Evan Longoria might be the American League’s most indispensable player. We’re certainly about to find out now that he’s due to miss 6-8 weeks with a hamstring tear.
Longoria, the owner of a .329/.433/.561 line and 19 RBI in 23 games to start the season, was injured on a steal attempt during Monday’s game against the Mariners.
It might be a bit of an overstatement to call Longoria’s the league’s most indispensable player, considering that he’s never even finished in the top five in the MVP balloting. Longoria, though, was off to an MVP-caliber start this year, and the fact is that he’s on a team with a $65 million payroll, not the Yankees or Rangers. The Rays couldn’t afford to pay for depth over the winter.
Replacing Longoria at third base during last night’s game was Elliot Johnson, a lifetime .189/.258/.308 hitter. The Rays could also go with Jeff Keppinger there, but while he has a better stick than the alternatives, he’s still an awfully weak option as a third baseman against right-handers.
One option would be to call up Reid Brignac to play shortstop and move Sean Rodriguez to third base, giving the team it’s best defensive alignment. However, it looks like Brignac will stay in Triple-A for now, with former Tigers second baseman Will Rhymes coming up to replace Longoria. Rhymes would serve as an occasional second baseman when Ben Zobrist plays the outfield.
Another possibility: acquiring the right-handed-hitting Jose Lopez to help out at third base. Lopez was just designated for assignment by Cleveland after hitting .190 in five games during April. He hasn’t been any good these last two years, but he did impress this March and he has more upside than the alternatives.
The Rays will struggle to hit for power with Longoria out, which could lead to a Hideki Matsui promotion in a few weeks. In the meantime, Luke Scott and Matt Joyce will need to perform. Switch-hitter Ben Zobrist could hit third in between the lefties Pena and Scott.
For what it’s worth, the Rays went 19-12 with Longoria out of the lineup last year, so they did more than tread water without him. Still, he was the team’s driving force during its late push to overtake the Red Sox, hitting 17 homers and driving in 46 runs over the final two months. Life will get more difficult without him.