Now Might Be the Best Time to Trade Evan Longoria

Evan Longoria is the Tampa Bay Rays’ best player in franchise history. That’s not a particularly controversial suggestion: the franchise has only been around for 19 seasons and Longoria has been a mainstay on the team for nearly a decade. His 47 WAR bests Carl Crawford’s sum with club by 10 wins and, with 25 more games, he will secure the record for games played in a Rays uniform. Longoria is still going strong this season, and he has a reasonable contract. There are a lot of reasons not to trade Evan Longoria, but if the Rays were to consider trading him, now might be the best time.

Deciding to trade a franchise player isn’t an easy decision, and for a team that has a solid fan base — by television ratings, if not by attendance — moving a player like Longoria isn’t an easy choice. If Longoria were a pending free agent, the decision might be simpler. The Rays are 37-57 with no shot at the playoffs, and they’re likely to trade a starting pitcher before the deadline — and could sell more if they the deal were right. The team hasn’t played as bad as their record indicates — and, talent-wise, this is a roughly .500 team in need of a few tweaks for contention. In that light, it makes sense to keep Longoria and make a run next season. After all, he’s still producing.

Longoria has averaged over four wins above replacement over the previous three seasons. This season, at age 30, he’s putting together an excellent season, having recorded a 135 wRC+ and 3.8 WAR. That latter figure, plus his rest-of-season projection, places him in range of a six-win season. Given the year he’s having, he seems like a decent candidate to be projected for at least a four-win season next year. On top of that, Longoria has a team-friendly contract that will pay him just $99 million over the next six years, with $11 million deferred, reducing the cost further.

If we want to look at the value of that contract, we can go ahead and project him for 4.0 WAR next season, assume a standard aging curve, and see what the calculator spits out.

Evan Longoria’s Contract — 6 yr / $99.0 M
Year Age WAR $/WAR Est. Contract Actual Contract
2017 31 4.0 $8.4 M $33.6 M $13.0 M
2018 32 3.5 $8.8 M $30.9 M $13.5 M
2019 33 3.0 $9.3 M $27.8 M $14.5 M
2020 34 2.5 $9.7 M $24.3 M $15.0 M
2021 35 2.0 $10.0 M $19.9 M $18.5 M
2022 36 1.5 $10.2 M $15.3 M $24.5 M
Totals 16.5 $151.8 M $99.0 M

Assumptions

Value: $8M/WAR with 5.0% inflation
Aging Curve: +0.25 WAR/yr (18-27), 1.5 WAR/yr (28-30),-0.5 WAR/yr (31-37),-0.75 WAR/yr (> 37)

So we have a $53 million surplus — and even that might understate things a bit, as $50 million of the surplus occurs in the next three years. The lone negative figure is six years away, therefore meaning less in today’s dollars. We don’t often calculate surpluses in terms of present-day value, but if we did, it’s interesting to note that it’s not just the surplus that gets discounted, but the deficit. In fact, using an 8% discount and factoring in the deferred money, the present-day (2017) value of the surplus in Evan Longoria’s contract slightly exceeds the surplus shown above, ending up at $53.5 million. If you want to include the rest of this year’s surplus and salary and begin discounting surplus next year, the surplus is presently valued at $57.8 million.

In Dave Cameron’s piece on the Drew PomeranzAnderson Espinoza deal, he mentioned the work of Kevin Creagh and Steve DeMiceli, who recently updated the valuations on prospects in present-day dollar figures. In a straight nerd-type-numbers-only deal, Longoria is worth pretty close to one of the top-10 prospects in baseball. The Rays are unlikely to seek just a one-for-one type deal, so in this quantity-based spreadsheet analysis, the Rays could probably receive a top-50 pitcher plus two more players from the top-100 prospects. You can fidget around with the numbers to get something close, but it would be quite the haul.

The thing about prospects is that their value isn’t going to change from year to year. Next season there will be a whole new batch of prospects and they are going to be worth roughly the same as they are now. The same cannot be said of Evan Longoria. A year from now, he will have run through one-third of his surplus value, and it’s possible that that value could decrease further.

Two years ago this week, Troy Tulowitzki was a 29-years-old shortstop recording a 170 wRC+ — an MVP campaign, essentially — and still featured $118 million and six seasons left on his contract after the season. Tulowitzki injured his hip, however, missed the rest of the season, and after an average start to the 2015 campaign was traded for Jose Reyes, Jose Reyes’s big contract, two prospects: one from the bottom half of Baseball America’s top-100 list and another not present on it at all. Even though Longoria is less injury-prone than Tulowitzki, his trade value will likely only go down from here on out.

In June, Neil Weinberg discussed Longoria’s improvements this season and noted his unusual profile. What we’re seeing might not be a sustainable resurgence, but instead a sign that decline is still on its way.

From Weinberg’s piece:

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.

Longoria currently takes up around one-fifth of the Rays’ payroll and that’s unlikely to change over the course of Longoria’s tenure. If the Rays believe they can move around other pieces and contend with Longoria next season, it’s possible that holding on to him is the best bet. He’s likely to remain a productive player next season, and any one player isn’t likely to match his production. However, if there are some good offers out there — and Jon Morosi brought up the Dodgers as a possibility and noted the start of Longoria’s no-trade rights in early 2018 — the Rays might be best served to move Longoria before his trade (and on-field) value decline, potentially hurting the club’s ability to contend in the future. It’s difficult to put a number on what a franchise player means to a team, but it’s something the Rays might want to figure out in the next week.

We hoped you liked reading Now Might Be the Best Time to Trade Evan Longoria by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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I think he’ll get 10/5 rights sometime during next year right?