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Romano: Asking Longoria to come through for the Rays one more time

By John Romano | Sports Columnist
Published: December 5, 2017 Updated: December 5, 2017 at 11:29 AM
Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) doubles in the fourth inning of the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017. (Times)

Evan Longoria gave the Rays hope when they had none. In 2008, he was the homegrown prospect that helped turned a franchiseís fortunes for the first time.

In the years since, he has given the Rays loyalty. Consistency. Dignity.

And now itís finally time for him to give the Rays a better future.

Itís time to trade Evan Longoria.

This will not be a popular idea. If it happens, folks will call the Rays cheap. They will complain this is everything that is wrong with modern baseball. They will announce they are swearing off the Rays forever.

I understand that passion, but I think itís misguided.

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Ultimately what you want ó what everyone presumably wants ó is a winning baseball team. And the most expedient way for that to happen in Tampa Bay is to trade Longoria.

Hereís what I mean:

There was a time when Longoria was the most valuable player in baseball. Notice thatís not in capital letters. I donít mean he should have won the league MVP, I mean he brought more value for his salary than any other player.

In the first four years of his career, his WAR (an all-encompassing stat used to determine a playerís value in wins above a typical AAA player) was 27.4. That was second only to Albert Pujols among hitters. And during those four years, Longoria made a total of $4 million.

In the last four years, his WAR has been 13.9. Still a respectable figure, but good for only 46th among big league hitters. During these last four years, Longoria has made $42.5 million.

Do you see the point?

Heís not nearly the player he used to be, and yet is making 10 times as much salary. Now thatís not unusual in baseball. Due to the collective bargaining agreement, teams get more value out of players in their first three seasons in the league.

And if youíre the Yankees or Red Sox or Dodgers or Cubs, you can afford to pay more for diminishing returns. If youíre the Rays, you cannot.

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Make no mistake, Longoria is still a valuable player. But at 32, his career will likely continue to trend downward. And as of now, the Rays owe him at least $86 million for the next five years.

It shouldnít always be about money. I know that.

My son had just started kindergarten when he saw Longo playing in Game 1 of the 2008 World Series at Tropicana Field. Now heís a few months away from starting high school, and he still regularly watches Longo patrolling the same patch of earth near third base.

There is value in that. Value for the fan, value for the team.

But for the Rays to emerge from this four-year malaise of mediocrity, they need to make changes. They havenít drafted particularly well (nor are they drafting as high as they did when they got Longoria, David Price, B.J. Upton and Jeff Niemann) and they canít keep putting together patchwork rosters with $70 million payrolls and expect to compete in the AL East.

What they need are young prospects with manageable salaries. Now they can continue to wait for draft picks to finally pay off, or they can trade Longoria and/or Chris Archer, Alex Colome and Wilson Ramos.

Longoria would have brought more value if they traded him last winter, but it doesnít help to fret about that now. The important thing is that the Rays are not bemoaning the same mistake next winter after winning 75 or 80 games again. Not to mention, by this time next year, Longoria will have enough service time in the league to veto any trade he doesnít like.

So, yes, itís time to trade Evan Longoria.

Itís a sad thought, but itís the right move.