Monday, April 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Jones: Rays' front office needs to step up to the plate for Evan Longoria

Interesting comments last week from Evan Longoria.

The Rays star talked with Tampa Bay Times baseball writer Marc Topkin. Longo wasn't angry. He made no threats. He gave no ultimatums.

His words were strong, but his tone was measured. All in all, his perfectly timed and well-delivered comments were effectively understated, yet the message was absolutely clear:

He wants to win. Now.

Not two years from now. Not down the line.

Now. Right away. Next season.

Who can blame him?

He's not a kid anymore. He'll be 31 in October. Hard to believe, right? He's wrapping up his ninth season in the majors.

He has no use for rebuilding projects or plans about the future.

"I'm ready to win,'' Longoria said.

He talked about watching friends from other teams make the postseason. He talked about being spoiled making the playoffs four times in his first six seasons. He mentioned the frustration of seeing teammates, seemingly year after year, being traded to contenders while the Rays limp to another disappointing finish.

But of all he said — and all of it was spot-on — this is the part that stood out:

"It takes a lot (to win),'' Longoria said. "And we have to believe that from the top down.''

There's no other way to spin this. Longoria was calling out the guys who run this franchise.

He was calling out Rays ownership. He was challenging principal owner Stuart Sternberg.

He was calling out the front office. He was challenging president of baseball operations Matt Silverman.

He was calling out the manager. He was challenging Kevin Cash.

"I want us to go back (to the playoffs),'' Longoria said. "And I want us to do everything possible to give ourselves the best chance to do that.''

How do you that?

Well, you don't do it by trading veterans such as Matt Moore and Steve Pearce and Brandon Guyer to playoff teams for mostly prospects. It means keeping key players such as Chris Archer and Logan Forsythe and Kevin Kiermaier.

Most of all, what it means is showing a real commitment to winning, and the best way to do that is to spend money.

Talk all you want about poor attendance and a bad stadium and a small market. Those are excuses for not spending money. But here's the reality of not spending money: You get what you pay for.

Why should we be surprised that the Rays have one of the worst records in baseball when they have one of the lowest payrolls? In fact, Tampa Bay has the lowest payroll in baseball. It opened the season with a payroll of $58.6 million, and the roster right now adds up to about $40 million.

How can you win with that? Why should we be stunned that the Rays can't keep up with teams spending twice as much? Three times as much?

Actually, looking back, we should be surprised the Rays were as competitive as they were since 2008. That run of six consecutive winning seasons from 2008-13 now feels more like lightning in a bottle. If the Rays believe they can duplicate that success while continuing to pinch pennies, they are in for major disappointment.

Like Longoria, we all know the Rays are never going write checks like the Yankees or Red Sox. They won't spend $180 million on players. They can't go after many of the big-ticket free agents available each offseason.

But it also can't mean shrugging their shoulders, crying poor and hoping that their cheap ways somehow can produce another perfect storm that pushes them into the postseason.

Eventually, Rays ownership needs to do one of three things: spend more money, move the team or sell it.

But to continue bringing up the rear in payroll, counting on a bunch of underpaid kids and hoping that results will improve is a lousy blueprint for success. And it sends a bad message to the fans, many of whom are cavalier even in the good times.

Assuming the Rays are committed to staying in town and assuming they really do want to win, the next order of business is to pick a stadium site and put a shovel in the ground. The sooner there is a new stadium, the sooner the Rays have a chance to make more money. And more money could lead to better players and better players could lead to more wins.

Of course, by the time the Rays actually move into a new stadium, Longoria might have less than a quarter-tank of gas left in his career.

Until then? The Rays can't go crazy, but they also need to take some chances.

Spend some money. Sign your best players to long-term deals. Go after, say, one expensive free agent. Figure out what you can do to win right now instead of always thinking about three years from now.

That's how you keep Longoria — your best player and the face of your franchise — happy. And, you know, you might win a few more games along the way.

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