Tampa Bay Rays thing where Joe Maddon had just left, and he was asking me “What is the future this franchise? What is the legacy of this franchise and what does it mean to not have Joe Maddon anymore?” I said what it means that he’s gone is he’s no longer the first bronze statue outside of the stadium. I thought Joe Maddon was there to stay he would have an extremely long career, and then we would honor him to no end. Then I said well, then it’ll definitely be Evan Longoria instead. We have that dramatic Game 162 home run - hands up, outstretched. You know that will be cast in bronze and that’ll be outside the new stadium in, maybe, Ybor, we’ll have to talk about that when the news is official. I don’t know who the first bronze statue is now. Will it be of Raymond the Sea Dog, I don’t know. What do you build a monument to with this franchise?

Darby: I read your article. I read a lot of the tweets as well, and yet it was an emotional time when it happened because you are expecting everybody else to leave before Longoria, and you’re not really expecting that moment to happen - when it does, it feels like the rug has been pulled out from under you. I think in terms of legacy though, in terms of that bronze statue in front of the new stadium if that ever happens, in terms of the number being retired and in terms of all of those things that you do. I think you still have those memories. I think Longoria is leaving with a couple of not his best years obviously, but still very, very good very, very productive...

Danny: In a down year he won the Gold Glove.

Darby: Yeah, exactly, so that was the level that we were expecting he was easily the most spectacular player to play for the Rays for that length of time. Before that, Carl Crawford would be your other choice, but other than that you have guys that were there. You know giving their six years of service time maybe an extra year here there, but Longoria seemed like the guy that would be your 10-15 year guy. But that still doesn’t really change that. I grew up traveling between Florida and Oregon with my family, and when I was in Oregon I would oftentimes spend the summers being out there at a school and watching Mariners games and listening to Mariners games before the Rays even had a team. And they were a team, the Mariners, that had some amazing players when I was a kid, and then they were traded away and they left and then they had an amazing run with a brand-new group that came from those players.

But now that time has passed and the wounds of Griffey leaving and The Big Unit leaving and A-Rod leaving, you start to come back, now you have a bronze statue of The Kid with the backwards cap out in front of Safeco Field. You have those Bronze Statues, and Longoria will have his bronze statue. It might take longer now because we’ll have to get over it, but I think that’s one of those things where he once he finally hangs it up, he’s going to do the one-day contract to sign with The Rays. He’s going to come back and maybe even be a coach or a something involved in the organization. He’ll have his bronze statue. He’ll be an old-timer. You know thirty years from now playing like a charity softball game because he does have those roots, and he still had the roots in California, and he left that but this is still his home and whatever happens with the Giants and whatever happens potentially with another team ff he leaves from there and sticks around. That legacy doesn’t get tarnished because of the trade.

Danny: So, you’re saying I’m still overreacting just a smidge?

Darby: I was at the ledge with you. I was pushing people out of the way to get onto the ledge. But now that it’s been time, I think this is a much better healthier way to do a podcast months after a traumatic event like that of this moment rather than the knee-jerk, which is just burning the Tampa Bay area to the ground. I think those reactions if you’re still feeling that out there, and you’re listening to this that’s fine. That’s absolutely fine. You should sort of be frustrated.

Danny: If you’re not frustrated you don’t actually care. But I will also say I think among the people pained the most by this are the people who work for the team. Not just in the clubhouse, but that are actually in the front office, they may even be the ticket sales people, the scouts, whatever, if you are on the Rays payroll (which we are not even though you know sometimes I get accused of such things) you actually have relationships with Evan Longoria. He might have ridden in your car. To have real relationships with these people, you know them, you know their families. They are your friends, and I think this goes all the way down the front office. I think it applies to starting at the top with Eric Neander and Stu Sternberg and going on down that they are friends with Longoria, and I bet this hurt them more than it hurt any of us, and they did it for their reasons, which we can get into, but I truly believe that as much as you and I are fans of the team, the friends of Longoria are probably impacted more now.

I want to get into just how well the front office seems to have treated Evan Longoria in this process because it seems like they approached him early and said, “Hey, this is what the future of the franchise looks like,” and this is based on Longoria’s comments in his farewell press conference. They came to him. They laid it out there and said this is what the next couple years looks like. “It might get rough. Just letting you know we’re starting this youth movement all the prospects are coming up probably mid-year in 2018 and it might be still a couple more years before we’re in the playoffs. Would you be interested in playing for another team if we were to explore the trade market, and would you give us a list,” and by multiple accounts, specifically Marc Topkin, he gave a list. He turned it over and said these are the teams he would play for.

Now we can kind of infer that some of those teams that were interested in Evan Longoria like say, maybe with the Cardinals no trade materialized. The Giants were clearly the match made in heaven where Longoria said, “I would take any team in California, thank you.” The Giants were interested and a match was made and now he’s wearing that cream and orange, doing his introductory press conference and wearing a new number. He’s now the number 10, and it’s real and it’s happened, but Longoria said it was respectful, and he still has the relationships with people back on the team like you’re saying he’ll come back. I truly believe that, whether or not his number is up in lights.

Darby: Well nobody is wearing number three in Tampa again.

Danny: I do want to talk about that no trade clause. There was this weird narrative getting thrown around. “Oh well that no-trade clause is about to kick in, and we better trade him now.”

I don’t believe that for a second, because I can’t believe there’s a situation out there where the front office would have a real trade offer for a Longoria, and they wouldn’t talk to him about it, or they wouldn’t approach him and say “Hey, is this a place you’re interested in playing?” That was a topic propagated by the main beat writer Marc Topkin.

And I want to say one of the thing in that regard. In my writing on the website, I did not believe what Topkin was saying about the possibility of Longoria being traded and in fact emphatically encouraged people to ignore that because it’s nonsense and was not very kind to him accusing of Clickbait, which is no better than accusing him of fake news just because I didn’t like what he was saying. I was wrong. I was a hundred percent wrong. I wrote a response article on the site saying that I owed him of an apology. I sincerely hope that he read that. And that he hears me loud and clear I was wrong, and I am sorry. Marc Topkin please forgive me. I wasn’t just salty about it, I was rude about it.

Darby: I think a lot of the arguments for trading Longoria that we saw around the League, not so much from Marc Topkin, but from other writers who were being lazy and taking Topkin’s work and kind of boiling it down to “The Rays, the poor team, so they’re trading him because he makes money, and soon he’ll have a no-trade clause,” and that really wasn’t what Topkin was writing.

He was really sort of saying that they are exploring that trade because they are kind of going into that rebuilding phase. So, I think my own intellectual snootiness thumbed my nose at a lot of the lazy writing I saw from the big National writers. I took that out on Marc Topkin as well, and I think that wasn’t fair because I wasn’t really looking at his work necessarily.

We were right in that the national media saying, “The Rays are going to trade Longoria for these making money, and they’re going to dump them for the first good deal they can find.” That wasn’t the case right there. They weren’t really shopping Longoria, but they were looking to potentially do what’s right for him and what’s right for the team and do something tough.

Danny: It’s not about financial flexibility in 2018 for sure, or 2019 for that matter. In 2018, we have Denard Span coming back. You see this in the NBA a lot, you make a trade for a veteran’s expiring contract. There was a complication there, Denard Span was making too much money for the Giants to operate in the way that they needed to, so the Rays took that back. Now, you don’t take back an expiring contract for that reason, but there does seem to be a financial element of the Rays saying we’re not going to be able to afford this in 2021. Or 2022. When his options get involved in holding on to the player or not? They need some level of flexibility. Now, does that have to do with all of the prospects that are about to come up? They are making the league minimum for three years if they get promoted in the middle of 2018 then 2019 20 and 21,they’re making $550,000 - not a big deal. In 2022, they enter arbitration together that will be a mess, and we will walk through prospects another day yeah, there’s a lot of names. There’s a lot of names about the come up, and maybe the Rays are just trying to figure things out financially. For the future or maybe that new stadium is a very real thing in the financial outlay, they’re actually pinching pennies to the extent that you have to trade Longoria to afford a new stadium. We don’t know the reasons. The reason why I laid it at ownership’s feet when I got mad is because I didn’t feel like the Rays needed to trade Longoria unless they legitimately could not afford him. Looking forward, this does not seem like a 2018 problem though, and that narrative doesn’t work because the Rays added payroll in 2017 and right now the Rays are going to be more expensive in 2018 in than they were in 2017.

Darby: We have the fourth-most increase of payroll from our 2017 opening-day payroll by percentage or dollars. If that’s in percentage that is a misleading statistic because most teams have not spent any money.

Danny: Let’s put a button on Longoria because I think there’s an interesting transition there. So Denard Span comes back as the presumably left fielder, gray in his beard, and also Christian Arroyo’s coming back. He’s a shortstop prospect. He’s probably a second baseman on this Rays team, given the presence of Matt Duffy and Willy Adames. Second base is the path of least resistance. But here’s the interesting thing: Evan Longoria’s trade value was so slim that the Rays had to add a little bit of money to it to make the values work. I think that little bit of cash it is not a sign of desperation on the Rays part and more sign of the Giants valuing Evan Longoria in a similar way to the way that the Rays value Evan Longoria. what I mean by that is the Fangraphs way of breaking down prospects and trades and the values of players and what they hold.

There is a surplus value. It’s the value that you get above and beyond what the players being paid based on how much it cost to buy a win essentially is how we break it down and that Fangraphs methodology seems to have propagated in the league because trades are starting to make sense across the board.

There’s no more Andrew Friedman-esque, unbelievable “wow the Rays pulled a fast one” kind of deals anymore. I just don’t think they’re out there to be had. I think that’s the reason Jake Odorizzi is still on this roster and probably pitches for the Rays next year because I think the Rays would have traded him, but they haven’t.

Darby: I think for me that the lack of those moves, and sort of the benefit of not trading Archer and all, it kind of showed that the Rays weren’t doing a Loria-esque fire sale that again some of the national media sort of members like we’re kind of leaning towards, but they were valuing their players at a correct level and they were looking to get that value. However. They’re not being traded. They’re not just taking whatever deal they’re offered. The Rays know these are valuable pieces. The fact that this isn’t really a fire sale helps to showcase that the Longoria trade is it is a different beast.

Danny: But it is a reset. There’s definitely an element of “let’s find out what we have and we’ll promote the kids eventually when they’re ready sometime during the year and will be able to move forward” because there are major league players entrenched around the infield now. Replacing Longoria is not going to be as hard as replacing what the Rays had at first base in Logan Morrison. If you got in the time machine and went back to that conversation between me and Brian Grossman and told me well in a couple seasons the Rays are going to trade Evan Longoria, and they’re actually going to have to include some cash to acquire the kind of prospect because the Giants now value players the same way that the Rays do I would have said what?

When the mentality that we’re using as mentality that the Brewers are using and the one that the Marlins seemed OK with, and the ones that the Giants are using, I think that speaks to all of the teams are smart now. We no longer have Kevin Towers, rest in peace, God bless that man.

Just spoken of as one of the best men in baseball, and he recently passed away after a year plus battle with cancer. He will be missed on the baseball scene in general. His trades were creative, and they were pretty hard to make sense out of them. And I loved them. They added entertainment and value and it gave you something to sink your teeth into and kind of figure out and maybe say, “What kind of way is he valuing prospects versus the way that we value prospects, and how can we find something that works best for the Rays” and you can you could piece things together, and you could dream up ways to try to take advantage.

I don’t think that taking advantage exists anymore because the Diamondbacks are no longer Kevin Towers’ team, they are the Atlantic staff from the Red Sox. The Brewers are the analytics staff from the Rays. The Diamondbacks are trying to compete with the Padres who robbed the Rangers. The analytics is everywhere, and it goes beyond pitch F/X and hit F/X, they have advanced systems. Baseball Prospectus is putting pitch tunneling out there, but then the next article on Baseball Prospectus says, by the way, the Cubs have had this for years. There are no longer teams that don’t know what they’re talking about or don’t know what they’re doing

Darby: And that really it almost adds an element of equalizing the playing field, but it also kind of makes it a little bit boring because you want the Kevin Towers of the world, and you know you still have Dave Dombrowski, but you want the guys that are more going from the gut and just saying, “This is what I feel.” It added a fun element of “I have no idea what’s happening, I would have made that trade.” What does he say in and sometimes it works out. It doesn’t, and it was just kind of good for baseball. Not that I’m some sort of Luddite thinking, “let’s get rid of analytics”.

Danny: A lot of people a lot of people would say it was good for baseball because seventy free agents left to presumably find guaranteed deals are still out there.

Well. Let’s get into that. The big offseason news is the fact that there isn’t an offseason. You start of the top of the top free agents on the market. You had Yu Darvish you had JD Martinez, Jake Arrieta, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Alex Cobb. One of those guys has been signed. One. That’s it, and that is crazy. Now, there have been a lot of articles about this because that’s what we have to talk about basically. Yeah, we can’t talk about players that got signed because nobody gotten signed. The reason behind this, and we kind of touched on it, maybe it’s everybody is kind of working with the same sort of, not same data, but everybody’s working with data, but what is your reason? Why do you think this offseason has been so slow? Because it has affected the Rays - suddenly we don’t have a team that’s willing to trade their young superstar prospects.

Danny: There’s that! There’s no more surprises!

Darby: And that’s kind of the unfun. That’s where it actually becomes not an equal playing field because that’s where the Rays and A’s - that’s where a poor teams had an advantage: we were smart. The Big Rich teams you have - the Dodgers and the Cubs and the Yankees and the Red Sox - all just throwing bad money after bad money after bad money at these old inflated free agents that we didn’t want. We weren’t going to compete for them, and we didn’t really want them in the first place, but now the Yankees and the Dodgers Andrew Friedman’s Dodgers are the smartest teams in baseball. They have analytics and they have $200 million to play with and no one’s getting signed.

So the question is: is there collusion? Is this some kind of a grand conspiracy? That all the major-league teams got together and said to themselves, “Hey, you know, what if we just didn’t give out giant contracts? What if we just you know pretended like Yu Darvish was too expensive? Or what if we manipulate the market down so that Yu Darvish will be cheaper to all of us?”

That’s so much harder of an answer than what seems the likely truth, and that’s that teams are smarter, and they know how to properly value what they’re getting out of a player. You don’t want to pay JD Martinez after four years. JD Martinez is going to be fantastic for four years but after that you don’t want to be locked into having to continue to pay JD Martinez for three more seasons. Who wants to give him a seven-year deal, an eight-year deal? Even if he can DH, it doesn’t make any sense. I don’t want to pay the seventh year to JD Martinez, and then people go, “Oh it must be collusion.” Everyone suddenly realized that it’s not good to give out 10-year contracts. It’s like no, every team gained common sense.

Darby: Until I see a secret memo, I will not believe there is collusion. I don’t think I don’t think there’s collusion. It’s a fun narrative because it’s crazy. Yes. It’s conspiratorial. It’s wild. I think it’s not something that’s unheard of in baseball. It’s a huge part of baseball history that really isn’t talked about that much because it’s really shameful that this was allowed, but that is not what’s happening here.

I just cannot believe it. What I can believe, I don’t know if I also believe, that it’s just everybody smart now. I don’t think it’s that. I think there is a bit of “everything” happening. This is a weird offseason, and I don’t think you’re going to see it next offseason because people are going to be falling over themselves to sign Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.

You do have the Pied Piper of free agency Scott Boras owning a lot of the top talent. And Boris is a guy that waits. He waits. He bleeds teams dry. He gets teams desperate. Suddenly teams are not wanting to do that. You’re seeing teams starting to shift what they value. And suddenly the Rays being out ahead of the pack, now the pack is sort of caught up in terms of what teams value, and that’s kind of a hard thing because suddenly we’re not looking at the scrappy player that’s super flawed because he didn’t hit too many home runs because now every team, now the Yankees, are looking at that guy.

Danny: Let’s walk this all the way out. So, the list of free agents leaving Tampa Bay. Here’s what’s interesting about what this market has done. Alex Cobb is out there, and he has not signed yet, when you would expect him to sign for plenty of money. But who has signed is Tommy Hunter and Steve Cishek. Cishek is getting two years and $13 million from the Cubs. Tommy Hunter’s getting two years and $18 million from the Phillies Tommy Hunter signed his minor league deal with the Rays to join them in 2017, and now he’s getting $18 million commitments.

There’s this weird middle ground of free agents who are getting signed and getting signed aggressively. They’re getting paid more than they otherwise might have before, but the lower end and the higher end are being left out to dry because no one knows what’s going to happen. The lower end gets signed at the end and the higher end is not moving because everybody’s just going for the affordable pieces in the middle, so Alex Cobb is unsigned. Nathan Eovaldi was technically a free agent, the Rays exercised his option on his contract so they get for two million dollars. He is going to be Alex Cobb’s replacement in the rotation. Logan Morrison is still a free agent. Lucas Duda is still a free agent, and Sergio Romo, who finally figured things out when he spurned the Rays advances last year to go the Dodgers, got cut and came back to the Rays and became good.

Okay, you think Sergio Romo would come back as well. He has not because there’s so much ambiguity on the market, but I think this is a really interesting opportunity for the Rays because I mean dream big with me here. Let’s say money in 2018 is not the problem: the Rays are willing to spend a little bit, and maybe you end up cutting a couple guys because you have to, so let’s say Brad Miller gets cut. But you’re able to re-sign Logan Morrison to a one-year deal because the market is such a tailspin that the Royals are paralyzed, and the Padres that paralyzed, and they are keep fighting over Eric Hosmer, and Logan Morrison wants to know where he can be playing in less than two weeks for spring training. How do you take advantage of this presumably colluded environment? You step in you spend just a little bit more money to complete that deal for Longoria, you spend a little bit more money and bring back Sergio Romo and find one or two relievers.

Darby: Thank you guys for listening to us again. Please tune in next time. They’ll be a lot of fun things to talk about. Hope you’re along for the ride. For Danny, Darby, and Dustin in the studio, see you guys next time!