ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays obviously made big news Wednesday in trading franchise cornerstone Evan Longoria to the Giants. What’s next? A lot.
Though it’s nearly Christmas, the Rays have much to do in the coming weeks, deciding how far to go in their rebuild and who else to trade as they seek to trim payroll and add young talent, sorting out where the players they have and are adding fit, and how best to fill the remaining holes. Here are a few of the big questions, regarding Longoria, new Rays Christian Arroyo and Denard Span, and the overall situation, and at least some answers:
So, with Longoria gone, who’s on third?
It would be a neat story if Arroyo, who grew up in Brooksville a Longoria fan, got to step right in and launch his stellar 10-year career. But that’s probably not going to happen, for reasons we’ll get to later. As of today, the answer is — no, not quite elusive as a Bigfoot sighting — Matt Duffy, the infielder acquired in the last big trade with the Giants (Aug. 1, 2016, for Matt Moore), who missed all of 2017 with complications from heel surgery. But he’s said to be 100 percent, and ready to go.
What about the rest of the infield?
Again, a lot can change, especially if the Rays were to trade shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria. But for now, put Duffy at third, Hechavarria at short, and a long list of candidates at second, either from the young guys (Daniel Robertson, Willy Adames, maybe but probably not Arroyo) or the new guys (Micah Johnson, Ryan Schimpf, Joey Wendle). At first, write in Brad Miller but spell it TBA. That’s because the Rays seem likely to trade either Corey Dickerson or Span, which would allow Miller to move to the DH spot, and them to add a better fielding first baseman from what should be a decent late-winter inventory.
Who else might get traded?
Longoria was obviously the biggest name the Rays could deal, and having pulled off that Band-Aid why wouldn’t they keep going for a total rebuild and trade any other big-name player they can back another solid piece in return and further trim salary? They’re not just going to dump talent, but going into the off-season the likely trade list started with closer Alex Colome, starters Chris Archer and/or Jake Odorizzi, Dickerson, catcher Wilson Ramos, Miller and Hechavarria. And now add Span to that list. Taking on his guaranteed $13-million was part of the deal, but with Mallex Smith available the Rays don’t really have a need for Span and would seem to be better off flipping him for another prospect.
Did Longoria have a say in where he went?
No. But the Rays at least seemed focused, if not determined, to put him in a good situation, where he’d have a chance to win and was excited to go (despite the hefty 13.3 percent state income tax). They couldn’t in good conscience (and from what we know didn’t) walk away from a better deal elsewhere, but making nice in dumping their best player (see Troy Tulowitzki-Rockies, Giancarlo Stanton- Marlins, etc.) had some value. Also, it was to the Rays advantage to find a deal they liked now (and knowing there are other third baseman on the market) because they still had the hammer; come April Longoria earned no-trade rights (which they never give) and could have forced their hand and controlled where he went, or didn’t go.
So Arroyo may not start the season in the majors?
Nope. First, there is — shudder of the Duffy and Lucius Fox deals — a health issue. He broke his left hand last July 1 when hit by a pitch, and when he went to play in the Dominican Republic in October he aggravated it, supposedly by trying to do too much too soon, and had to have surgery to have a stabilizing plate inserted. He is expected to be cleared for baseball activity in early January and be ready for spring training. But even then, he may not be ready for the majors.
He is only 22 and while he played 34 games for the Giants last year, he has only 102 plate appearances at the Triple-A level, having moved fairly quickly through the minor after being a 2013 first-round pick. Depending on those other moves, the Rays could open the season with an impressive and promising all-prospect infield of the future at Triple-A Durham: Arroyo at third, Adames at short, Robertson at second and Jake Bauers at first.
Though Arroyo came up as a shortstop he is better suited for third. His most intriguing tool is his bat, with the potential for power to develop soon without striking out a lot.
What did other Rays players think of the deal?
It was a tough day for everyone in Rays land, with several players tweeting their best wishes to Longoria. Chris Archer wrote: "Never thought there would be a day where you weren’t a Ray. We will do everything we can to continue the legacy that you created. I’ll never forget the things I learned from you. It was such a pleasure to stand along side you on the diamond. You’ll be missed, everyday. On MLB Network Thursday, Kevin Kiermaier said he took the news of the deal "like a punch to the gut. You sit here and see all the trade rumors this whole off-season … and now that actually happened it is what it is, it reminds people that baseball is not only a game but it’s a business. … Now that he’s gone, it’s crazy, it really is. It’ll be different not seeing No. 3 penciled in the lineup.’’
What’s in for Longoria?
Presumably most important is the better chance to win again in the latter part of his career. In talking to San Francisco media he mentioned having grass on the field and fans in the seats.
Also, "I am excited at the opportunity in front of me," he said. "I know I’m coming into an organization and a group of guys that wants to win and that’s committed to winning. And there are some veteran leaders in that clubhouse already so I’m happy to be in a place where all of the weight or a lot of the weight doesn’t feel like it’s on my shoulders."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays