Chris Archer isn’t the only athlete who may be swapping Florida sun for California sun. Lost in the rumors of potential pitcher acquisitions were the reports of the Dodgers’ interest in Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria. The intrigue is easy to understand with Andrew Friedman’s history in St. Pete. He seems interested anytime a Ray is on the trade block.
Longoria is different from the other Tampa Bay players Friedman has inquired about. He must hold a special place in Friedman’s heart. Longoria IS the Rays franchise. He has been the face of the organization since it removed the “Devil” from its name. He keyed the team’s lone World Series appearance. He was the hero of the fans’ legendary “Game 162,” which sent Tampa Bay to another postseason appearance. In fact, Longoria was the only bat to go ahead of Kershaw in the 2006 draft. Many good players have come and gone through the financially challenged Rays, yet Longoria is the one constant.
As Tampa Bay continues its rebuild/retool, Longoria has popped up in rumors. A trade is unlikely (aren’t they all), but his name has been matched with the Dodgers frequently. He’s from Southern California, L.A. needs offensive help and of course, the Friedman connection.
Most of the fans balked at any trade, citing Justin Turner’s production and the cost of a deal. Those are valid concerns. But let’s view this objectively and try to understand the Dodgers’ interest.
Justin Turner’s free agency
For one, Turner is a few months away from free agency. It will only take one team to overpay and given L.A.’s front office’s history, it’s more likely Turner walks than the team matches a big offer. Turner isn’t the lone important free agent decision looming either. We asked fans to chime in on their priority free agent, and after 2,380 answers, the result wasn’t close
POLL: 3 key free agents for the Dodgers: Turner, Utley and Jansen. Who can't the #Dodgers afford to lose?
— Dodgers Nation (@DodgersNation) July 19, 2016
If Jansen comes first, there’s a fair chance Turner and/or Utley bolt. That’s the reality Los Angeles is staring at this offseason. Turner has swung the bat well lately, but 2016 has been his weakest campaign as a Dodger. His average has declined every year from .340 to .294 to .269. His OBP, slugging and OPS have also regressed. He’s already hit into a career-high 12 double plays.
On the flip side, his power has taken another step. His 18 homers are a career-best. He’s on pace to set new high marks in hits, doubles, runs and RBI too. His offense has been a beacon of light in a dark cave of woes for spurts of the season. Letting him go doesn’t guarantee acquiring an adequate replacement.
So his case is a mixed bag. What if the organization feels his declining attributes are more telling than his improvements? What if the franchise deems his injury history concerning enough to pass on rewarding him with what he would consider a good payday?
That’s where Longoria might make sense.
This isn’t a Longoria vs. Turner situation that has been debated at length. Friedman may already have a hunch Turner won’t be a Dodger in 2017, so his rumored interest is setting the table for an offseason move. Rather than take a chance on a declining or unknown player, maybe he wants someone he trusts. Longoria fits that profile perhaps more than any other athlete in the Majors.
It wouldn’t make much sense for Tampa to trade its fan favorite in the middle of the year. Deals similar to this one typically take place in the winter. Talks between the Dodgers and Rays may well be to get a head start.
Two is better than one
What if Friedman wants Turner AND Longoria? It’s possible.
Turner was moved from second in large part because the team said he was more “comfortable” at third, and after knee surgery the position would be easier than second. Adding Longoria and sliding Turner back over would be an odd decision, but the Dodgers love to get creative on defense. Don’t rule out keeping both and finding room (note: Longoria is strictly a third baseman so Turner’s versatility is what matters).
Howie Kendrick’s season is a disappointment. Kendrick hasn’t hit below .279 in his 10-year career, but a .271 average will be a blemish on his otherwise phenomenal average-wise output. Yes, the Dodgers just paid him. But if you’re going to improve the offense, someone has to be bumped. Utley is down the totem pole of free agents, so his departure would create a void. Turner may fit there, but this is the unlikeliest avenue given the team’s stance on it previously.
What if Longoria is an upgrade?
An unpopular idea: Maybe Longoria is just better than Turner.
Across the board, Longoria has had a better career. Though Turner has gained the advantage in average and OBP after the last two seasons. Longoria has proven to be the more dynamic player over the course of their MLB lives, but the two have been more comparable in Turner’s stint at Chavez Ravine.
Decide for yourself. Here is a direct comparison of the third basemen.
Is the difference worth surrendering prospects? In a nutshell, no. But it depends on two factors: Who the prospects are (obviously) and Turner’s contract demands. If the prospect price is what L.A. considers reasonable, maybe the team opts for Longoria. Again, the offense needs to improve. It won’t do that by keeping the same stable of players. The comfort level Friedman would have in Longoria would understandably generate interest.
Longoria is signed through 2022. His peak annual pay is $19.5M in the final season. That coin won’t look as bad at that point. It’s a player’s market and that trend will keep growing. Along with that, the prospect price is hard to speculate, especially if Archer talks are simultaneous. That discussion can be saved for the offseason if the moment arises.
Longoria may not be the answer, but he’s another option. The Dodgers need to leave no stone unturned in their search for getting the team closer to a ring. Right now, he doesn’t seem to be a fit, but sometimes what doesn’t look logical can change in a matter of months. Turner’s free agency and possible Longoria trade rumors will be some of the more interesting dynamics of a sure-to-be critical offseason for Los Angeles.