You knew this was coming. With Andrew Friedman formerly being charge in Tampa Bay and the Rays struggling, there’s a natural match between them and the Dodgers when it comes to trades.
The Rays have the fourth-worst record in baseball (34-54) and while their farm system is improving, they aren’t likely to be a playoff contender in the next handful of seasons. If there was ever going to be a time to trade the face of the franchise, it’d be now.
That player is Evan Longoria. A career-Devil Ray/Ray, Longoria, 30, is enjoying somewhat of a resurgence. After a couple seasons that saw him post 105 and 110 wRC+ (still above-average, but not up to Longoria’s standard), he has a 128 wRC+ at the All-Star break. This is mostly due to him rediscovering his power stroke. His ISO is .237 after it averaged .158 the previous two seasons. His exit velocity is up 1.2 MPH and is tied with Corey Seager (among others) at 91.4 MPH. He has also increased his launch angle from 13.9 degrees to 16.7 degrees. That has accounted for a 7 percent increase in his fly ball rate and an almost 10 percent reduction in his ground ball rate. Longoria is doing what most power hitters should be doing: Hitting the ball in the air and hitting it hard (94 MPH exit velo on fly balls).
But not all is well with Longoria. His walk rate is at 6.7 percent. If the season ended today, that would be the lowest of his career. His strikeout rate is an acceptable 22.1 percent, but that would be the third-highest of his career. He’s also benefiting from a .328 BABIP, which would be the second-highest of his career.
Back on June 10, Neil Weinberg of FanGraphs wrote about Longoria and focused on the things I mentioned above and the fact he’s becoming a a dead-pull hitter on fly balls.
“Put it all together and you have less contact and a higher percentage of pulled fly balls. This is exactly what you might expect from someone trying to add power into his game. In this sense, Longoria is not back to his old ways, he’s taking a new path to his old production. Longoria’s game suffered when his power took a hit, and he’s done what he’s needed to do to add it back this season.
It’s also worth noting that if you compare his average exit velocity, both overall and on only fly balls/line drives, he’s hitting the ball with more authority in 2016 than he did in 2015. That doesn’t mean much on it’s own, but it does let us feel a little more confident that this isn’t simply statistical noise.
Evan Longoria is having a fantastic start to his 2016 and given that his results look an awful lot like old Longoria, it’s easy to believe he’s back to his pre-2014 levels. But if you look a little deeper, you’ll notice that his contact rate, batted ball types, and batted ball direction are different than they were in his heyday. And if you examine the players who have had those batted ball profiles for a season or for several seasons, you won’t find elite players. You can be a quality hitter with Longoria’s current approach, but none of the names are terribly encouraging if you’re chasing MVP-level production.
Perhaps the Rays will be happy with a version of Brandon Moss that plays good defense at third base, given that such a player would be plenty valuable, but if they’re dreaming on this version of Longoria continuing to hit like old Longoria, recent history suggests they’re probably going to be disappointed.”
His defense is still solid, but it has taken a step back. One area that’s of some concern is the fact he has made only 70 percent of “Likely” plays (60-90 percent) this season after being at 89.3 percent last season.
Longoria would be a move for the present and future. He would fill a long-term need for the Dodgers at third base, as Justin Turner is a free agent after this season. But this might be one of the more complicated players/situations the Dodgers could acquire before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.
First of all, the positional problem. Turner is finally looking more like the hitter he was in 2014-15 than he was in the first couple months of the season. He has a 109 wRC+, with a lot of that production coming since the start of June. Defensively, he’s a Top 5 guy in the majors. Is there enough of a gap offensively and defensively for the Dodgers to justify bringing in Lognoria and either trading Turner or moving him to another position? That’s a significant question when it comes to this situation. It’s the same question that can be asked about Jonathan Lucroy and Yasmani Grandal, but as Stacie wrote yesterday, Grandal’s value is layered (and his offense is finally picking up).
Something that could give the Dodgers pause is Longoria’s contract. His 6-year, $100 million extension begins next season. It’s a reasonable deal for a guy of Longoria’s ilk, but unless he finds some incredible late-career success, the Dodgers would be paying for his age 31-36 seasons (through 2022 with a 2023 option) — also known as his decline years.
What the Dodgers have to decide is who will be their third baseman of the future: Longoria, Turner or Yulieski Gurriel. They still make a lot of sense for Gurriel’s services, but he’s not a sure thing to produce in his age-32 seasons and beyond. If Gurriel takes $50-plus million to sign, it’s fair to consider if a trade for Longoria would be a more prudent move. Then again, the cost in prospects isn’t going to be cheap (not Julio Urias-level guys, but definitely a few from the next tier or two) on top of having to pay the deal. That is something to consider, but Longoria is probably a better bet to remain productive than Turner or the unknown in Gurriel. Also, acquiring a long-term third baseman like Longoria would mean Seager is the Dodger shortstop for the next 5-6 years.
I’m still in favor of signing Gurriel, mostly because he only costs money. No prospects have to be traded to acquire Gurriel. But Longoria is a known commodity and no one really knows how Turner’s health will hold up in his early-to-mid-30s. The cost to acquire Longoria would be the determining factor in deciding between he and Gurriel. I’m all but resigned to the fact Turner is a short-timer in LA.
The addition of Longoria would improve the offense this season, especially in the power department. The only logical way he makes sense before the trade deadline is if Turner were to move to second base, a position he has been pretty bad at in his career (-19 DRS, -19.7 UZR/150 in 952 1/3 innings). But Longoria’s acquisition would make more logistical sense in the offseason, if that’s a move the Dodgers want to make.