Friday, April 27, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Analysis: Making a case for Rays to hang onto Longoria

OAKLAND, Calif.

As they should, the Rays are talking about a lot of things leading up to the Aug. 1 deadline for nonwaiver trades, most pointedly the wisdom of dealing from their stockpile of starters, whether to part with Chris Archer, Matt Moore and/or Jake Odorizzi now or, inevitably, later.

But here is one thing they should not and — barring something truly staggering and unexpected — will not do, which is trade Evan Longoria.

Sure, there is merit, and some logic, to the idea that this is exactly the right time to trade Longoria.

Simply, his value might never be higher. He is playing perhaps as well as he ever has. The calculus of his age, 31 in October, and the rest of his contact, six years at $100 million, might soon start to skew in the wrong direction. Some intriguing big-market teams, rich in prospects and/or cash, such as the Dodgers and Mets are rumored to at least have interest.

And this is the organization that traded James Shields and traded David Price and traded Ben Zobrist. And that let Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton walk away.

But this is Longoria, which makes it all different, given his intrinsic value.

He is the true face of their franchise, and at a crucial time with stadium decisions looming. He is the actual leader in their clubhouse, when much of their roster is in flux. He is, as he has reminded us all again this season, their best player.

And, an important factor in this equation, he has no interest in going anywhere — not home to SoCal, not to the bright lights of New York, not anywhere.

"This place has been my home," he said. "It's the only place I've ever been or wanted to be. So I hope that day never comes."

Business is always going to be business, so this is not to say, flatly, that Longoria should get a free pass to get the George Brett, Derek Jeter, Cal Ripken, experience he fancies, of playing his whole career with one team.

Nor that if the Rays went into a total rebuild mode and were going to be noncontenders for years that they wouldn't be proper in offering him the "courtesy" of asking if he wanted them to explore a deal so he could go elsewhere and win — while conveniently reaping the benefit of shedding the salary, which maxes out at $19.5 million in 2022.

If the Rays were going to trade Longoria, they would be wise to do so sooner. Because come April 2018, he reaches 10-and-5 status — 10 years in the majors, five with the same team — which essentially provides him with a blanket no-trade clause as he would have to approve any deal.

But why would they?

Is any package of prospects and young major-leaguers, no matter how promising, no matter how highly ranked by Baseball America and other experts, going to be as sure of a thing — barring injury, of course — as Longoria?

Ask manager Kevin Cash, who has the additional perspective of competing against Longoria, if he could imagine his lineup without No. 3 playing third base?

"No, I can't," he said. "And I don't want to."

And that's just as much because of what Longoria does as how he does it.

"He plays every day," Cash said. "He comes to work every day. The presence that he has off the field is probably just as important as he is on the field. And then once he gets on the field he is our best player. He goes out there and he does a lot of things to help us win offensively and defensively."

To wit, Longoria's numbers going into play Friday: .290, 22 homers, 55 RBIs, 50 extra-base hits, an .885 OPS. At this pace, he'll finish with career-bests of 38 homers, 184 hits and 85 extra-base hits, while pushing 100 RBIs.

Longoria not only wants to stay, of course, but he wants to win again. Getting to the World Series in his rookie season was a treat, but he wants to get back and succeed. His preference for the next weeks is that the team stands relatively pat, confident it has the right group but this year just got the wrong results. If the bosses do deal some arms or other pieces, his hope is they get back big-leaguers who can help them win now or next year, not prospects who may not pan out.

Even at a time of year when all kinds of ideas are floated, players in the Rays clubhouse can't fathom how Longoria's name could come up.

"Why," starter Jake Odorizzi said, "would you give away your best player when you still have six or seven years of control left?"

"I don't think that's a realistic possibility — I think that's just people floating things out there just to have some click-bait," said Archer, arguably the next most prominent Ray. "I don't know what the Tampa Bay Rays would be without Evan Longoria, honestly."

When teams have called in the past about Longoria, the Rays have always said they were not interested.

And if it happens again this week, they should once again just say no.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow @ TBTimes_Rays.

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