The Boston Red Sox may not have been directly involved in the trade that sent Evan Longoria to the Giants but they do benefit from the fallout.
Another AL East team has made a move on the trade market this winter while the Boston Red Sox continue to stand pat. At least this time the deal may work in Boston’s favor.
While Rays fans must be devastated to see the best player in franchise history dealt away in what was essentially a salary dump, Red Sox fans should be offering to help Longoria pack his bags. Boston had no direct involvement in this trade, yet they still benefit by removing a player who has historically crushed them from their division.
Longoria has played 171 career games against the Red Sox, amounting to slightly more than one full season. Over that span, he has hit .281/.356/.498 with 31 home runs and 106 RBI. Basically, if you take his career numbers against the Red Sox and cram them into one season you have a borderline MVP candidate.
Granted, most of that damage came earlier in his career. Longoria is a three-time All-Star but hasn’t appeared in the Midsummer Classic since 2010. He bounced back with a stellar 2016 season when he hit .273 with a .840 OPS and career-high 36 home runs, only to see his production fall off a cliff this year. Longoria’s home run production dipped to only 20 and his 100 OPS+ indicates he’s become a fairly average hitter.
Even in a down year at the plate, Longoria still provides value with his defense. He won his third career Gold Glove and posted a 3.6 WAR. There’s hope for San Fransico that he’ll return to being the hitter who resembles his 2016 form, yet even if Longoria remains a merely average hitter he’s still a significant upgrade to a roster that struggled to get replacement-level value at the hot corner. Giants third basemen hit a collective .216/.268/.300 this year and none of them can provide the defensive value that Longoria does. Did you really think a Giants team looking to get back to contending this year was going to turn to Pablo Sandoval again?
Longoria may not be the same hitter he once was but his departure is still a step back for the Rays. The deal was mostly about salary relief for Tampa Bay, who wanted to clear the $81 million owed to Longoria through 2022 (plus a $13 million option for 2023 with a $5 million buyout) from their payroll. It could prove to be a wise move if they believe this down year was the beginning of the end for Longoria and his contract risked becoming a burden for the small-market Rays. Yet it won’t help them compete with the Red Sox anytime soon.
In the short term, Tampa clears very little from their payroll given that they took Denard Span‘s $11 million contract back in the trade (plus a $4 million buyout in 2019). Span was a below-replacement level player due to his atrocious defense that rated as the worst in the majors among center fielders. He won’t be asked to play the position in Tampa Bay with Kevin Kiermaier patrolling center but Span can’t be counted on to be particularly good in a corner outfield spot. His 100 OPS+ matched Longoria’s at the plate but Span’s bat won’t profile nearly as well at another position. The swap is a clear downgrade for the Rays at the plate and in the field for next season.
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Long term, there’s not much to get excited about for the Rays. The top “prize” in the deal is 2013 first-round pick Christian Arroyo, a shortstop who seems unlikely to stick at the position and may end up as a utility infielder. He should hit for a decent average but without much power, which is less than ideal if he moves to another position and provides little defensive value. Tampa also received a pair of fringe A-ball pitchers who add organizational depth but won’t see time in the big leagues anytime soon, if at all.
With Longoria shipped out of town we can assume the Rays aren’t going to push hard to retain free agent Logan Morrison. The first baseman/outfielder is a potential backup plan for the Red Sox but even if he signs elsewhere it will further deplete the division rival Rays. It’s clear that Tampa Bay is entering another rebuild, yet this trade brought back little they can use to build with.
How much further will the Rays tear down their roster? Keep an eye on other players they may make available. Fenway Park has been a house of horrors for Chris Archer but would he fare better if he had the Red Sox lineup behind him instead of going up against them? Corey Dickerson could be an appealing fourth outfielder who could spend time at DH.
The fallout from the Longoria trade could have a ripple effect that the Red Sox could take advantage of. Even if they don’t work out a deal of their own with the Rays, moving Longoria should take the Rays out of contention for the foreseeable future.
Tampa Bay finished a distant 13 games behind the Red Sox this season but were only five games out of a Wild Card spot. They will almost certainly fall further back next season, resulting in one fewer team for the Red Sox to compete with for a postseason spot.