MLB: Giants Take a Gamble on Evan Longoria

In an off-season that has seen too many salary dump trades for my liking, it was nice to get a change of pace today.

In a good old-fashioned “veteran for prospects (+ aging center fielder)” deal, the San Francisco Giants bolstered their roster today by acquiring Evan Longoria from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for OF Denard Span and three minor league prospects, headlined by infielder Christian Arroyo.   The Rays also acquired a pair of pitchers, both of whom were listed in MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 prospects in the Giants’ system.  The Giants’ system is not considered to be all that strong, so acquiring their 25th and 29th ranked prospects may not be significant, but at least the Rays have a history of developing pitchers.

What this means for the Giants:

One year after a disastrous 64-98 season which left them 40 games behind the first place Los Angeles Dodgers, the Giants don’t seem content on rebuilding their roster.   Acquiring Longoria is a move you make to win in the near future, given his age and the fact that he is coming off of a less-than-ideal season.   Longoria hit .261/.313/.424 (100 OPS+) in 677 plate appearances in his age-31 season, one year after posting a .273/.318/.521 (127 OPS+) campaign.  While balls were flying out of ballparks all across America, Longoria’s bat did not get the memo that simply squaring up the ball would lead to home run glory:  Longoria’s 10.5% HR/FB number represented the lowest number in his career, 3.9% lower than his career average.      It would be simple to chalk up his down year to some bad fly ball luck, but there can be more to the story:  He also hit more ground balls than ever before, while his hard contact rate fell by 2%, while his 18% soft contact rate represented the second highest number of his career.    It also continued a recent trend where his soft contact rate has gone up each of the last five seasons (from 8.3% in 2013 to 18% last season).    That is a troubling trend for any baseball player, though it didn’t affect his results much until 2017.

His defense still rates above average, and for the Giants, third base has been an albatross position since Pablo Sandoval left for the greener pastures of Boston, where he ultimately fell off a cliff.  The Giants gave him a job after the Red Sox dumped him, but the change to familiar scenery did nothing to help him get back to where he once was.    Longoria represents an upgrade over what they have been putting at third base recently, and Longoria has plenty of bounce-back ability:  He will only be 32 years of age, and is not far removed from a solid offensive season.   His 2017 campaign was a down year, but it was not a terrible year.  One can be optimistic that he can bounce back to above-average levels in offense, while maintaining a strong defensive game.

The Giants system ,as stated, is not great.   They did lose their top prospect (Arroyo) in this transaction, though.   That can potentially come back to sting them, though the two pitchers are less likely to make much of a dent.

The Giants are also rumored to be in contention for outfielder Jay Bruce, who would further bolster an offense that was stagnant (to put it lightly) last season.  Their pitching would still need help, however, for them to even enter the conversation as a serious contender.

What this means for the Rays:

This is a sign of at least a partial rebuild in Tampa.    Longoria is a legacy player – a player the Rays needed to be careful with when it came to trading him.  They got a nice return, however, by being able to grab Arroyo.    The 22-year old briefly played for the Giants in 2017, playing mostly third base while getting some time at shortstop and second base.    He also played all three positions in his minor league career, so none of it is foreign to him.  His MLB debut wasn’t pretty (.192/.244/.304 in 34 games), but you don’t acquire a kid like Arroyo based on a cup of coffee.  You acquire a kid like Arroyo based on what he is projected to be.

While he was ranked first in the Giants organization, MLB PIpeline has placed him 4th in the Tampa Bay organization, again demonstrating the discrepancy between the two organizations.    Arroyo is a contact-driven prospect – a kid who can hit the ball hard to all fields, but has thus far not displayed much in the power or patience departments.   If he reaches his potential, he has the ability to consistently hit over .300, which would negate some of his inability to take more walks.  As is the case with any young player, power can develop at any time, but I haven’t read any reports that indicate that Arroyo is going to grow into a consistent power threat.     Typically speaking, teams want power at third base, but Arroyo’s ability to play multiple positions will come in handy for a team that once squeezed a lot out of Ben Zobrist by moving him all over the diamond.

The two pitching prospects (Matt Krook and Stephen Woods) didn’t even register on the Rays’ Top 30 Prospects list after the deal.    The left-handed Krook, who is considered the better of the two, was 4-9 with a 5.12 ERA in 91.1 innings for the Giants’ High-A affiliate in 2017.   The 23-year old was able to register plenty of strikeouts (10.3/9), while issuing an extreme number of walks (6.5/9),    When he was drafted by the Marlins out of high school, they found an issue with is shoulder.  While he was at Oregon, he hurt his elbow and had to undergo Tommy John surgery.   He has strong stuff when he is healthy, but hasn’t proven to anyone that he can harness it.    He is a lottery ticket – a lottery ticket the Rays’ hope to cash in on, given their previous successes with pitchers.

The 22-year old Woods pitched to a 6-7 record and 2.90 ERA in 111 innings for Low-A last season.   Just like with Krook, his strikeout rate was strong, but his walk rate was far from ideal, as he walked 5.24/9.     He can throw 94 MPH, and if he does move into a projected middle relief role, there is a possibility that number can spike if he aired it out for an inning or two at a time.   Nothing in his profile screams at him being a significant piece, but as the third-rated prospect in a package, he is fine.

Span hit .272/.329/.427 (100 OPS+) in 542 plate appearances for the Giants last year, the same OPS+ number that Longoria put up.   Before Rays’ fans get too excited, that triple slash comes with terrible defense, as Span should no longer be counted on to play center field.  If he isn’t playing center field, his offense becomes pedestrian, and it is possible I am being kind with that description, given the holiday season.    He was once a decent stolen base threat, but has posted identical 12-for-19 stolen base rates the last two seasons.   He hasn’t been a plus defender since 2013, and hasn’t even been near average since then.    The Rays have one of baseball’s best center fielders manning the position for them, so that isn’t such a big deal for them, but Span as a corner outfielder is a bad bet.    They may try to flip him elsewhere, but he is due $11 million in 2018, with a team option of $12 million ($4 million buyout) for 2019.     But today’s standards, the contract isn’t ridiculous, but Span’s production offensively and defensively still does not equate to the money he will be making.

Bottom Line:

The Giants made a bold move with this deal.  They are counting on a lot of things to go right next year in an effort to make up a major deficit in the standings.  The thinking may be that the National League wasn’t particularly strong in 2017, and if a few things go their way, they may just be able to get back up to where the Diamondbacks, Rockies, Brewers, and Cardinals currently reside.   It is still hard to see that, though additional moves can make them interesting.  They need pitching (even with Madison Bumgarner‘s return), and Longoria himself will not fix their stagnant offense, which finished 14th in runs scored in 2017.   Adding a Jay Bruce will help further, given that the Giants’ outfield was one of the worst offensive outfields in the history of mankind, but even adding him to the mix won’t guarantee a middle-of-the-pack offense.  The team has plenty left to do, and not many prospects to make significant moves.  Losing Arroyo further diminishes their shaky system.  They will need to use what is left on the free agent market to move forward.

The Rays aren’t necessarily conceding anything by dealing their aging star.  They got a good prospect in return – one who should at least be able to move right in and take his spot.   However, if they were to sell off an asset like Chris Archer, that would be a signal that they don’t mind finishing close to the bottom next year, as long as they can continue to stockpile young players for their next run.    I like this deal from their perspective, and if one of the pitchers develops into a contributor, they may end up looking really good a few years down the road.



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