From 2008-13, there were few players in baseball more valuable than Evan Longoria. At this point of his career, he was on a hall of fame trajectory. He had a career 135 wRC+ to date, he was an elite defender, as well as an above average baserunner. Additionally, he was a perennial all-star candidate, and one of the faces of baseball.
From 2014-2017, however, his bat became closer to league average (108 wRC+), and defensive metrics painted an inconsistent picture from year to year (though still solid as a whole). After the ‘17 season, the Rays looked to go in a different direction, and saw the Giants as the perfect trade partner.
In return for a border line hall of fame candidate, Tampa Bay got back Denard Span (and his expensive contract), prospect Christian Arroyo, and two minor league arms in Matt Krook and Stephen Woods. They also have to send the Giants $2 million per year.
How does that look now, 18 months later?
Checking in on Evan Longoria
In 2018, Longoria appeared to his a wall. His ability to draw walks virtually vanished, along with his HOF candidacy, albeit after a few years of steady decline.
Post-Peak Evan Longoria
Interestingly, Longoria was outspoken about his defiance to draw walks, saying that trying to take pitches only resulted in him getting in worse counts.
For his career, Longoria has never been a huge on-base guy, but his .281 OBP in ‘18 put him in Billy Hamilton territory. Even in 2019, pundits wondered whether he should lose playing time to Pablo Sandoval.
But what makes Longoria an interesting study is that although his offensive numbers seemed to have declined year after year, other numbers suggest that his skillset has largely remained constant, even showing some better trends in 2018.
More Post-Peak Evan Longoria
On the surface, 2019 Longoria looks like more of the same. His slash line of .236/.311/.407 is better if still unspectacular, still only netting him a 91 wRC+.
Except for one interesting change:
Longoria drew only 22 walks in 125 games 2018, but he has already matched that total in just 64 games in 2019.
Furthermore, 18 of those walks have come since May 3rd, when he’s since slashed .267/.372/.450, good for a much better 121 wRC+. For context, his 14.0% walk rate during this stretch would be a career high if sustained for an entire season, and his OBP the highest since 2010.
It’s hard to say whether this is the start of a resurgence for Longoria, but it will be interesting to see if he can keep this up. His glove has trended back in the right direction in the last few years (and has been especially great this year), and his bat to ball skills have remained largely intact.
The Giants thought they were trading for a good player, and if this stretch proves sustainable, it looks like they were right. Once it appeared that the Giants had an albatross contract on their hands coming into 2019, but now it appears that a return to an information driven front office regime has helped Longoria get back on track.
If he can sustain this trend, he will continue to be a more than useful Major Leaguer, even if he’s not peak Longo.
Checking in on the Rays Return
Christian Arroyo was and remains the headlining piece of the deal. Once Baseball America’s No. 62 porspect, he hasn’t quite been able to force an extended stay in the majors, amassing a 68 wRC+ in a 70 game sample to date across 3 seasons. Though he’s looking more and more like a Quad-A or utility player, there’s still promise. For one, he just turned 24, and two, he’s continued to torch minor league pitching in 2019 to the tune to a 146 wRC+. I’m not giving up on him just yet, and neither should you.
Denard Span, though a strange inclusion on the surface, was a necessary piece to get the deal done to offset salary. Span was valuable enough in his two months in a Rays uniform that they were able to include him in the deal that sent Alex Colome to the Mariners for pitchers Andrew Moore and Tommy Romero. Moore has since been DFA’d and is now back with the Mariners (ouch) after a demotion to Double-A, while Romero has pitched pretty well for Charlotte this year. Colome was later dealt to the White Sox in the off-season but Span is still a “free agent.”
Matt Krook and Stephen Woods represent the remaining players brought back in the deal. The pair of 24 year old pitchers currently reside in AA and A+, respectively. Krook is a deceptive lefty, but has not been able to trim his walk rate and hasn’t been able to miss bats in 2019 the way he has in previous years. Woods sat out 2018 with injuries, but has thrown the ball well this season, albeit against much younger competition.
It’s really tough to put a grade on this deal as it stands.
Although Longoria had a rough 2018, this potential turnaround could easily put him back in 3-4 WAR territory. If it’s a fluke, and he regresses back to a sub .300 OBP, it would represent quite a fall for one of baseball’s brightest starts of the early 2010’s.
Right now, despite the increased OBP, Longoria’s overall performance remains underwater for the third year in a row.
Either way, Longoria’s sendoff — no matter the return — represented a new direction for the franchise. Since his departure, Longoria’s former office has been been occupied by any one of Matt Duffy, Joey Wendle, Arroyo, Yandy Diaz, Daniel Robertson, and a few others.
- Rays 2018-19 at 3B (234 games): .282/.350/.395, .745 OPS, 14 HR (70 XBH), 191 K, 82 BB
- Longoria 2018-19 (189 games): .241/.291/.411, .702 OPS, 23 HR (66 XBH), 151 K, 44 BB
Considering the team’s new direction, what it values, how the newcomers have performed at the hot corner, and how Longoria has performed since the deal, it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario where the Rays hold onto him and regret it, given his decline, his salary, and the general Rays way of doing business.
On the other side, if the turnaround is real and 2018 was the fluke, one could easily be left wondering what could’ve been, especially taking into account the volatility of the pieces the Rays received for their former star.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and the Baseball Reference Play Index.