It's Time for MLB Star Evan Longoria to Be Shopped to the Highest Bidder

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJuly 20, 2016

Tampa Bay Rays' Evan Longoria walks towards the dugout to get a new bat after breaking one after fouling off a pitch during the first inning of a professional baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in St. Petersburg, Fla., Friday, July 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Evan Longoria signed an extension with the Tampa Bay Rays as soon as he arrived in the majors in 2008. And then another in 2012. Clearly, both sides want this partnership to continue for the long haul.

But it's time for Longo to go.

This leads us to a trade "rumor" that seemed to come out of nowhere. Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com reported Monday that the Rays have opened up trade discussions with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Their big boss is Andrew Friedman, who used to run things in Tampa Bay. He's now the Dodgers' president of baseball operations. 

Morosi put one and one together and wondered aloud: "The next question then is the precise nature of those talks between the Dodgers and Rays—and if Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay's three-time All-Star third baseman, is part of them."

There are quotes around the word rumor up above because it isn't so much a trade rumor as it is a trade thought. And indications are it's not going to lead to anything. Morosi wrote there's a "low probability" of Longo ending up in Los Angeles before the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times echoed that. So did Chris Cotillo of SB Nation.

It would indeed be hard for the Rays to say goodbye to Longoria. The 30-year-old has been a great player for them for years and is playing the part once again in 2016. He entered Tuesday's 10-1 win over the Colorado Rockies with an .881 OPS and 21 homers. He added No. 22 in spectacular fashion:

Beyond still being productive, Longoria is also relatively affordable. The second contract extension he signed in 2012 doesn't actually begin until next year, but it only guarantees him $99 million over six years. If he were a free agent this winter, he'd probably find at least that on the open market.

The Rays also have some time before the prospect of trading Longoria gets complicated. He doesn't gain 10-and-5 rights and the power to veto any trade until April 2018. That gives them this winter and all of next year to trade him if they so desire. 

Just because time isn't a factor, however, doesn't mean the timing isn't right.

No matter which way you look at it, the Rays are not in a good place. Their 36-57 record puts them in last place by plenty in the AL East and also all but guarantees their third straight losing season. After four playoff trips in six years between 2008 and 2013, they're back to being an afterthought.

And they're not in a good position to pull out of this tailspin anytime soon. 

The Rays aren't going to buy their way out of their troubles. Topkin heard from Rays owner Stuart Sternberg last December that the Rays are still "a few years" away from a rich new TV deal. If winning couldn't get the locals to show up to Tropicana Field, losing sure as heck won't.

As Dan Szymborski wrote in ESPN.com's MLB future power rankings, this makes the Rays dependent on a farm system that's presently not strong enough for the task of rebuilding the club. Baseball America ranked it at No. 13 coming into the year and put just three Rays prospects in its midseason top 100.

Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

Ideally, a Longoria trade would allow the Rays to address both problems: prospects for their farm system and a whole bunch of payroll flexibility to one day lock them up.

In a vacuum, a fair trade arguably involves a contender taking on the remainder of Longoria's contract and nothing else. Although $99 million doesn't sound like too much money, it's a figure he's unlikely to outperform. He is on the wrong side of 30, you know.

But on this summer's market, it's easy to imagine a needy contender being willing to sweeten the deal. The Dodgers aren't the only club that could use a third base upgrade. Also on that list is their biggest rival, the San Francisco Giants, as well as the Cleveland Indians and New York Mets.

Of course, what will be a weak free-agent market could allow the Rays to find just as sweet a deal for Longoria this winter. Morosi seemed to recognize that, writing "the discussion of Longoria will be more worthwhile in November."

What the Rays have no guarantee of, however, is if Longoria will look as appealing this winter as he does right now.

Yes, he's having a great season. But it's coming on the heels of two just OK seasons in 2014 and 2015. He only posted a .744 OPS and clubbed 43 homers. Though his turnaround this season has occurred mainly in the power department, Neil Weinberg of FanGraphs broke down how Longo has had to sacrifice contact and use of the whole field to make it happen.

If pitchers adjust, his success with that approach could be short-lived. Or, a regression in the final two months of the season could come from natural causes. At 30 and with quite a few miles on his body, an injury or a slump wrecking Longo's season wouldn't be shocking.

The whole situation is reminiscent of the one the Rockies were in with Troy Tulowitzki last season. The Rockies had been adamant about keeping him in the past, and Tulowitzki himself definitely didn't want to be traded, as he indicated in an interview with Bob Nightengale of USA Today back in February. But the timing was right, so there he went.

The Rockies saved some money in that deal and also got a pretty good prospect in right-hander Jeff Hoffman. Had they not made it, well, look at Tulowitzki now. He's had his moments with the Toronto Blue Jays, but he has mostly battled bad health and up-and-down production. If these problems had occurred in Colorado instead, the Rockies might be stuck with him.

Trading Longo would be no more pleasant for the Rays than trading Tulo was for the Rockies. But with his value high and their present and future looking grim, now's the time to make that call.

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

Follow zachrymer on Twitter 

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