Evan Longoria gave the Rays hope when they had none. In 2008, he was the homegrown prospect that helped turned a franchise's fortunes for the first time.
In the years since, he has given the Rays loyalty. Consistency. Dignity.
And now it's finally time for him to give the Rays a better future.
It's time to trade Evan Longoria.
This will not be a popular idea. If it happens, folks will call the Rays cheap. They will complain this is everything that is wrong with modern baseball. They will announce they are swearing off the Rays forever.
I understand that passion, but I think it's misguided.
Ultimately what you want — what everyone presumably wants — is a winning baseball team. And the most expedient way for that to happen in Tampa Bay is to trade Longoria.
Here's what I mean:
There was a time when Longoria was the most valuable player in baseball. Notice that's not in capital letters. I don't mean he should have won the league MVP, I mean he brought more value for his salary than any other player.
In the first four years of his career, his WAR (an all-encompassing stat used to determine a player's value in wins above a typical AAA player) was 27.4. That was second only to Albert Pujols among hitters. And during those four years, Longoria made a total of $4 million.
In the last four years, his WAR has been 13.9. Still a respectable figure, but good for only 46th among big league hitters. During these last four years, Longoria has made $42.5 million.
Do you see the point?
He's not nearly the player he used to be, and yet is making 10 times as much salary. Now that's not unusual in baseball. Due to the collective bargaining agreement, teams get more value out of players in their first three seasons in the league.
And if you're the Yankees or Red Sox or Dodgers or Cubs, you can afford to pay more for diminishing returns. If you're the Rays, you cannot.
Make no mistake, Longoria is still a valuable player. But at 32, his career will likely continue to trend downward. And as of now, the Rays owe him at least $86 million for the next five years.
It shouldn't always be about money. I know that.
My son had just started kindergarten when he saw Longo playing in Game 1 of the 2008 World Series at Tropicana Field. Now he's a few months away from starting high school, and he still regularly watches Longo patrolling the same patch of earth near third base.
There is value in that. Value for the fan, value for the team.
But for the Rays to emerge from this four-year malaise of mediocrity, they need to make changes. They haven't drafted particularly well (nor are they drafting as high as they did when they got Longoria, David Price, B.J. Upton and Jeff Niemann) and they can't keep putting together patchwork rosters with $70 million payrolls and expect to compete in the AL East.
What they need are young prospects with manageable salaries. Now they can continue to wait for draft picks to finally pay off, or they can trade Longoria and/or Chris Archer, Alex Colome and Wilson Ramos.
Longoria would have brought more value if they traded him last winter, but it doesn't help to fret about that now. The important thing is that the Rays are not bemoaning the same mistake next winter after winning 75 or 80 games again. Not to mention, by this time next year, Longoria will have enough service time in the league to veto any trade he doesn't like.
So, yes, it's time to trade Evan Longoria.
It's a sad thought, but it's the right move.