It’s impossible to rewrite history, but wondering what life would be like without the Evan Longoria trade does add some intrigue as the Rays walk into San Francisco’s Oracle Park this afternoon.
As this article is published, a franchise legend will be staring the Rays players in the face from across the field as the anthem plays, but was this moment necessary?
Occurring back in December 2017, the Evan Longoria trade returned Denard Span, Christian Arroyo, and two minor league arms to the Rays, along with some salary relief. In order to understand what the Rays would look like in 2019 without this trade, we need to start with 2018.
While you might be tempted to swap out Evan Longoria’s broken hand and 0.4 WAR of 2018 for Matt Duffy’s 2.4 WAR season last year, it’s important to remember that without the Longoria trade, the Rays would still need a left fielder.
That man is Matt Duffy, who if he were not sidelined by injury now, would have been training in left field throughout spring training. But it’s also possible Matt Duffy is manning second base to start the year, and the left fielder is then Joey Wendle. Or maybe either of them find their way to short stop. It’s a bit of a choose your own adventure, but let’s say Duffy is the left fielder, as that’s the path of least resistance.
The Rays netted 0.1 WAR from Denard Span, Johnny Field, and Rob Refsnyder in left field prior to their trade for Tommy Pham, totaling ~450 plate appearances. If you figure Duffy finds a way to get the other 90 of his PA from 2018 through the rest of the season, and you could say the Rays are probably an equal team in terms of talent, if not a better one using this back-of-the-napkin logic.
By my estimation, if Longoria is never traded, Tampa Bay is still a 90-win club. As far as ripple effects, I suppose there’s a different trade return for Alex Colome to be devised, but I’m willing to bet the Brad Miller for Ji-Man Choi swap still gets done.
What about 2019?
Given the Rays contentment to allow Yandy Diaz to get his reps at first base against south paws, we can assume the Rays would have still pulled the trigger on the Jake Bauers deal this offseason, and that he’d be getting a bit more time at DH instead of manning the hot corner.
On the 25-man roster, Longoria’s presence either bumps Guillermo Heredia or Avisail Garcia from the team’s current reality, but if you say the Rays still sign Garcia and that Heredia is optioned, the team’s payroll climbs up from the lowest in baseball at $60.4 million to $72.4 million, which would... still be the lowest in baseball. Using the totals compiled by Sportrac, the Marlins payroll sits at $72.449 million, where the Rays would come in at $72.445 million.
One other consideration: The Rays paid a heavy price when they dealt Longoria in terms of fan backlash, so it’s possible that another change in this alternate universe would be a 90-win club that doesn’t go down to the wire in their attempt to sell out Opening Day for 2019 as well.
#Rays Sternberg said it was "problematic" that opener didn't sell out until Wednesday night, and with a capacity of just 25,025— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) March 28, 2019
In total, it’s not clear what benefit the Rays received from the Longoria trade... yet. Perhaps the Rays have a gem in former top prospect Christian Arroyo, who is with the club this week as an injury replacement. Perhaps Andrew Moore becomes the next Rays ace. I can’t see the future, but I can see the present, and so far, the Longoria trade still doesn’t feel necessary.
Agree, disagree? Let me know in the comments.
Meanwhile, here’s what the 2019 roster would look like with Evan Longoria still on the Tampa Bay Rays:
RF - Austin Meadows*
LF - Tommy Pham
DH - Ji-Man Choi*
3B - Evan Longoria
2B - Brandon Lowe*
1B - Yandy Diaz
CF - Kevin Kiermaier*
SS - Willy Adames
C - Mike Zunino
C - Michael Perez*
INF - Joey Wendle*
INF - Daniel Robertson
OF - Avisail Garcia