Editorial: The Pittsburgh Pirates need help on the left side of their infield, assuming Jung Ho Kang does not get his work visa. Neal Huntington has said they’ll get to a point where they prepare to not have him back. Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria might be in play. If he his, that would provide an incredible upgrade for the Pirates.
Evan Longoria has been a staple for the Tampa Bay Rays, and he has been the face of the franchise since he made his debut in 2008 – the year the Rays reached the World Series and had a winning record for the first time in franchise history. Longoria helped the Rays reach 90+ wins five times in six seasons from 2008-2013 despite peaking 20th in payroll during that span.
However, the Rays have gone 305-343 since 2014, and they have seen Andrew Friedman leave for Los Angeles and Joe Maddon leave for Chicago. They might be in consideration to rebuild – though I don’t think that would be wise – and with Evan Longoria soon getting his ten and five rights and therefore having the ability to veto any trade, this would be the perfect time for Tampa to trade their superstar if that is the direction they want to go in.
One of two reasons Longoria would be on the open market is because the Rays will try to rebuild, which is not the best idea and I’ll get to that later. The other reason is the Rays are trying to cut payroll, which is something that Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times has reported:
"“And from what principal owner Stuart Sternberg said last week in New York, after another season at the bottom of the attendance totals, that’s not going to change anytime soon, with plans to “absolutely” reduce the payroll for 2018.“Being we’re so far above what we’ve spent ever before and way outside of what we can spend and should spend, the first move is down,” he said.…It doesn’t sound, however, like there will be a major reduction. Rays officials have said previously that to offset years when they’ve hiked the payroll, there eventually may be a season of reckoning when they slash extensively, such as to the $30 million or so the Padres paid current players this year. Sternberg said he doesn’t “anticipate it happening” in 2018.”"
The easiest way to cut payroll is to trade their highest paid player, who happens to be Longoria. Longoria still has value, despite a .312 wOBA (96 wRC+) he was able to still be a 2.5 WAR player because of his defensive ability. This past season he had 11 defensive runs saved and a 5.1 UZR/150 en route to his third Gold Glove award. Though, from 2014-16 he struggled more with the glove, having -5, -1, and -9 runs saved respectively, his UZR/150 remained strong at -0.6, 12.3, .0.8 in that three-year stretch.
After hitting .273/.318/.521 in 2016, showing a power surge with a .248 ISO, Longoria hit just .261/.313/.424 with an ISO of .163. Over the last four years he has seen a decrease in his power, posting ISO’s of .151/.166/.248/.163, and he’s also seen his walk go from 8.1 percent to 7.6 percent, 6.1 percent, and 6.8 percent over those years as well. This is the first time Longoria has really struggled, having a career low in wOBA and wRC+, and part of the reason is he didn’t barrel the ball as much this past season as he has in the years prior:
Evan won’t be the .275/.357/.512 hitter with a .371 wOBA and 135 wRC+ like he was from 2008-2013, but the .264/.320/.447 hitter with a .326 wOBA and 108 wRC+ he’s been since 2014 is reasonable for the now 32 year old going forward. In fact, for 2018, STEAMER projects him to a slash of .264/.322/.458 with a .329 wOBA and 107 wRC+. That’s a capable offensive performer, and would be a welcomed addition to the Pirates lineup, and would be an excellent cleanup option with Starling Marte, Josh Bell, and Andrew McCutchen hitting in the first three spots.
How much value Evan Longoria has
But to acquire a player of Evan Longoria’s quality, you have to calculate how valuable he is, and how valuable the contract is, i.e. his surplus value. Jason Hanselman of The Process Report did this exercise in September 2015, but let’s update the value of the win and recalculate his surplus value. Matt Swartz, an economist, has found that teams pay $10.5 million for a win on the free agent market, and with a 5.9 percent salary growth rate, we get the surplus value below:
For his WAR, STEAMER projects him at 3.1 WAR in 2018, and just like Jason did, I knocked off a half win for each following year until 2023 because I don’t see him really being less valuable than one win given David Freese has been worth 1.8 and 1.6 wins these last two seasons. That 2023 year is an option with a $5 million buyout, and unless Longoria is still a very productive player, there really isn’t a reason for any team, outside of the Rays because of fan perception, to pick up that option. Based on this, Evan has a surplus of $34.7 million for the club he is on.
What it would cost in trade
The Rays would need to get around $35 million in trade value back in order to trade Evan Longoria, and by trading Longo, they’d likely look to acquire prospects. The Point of Pittsburgh has researched and provided prospect values for 2016. However, Fangraphs has licensed their model and The Point of Pittsburgh guys have adjusted their model to future value grades instead of just their rankings in Baseball America’s top 100. Below is the prospect value based on grade, and is the exact same table you’ll see on Fangraphs.
|75||$175 million||$83 million|
|70||$107 million||$62 million|
|65||$70 million||$62 million|
|60||$60 million||$34 million|
|55||$38 million||$22 million|
|50||$20 million||$14 million|
|45||$11 million||$13 million|
Using the 2017 prospect rankings by Fangraphs writer Eric Longenhagen, we can come up with what it might cost the Pirates in a trade, and using some small assumptions on changes among a prospect. For reference, a 50 represents an average bat and backend starter. Eric had Ke’Bryan Hayes, a third base prospect, as a 50 future value player and as the sixth best prospect in the system.
Key Hitting Piece
In their midseason update, MLB Pipeline had Hayes as the Pirates fourth-best prospect, and in the newly released Baseball America rankings, Hayes also ranks fourth. Seeing him as a regular in the future seems likely, and he should still be a 50 future value player in Eric’s 2018 list. Hayes also does not have to be added to the 40 man roster until next winter, and with the Rays current logjam, this is a cherry on top.
Key Pitcher Piece
This only gets us to about a 60 percent of the way to finding a deal to grab Longoria from the Rays, and finding an additional $15 million in value will likely have to come from a pitcher. Taylor Hearn is an interesting arm that ranks ninth in Baseball America’s rankings, and is around a 45 future value player with a high ceiling, Eric had him as a 40 future value entering the season. But after a season in which he struck out 30 percent of hitters, though he walked 10 percent, there is a good chance he can develop into a backend starter or dominate relief pitcher. He is 23 years old though and has not reached AA, so there is still that concern in labeling him a 45 future value, and that might be aggressive in doing so.
Rest of the Deal
Adding David Freese, who the Pirates would no longer need with an addition of Longoria, would provide $4.15 million surplus, as he is projected by STEAMER at 0.8 WAR and his salary is $4.25 million. This gives a 50 future value bat, 45 future value reliever, and a current player which is equal to a $37.14 million surplus value. Of course, this assumes that Hearn is seen as a 45 future value. The Pirates would also likely to add an additional live arm to the deal, something that the Rays love.
Luis Escobar ranks as the Pirates seventh-best prospect according to Baseball America, and he has a live arm that strikes out plenty of hitters but also has had control problems. He is just 21 and has potential, but he is rule five eligible, though he’s never pitched above A ball and I don’t see him needing protection. Truthfully, Escobar might be the most likely to be a 45 future value than Hearn with Hearn being a 40 based on his age and injury history.
A deal of Hayes, Hearn, Escobar, and Freese would provide a potential average starting third baseman, a backend starter or backend relief pitcher, a very solid mid starter candidate who might end up being a dominant backend bullpen pitcher, and a current third baseman who is cheap and has an option for 2019 as well. The Pirates can always add a low floor but really high upside bat such as Oneil Cruz, a player who looks like Gregory Polanco and is just 19 years old in A ball to the deal. He’s very raw, so his surplus value is minimal, but with his upside is a player who could “sweeten the deal.”
Is it really feasible?
Considering the Pirates had the resources to make a trade for a controllable arm in Jose Quintana last offseason, and the Pirates reportedly had interest, the odds of the Pirates giving up pieces of a potential future are extremely low. The Pirates can add Longoria’s contract because he’s a low-cost player who every team should and can afford, and The Point of Pittsburgh folks have shown the Pirates should be able to carry a $115 million payroll, which is about a $15 million increase to what they currently have on the books. Adding Longoria and subtracting Freese would leave around $6 million to find a backup catcher, perhaps an additional bench player, and a bullpen arm or two isn’t necessarily off, as the Pirates love to find cheap bullpen arms or just go with internal options. Financially it is feasible, but in terms of the Pirates actually making a deal for Longoria, the odds are extremely low.
Odds of Making a Deal
The odds of the Pirates making the deal isn’t really what I think would stop a potential deal sending Longoria to the Pirates, or elsewhere really. Like I said earlier, I don’t think it would be wise for the Rays to deal Longoria. Last season they went 80-82 and were in contention for the wild card most of the season, and that is with Kevin Kiermaier only playing 98 games, Wilson Ramos only playing 64 games, Brad Miller only played 110 games and was nagging with injuries most of the season, and Colby Rasmus was both hurt and retired mid-season. They can contend in 2018, even with trading off some higher salary players such as Jake Odorizzi and Alex Colome.
Joshua Morgan of DRays Bay wrote about how the Rays need to retool and not rebuild. I agree fully with it. The club has Chris Archer, Longoria, and Kiermaier on contracts that are beneficial to small budget teams. They also have the prospects who will be three to three and half years from arbitration ready to contribute right now. This is the time for the Rays to maximize on that, unless they get the mother lode of a deal, often times referred to as the “Herschel Walker deal” and this is something that Josh mentions very well.
So unless the Rays are truly going to blow it up, which would make really zero sense given their current structure – and at that point, they really wouldn’t need Freese – Longoria won’t be going anywhere. But if the Rays do blow it up and want to deal their franchise player, the Pirates should give them a call. He’s cost affordable and can fill the gap at third base for the next half decade and help extend the Pirates chances when Austin Meadows ultimately replaces Andrew McCutchen in 2019.