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Giants, Rays Make Strange Trade

On December 20th, the Rays shipped Evan “Career Ray” Longoria to the Giants for Christian Arroyo, Denard Span, Matt Krook and Stephen Woods. On the surface, this seems like a deal that fits the needs of both teams. The Rays have initiated yet another rebuild that Longoria didn’t want to be a part of, and got some young players in return. Arroyo is a former top-100 prospect who, despite destroying lower levels in 2017, struggled in his debut with the Giants. The two arms are the classic “pitching prospects,” and, well, Denard Span is Denard Span. On the other side, the Giants filled an absolutely gaping hole at third base. They no longer have to play Pablo Sandoval, and that should be a win for any team.  However, this trade has left me scratching my head, and there’re a few reasons why. Let’s look at some statlines.

Player A – 96 wRC+ / 11 DRS

Player B – 108 wRC+ / 10 DRS

Which one do you think the Giants just gave Christian Arroyo up for? The answer is A, Evan Longoria, a 32-year-old who is making 13.5 million dollars a year.  Player C is Todd Frazier, a 31-year-old (almost 32-year-old) free agent who will more than likely sign a contract in the 10-12 million dollar range. Now, Longoria did have a down year at the plate in 2017 and is the better defender of the two, but looking at these numbers raises some questions. Why did the Giants give up a talented young prospect for someone they could have just signed in the free-agent market? It’s understandable that you can look at Longoria’s track record and expect him to bounce back from a down year, but there are a few other things to consider before jumping to that conclusion. First of all, Longoria is moving from Tropicana Field to AT&T Park, one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the majors. According to Baseball Reference, Tropicana was also stifling, but still, moving to AT&T is not a welcome change for any hitter. Secondly, Longoria is 32 years old, and we all know what side of 30 that’s on (it’s the bad side). Thinking Longoria can bounce back during his age-32 season is a tough sell for anyone who believes in the aging curve.

Let’s consider what the Giants could have done differently. If they would have signed Todd Frazier, they would have been getting a cheaper contract for a player with essentially the same skill-set as Longoria; a power right-handed bat with a plus glove at third base. They’re practically the same age, and now, the Giants can keep Christian Arroyo around and give him some more time to develop in the minors or give him exposure at the major-league level if Joe Panik continues to struggle. Yes, they did offload Denard Span’s contract, so technically, Longoria is cheaper than Frazier would be, but I’ll address that in just a bit. They also had the option to not sign anyone at all and hope Arroyo develops into some sort of Matt Duffy 2.0. To make it clear, I don’t think Arroyo will ever be as good as Longoria, but I have no problem believing he could be a 2-3 win player a few years down the road.

Now, in terms of the big picture, only one of these moves keeps the Giants’ hopes for the future alive. If you haven’t noticed, all the stars on the Giants are going to be on the wrong side of the aging curve soon. Signing Frazier only contributes to that problem. Arroyo could have been a piece the Giants could have built their team around in the future when all of their other superstars are decrepit skeletons. Remember what I said about Denard Span being Denard Span and his contract being offloaded? That’s another problem that the Giants have to fix now. Denard Span isn’t good, but he’s essentially league-average at playing center field. Who do the Giants stick out there now? Steven Duggar? Mac Williamson? Both of those options represent a downgrade to Span. Instead, we can expect the Giants to throw a bunch of money at a free-agent outfielder, perhaps someone like Lorenzo Cain. Cain would represent a huge upgrade over Span, but Cain is still another 31-year-old who is projected to decline in his production while making close to 20 million dollars a year, which cancels out the effect of getting rid of Span’s contract in the first place.

If they do sign Cain, the Giants will then be spending more money than they were before they traded for Longoria in the first place. If they don’t, then they’ll have to expect lackluster production out of center field, somehow even more lackluster than Span already was. Finally, you have to consider if this move actually makes the Giants better than the rest of the NL West. It doesn’t. The Dodgers are still a super team, the D-Backs are still very good, and the Rockies, despite having some question marks about their rotation, are a good team as well. Well, okay, the Giants won’t finish behind the Padres, but you still have to be better than the best team in baseball last year to win your division. This is a lot to ask for a Giants team that has only added something like 1.5 wins this offseason and was the worst team in the National League last year. Don’t get me wrong; getting Longoria, a good player who makes way, way less than his market value is a great move, but I don’t think it is in the context of where the Giants are as a team, what they gave up, and the holes they still have to fill.

As for the Rays, this is a move that was going to happen eventually. They see that the Yankees and Red Sox are going dominate the AL East for a while, so they decided that now is as good a time as any to tear it down and start again. The Rays will continue to the do the Rays thing we all know and love, stockpiling as many Matt Duffy-type players as they can while consistently pumping out awesome pitchers from their farm system, then trading those pitchers for more clones of Matt Duffy. Arroyo will more than likely take the second-base job in Tampa over at some point during 2018, and will be a fun player to watch in the Rays lineup. Span might end up taking some time from Mallex Smith in left field, but Smith is definitely the more exciting and interesting player of the two. The real Matt Duffy will end up playing third, and the Rays will finish 3rd or 4th in the AL East like they do almost every year. Again, this a trade that was going to happen, but it’s just surprising to see how it ended up going down.