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Friday, Jul 20, 2018
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Another way to look at Rays trade of Evan Longoria to Giants

John Romano is the Tampa Bay Times metro columnist, but he's also a lifelong baseball nut who follows the game closely and understands all aspects. Here is his take on the Rays decision to traded franchise cornerstone Evan Longoria to the Giants:

Examining the Longo trade, via the Socratic method:

Q: Would the Rays be a better team with Evan Longoria?

A: Yes.

Q: Would the Rays be a contending team with Longoria?

A: No.

Q: Why not?

A: The Rays won 80 games in 2017. To be a legitimate playoff team, you typically need 87-88 wins. So this team, which is losing Alex Cobb, Logan Morrison, Lucas Duda, Tommy Hunter, Steve Cishek and Sergio Romo to free agency, needs to improve by a half-dozen wins. And it must be done with a limited payroll. Sorry, but that's not likely to happen.

Q: But why not keep Longoria until the Rays are ready to contend again?

A: Trading Longoria during a down cycle does two things: It brings back an intriguing prospect (Christian Arroyo) and it saves money that can be used more wisely when the playoffs are in sight.

Q: Does that really work?

A: In 2005, Julio Lugo, Aubrey Huff, Danys Baez and Toby Hall were among the biggest names on the team.  By "06 they had all been traded. In return, the Rays got Ben Zobrist, Edwin Jackson, Dioner Navarro and a handful of others. By "08, they were in the World Series.

Q: So you're saying they could be in the playoffs again by 2020?

A: That's a crapshoot. The point is this is the most logical route to take.

Q: But that "05 team stunk anyway. The current Rays are decent. Why break them up?

A: The Rays have been below .500 for four consecutive seasons. At some point, you have to stop treading water and make a break for the shore.

Q: Okay, but Longo wasn't really that expensive. Doesn't trading him make us look cheap?

A: Yes, it does. And it's true that paying Longoria $13 million a year is a pretty good bargain in the MLB of 2018. But it's a question of circumstances.

Q: What do you mean?

A: Tampa Bay's payroll is likely to be in the $50-$60 million range. Longoria's contract would account for about 20-25 percent. That's too much. Giancarlo Stanton is the best hitter in baseball and making $25 million a year; but he'll account for less than 12 percent of New York's payroll. If you devote too much payroll to one player, the other 24 players are going to be weaker.

Q: So, given their low payroll, are the Rays just cheap?

A: Yes. And no.

Q: Are you trying to be annoying?

A: Clearly, the Rays spend less money than most teams in baseball. They also draw fewer fans than every team in baseball. There's a cause-and-effect thing there. But when the Rays thought they had a chance to make the playoffs last season, they spent more money to bring in Duda and Cishek and Dan Jennings at midseason.

Q: So why not build on that now?

A: Because they're not the same team anymore. Too many free agents. So the choice is this: Spend $70 million and win 75-80 games. Or spend $50 million and win 65-70 games.

Q: Um, doesn't winning 75-80 games sound better?

A: Yes, but at what cost to the future? Theoretically, if the Rays spend $50 million in 2018, and $60 million in 2019, then maybe they can afford to boost payroll to $90 million in 2020 and take a real shot at the playoffs.

Q: So it's all about money?

A: It's always about money.

Q: Can you at least agree that it stinks to lose Longo?

A: Of course it does. But people sacrifice every day to ensure a better tomorrow. You do it when you take a lower salary in order to invest in your business. Or when you drive a cheaper car to pay for your kid's college tuition. That's exactly what the Rays have done this week.

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