Rays lock up Longoria, and here’s why it’s smart
The Rays were reaching the point where they had to make a decision on Evan Longoria. They had club options on him through 2016, and while his salary was to increase from $6 million in 2013 to $11.5 million in 2016, he was still going to be one of baseball’s best bargains. Rather than risk having an unhappy player or even shopping their most valuable guy, the Rays moved aggressively to lock him up longterm and give him a market-value deal worth $100 million over the next six years.
Rays GM Andrew Friedman still has all kinds of work to do in fixing an offense that was the fourth-lowest in the American League last season. If Longoria stays healthy, that would be a huge step in the right direction, but that’s just a beginning. Friedman’s toughest call will be whether to trade one of his young starters for offense. With almost every team desperate for pitching, Friedman has a surplus of it, and the Rays have shown that rotation can keep them competitive.
(The Rays led the Majors with a 3.19 ERA and set an American League record with 1,383 strikeouts. Their 3.19 ERA was lowest by an AL team since the 1990 A’s (3.18). The 1975 Orioles, who had a 3.17 ERA, were the last American League team to finish with an ERA that low and miss the postseason.)
We pause now for another tribute to the brilliance of the Rays. In the last five seasons, they’ve averaged 92 victories a season and made the playoffs three times. In those five seasons, their payroll ranked 25th among 30 clubs. To make the playoffs once would be an accomplishment. To do it three times shows how smart and efficient the Rays are.
They probably would have gone again in 2012 if Longoria had stayed healthy. He played just 74 games because of a left hamstring injury that required post-season surgery. The Rays were 47-27 with him in the starting lineup, 43-45 without him. In the American League, only Yoenis Cespedes had a greater impact on his team’s W-L record. Here’s the top five in all of baseball
1. Todd Frazier, Reds (70-39), .642.
2. Yoenis Cespedes, A’s (82-46), .641.
3. Michael Morse, Nationals (65-37), .637.
4. Evan Longoria, Rays (47-27), .635.
5. Jayson Werth, Nationals (50-29), .633.
The Rays scored 4.79 runs per game with Longoria in the lineup, 3.86 runs per game without him. When he was not available, Rays manager Joe Maddon used eight different third baseman, seven different No. 3 hitters and eight different No. 4 hitters. The Rays used 10 third basemen, the most for any team since the 2003 Rays and Rays both used 10.
The Rays obviously have issues with their attendance and stadium. They’d like to shop around the entire Tampa Bay area for a ballpark site, but St. Petersburg city officials for now intend to hold them to a lease that runs through 2027. The Rays have proven they can be competitive on a shoestring budget, but they’d like a facility that elevates them into a middle-of-the-pack revenue area.
Still, they’re not backing down. They could have gotten a bounty of young talent for Longoria, but they didn’t believe they could get anyone more productive or who could mean as much to the franchise. His signing—and that of Joe Maddon last winter—sends a message to every other Rays player that maybe, just maybe Tampa Bay isn’t a stopover on the way to big money.