Would Evan Longoria Trade Actually Make the Los Angeles Dodgers Better?

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistNovember 23, 2016

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 15: Evan Longoria #3 of the Tampa Bay Rays rounds the bases after hitting a three run home run during the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 15, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

It's November. That means turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie and Evan Longoria to the Los Angeles Dodgers rumors.

Here's one, courtesy of MLB Network's Jon Morosi:

OK, that's less a rumor and more informed speculation. And maybe Longoria-to-L.A. talk isn't quite as inevitable as Thanksgiving.

The Dodgers trading for Longoria makes a share of sense, though. It's also not a new idea.

Rumblings about the Tampa Bay Rays third baseman heading to Southern California cropped up at the 2016 trade deadline, per Morosi. At the time, however, the Dodgers employed Justin Turner at the hot corner.

Now, Turner is a free agent. The Dodgers have a hole to fill. Cue the Longoria chatter.

"Our most acute needs as we head into the offseason are the roles previously occupied by our two free agents," president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said, per Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times. "We have to figure out what we're doing at third base, and figure out an anchor for the back of the pen."

Longoria is more than just any third baseman. He's a three-time All-Star coming off a superlative season that saw him hit .273 with a career-high 36 home runs and 98 RBI.

He has ties to Friedman, who was general manager in Tampa Bay when the then-Devil Rays drafted Longoria with the third overall pick in 2006. Plus, he was born and raised in SoCal.

Dodgers executive Andrew Friedman has ties to Longoria from their days in Tampa Bay.
Dodgers executive Andrew Friedman has ties to Longoria from their days in Tampa Bay.Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

Longoria has six years and about $100 million left on his deal, but the Dodgers have baseball's highest payroll. The Rays will likely expect a strong return of young talent, but the Dodgers have a deep farm system.

The dots connect. In fact, it seems like a borderline perfect marriage.

Here's the central question, though: Is Longoria preferable to Turner? The Dodgers could simply re-sign their old third baseman, after all.

To begin, let's stack the two players' 2016 stats next to each other:

2016: Longoria vs. Turner
PlayerAVG.HRRBIOPS
Evan Longoria (TBR).2733698.840
Justin Turner (LAD).2752790.832
Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com

There's remarkable symmetry, especially when you consider both players are right-handed swingers who were born in Southern California within a year of each other.

If we zoom back a tad, however, Turner gains an edge.

Between 2014 and 2016, Turner's WAR (12.8) was higher than Longoria's (11.9) by FanGraphs' measure. Turner has also been a superior defender over the past two seasons, posting a 16.7 ultimate zone rating compared to Longoria's 7.7.

Turning to the projection systems, Steamer foretells a .263/.324/.460 slash line for Longoria and a .285/.354/.466 line for Turner in 2017. 

By most statistical measures, Justin Turner has been better than Longoria for at least the past two seasons.
By most statistical measures, Justin Turner has been better than Longoria for at least the past two seasons.Maxx Wolfson/Getty Images

That's not to suggest Longoria is chopped liver. He'd slot nicely into a Dodgers lineup that features reigning National League Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, powerful center fielder Joc Pederson and veteran pieces such as first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and catcher Yasmani Grandal. 

In terms of dollars, Turner should command more than the $13 million Longoria is owed in 2017 and may well eclipse his average annual value for the next few seasons in a weak free-agent class. Something in line with the five years, $95 million the Boston Red Sox gave Pablo Sandoval in 2014 seems attainable.

Longoria, on the other hand, will cost more than cash. The Dodgers will also have to part with high-upside prospects to land him.

The small-market Rays are always seeking to shed salary, but even if the Dodgers eat all the money, they'll have to dip into their MiLB stash.

That's where the scales truly tip toward Turner. If he and Longoria are roughly the same player, why give up payroll and trade chips for one when the other will require only money?

Los Angeles will have to battle other suitors, possibly including the archrival San Francisco Giants, per Morosi

The Dodgers should make Turner a priority, though, and consider Longoria a distant plan B. The best move isn't always the splashiest or the one that commands the most headlines.

Sometimes, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

To put it in Thanksgiving terms: Longoria is the stuffing, Turner is the turkey. Gobble, gobble.

   

All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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