Evan Longoria’s injury a crushing blow to Rays

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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.

Rival Executives Expect Justin Verlander To Hit The Trading Block

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About a month ago, a report circulated that if the Detroit Tigers weren’t above .500 by the end of June, they were going to chuck the season, look to trade off veterans and rebuild. It’s now June 29 and the Tigers are 34-42 and sit six games out of first place.

As such, we should not be too terribly surprised to see a report from Jeff Passan of Yahoo that multiple baseball executives expect Tigers ace Justin Verlander to hit the trade market sometime in the next two weeks. Passan notes that the Tigers haven’t formally offered him and that he’s just passing along speculation from rivals, but it’s pretty astute speculation.

The question is what the Tigers can get for Verlander. On the one hand, yes, Verlander is Verlander and has been one of the top starters in baseball for a decade. While he had struggled for a bit, last year featured a return to Cy Young form. He still has a blazing fastball and there is no reason to think he could not anchor the staff of a playoff caliber team.

On the other hand, as Passan notes, his 2017 has been . . . not so good. He looks amazing at times and very hittable at other times. Overall his walk rate is way up and his strikeout rate is down. There doesn’t appear to be anything physically wrong with him — various ailments contributed to his 2014-15 swoon — so it’s possible he’s just had a rough couple of months. Like I said, Verlander is Verlander, and it may not be a bad gamble to expect him to run off a string of dominant starts like he has so many times in the past.

The problem, though, is that anyone acquiring Verlander is not just gambling on a handful of starts down the stretch. They’re gambling on the $56 million he’s owed between 2018 and 2019 and the $22 million extra he’ll be guaranteed for 2020 if he finishes in the top five in Cy Young voting in 2019. Those would be his age 35, 36 and 37 seasons. There are certainly worse gambles in baseball, but it’s a gamble all the same.

If the Tigers don’t find any gamblers out there on the market, they’re going to have to make a gamble of their own: let Verlander go and get relatively little in return if another club picks up that $56 million commitment or eat it themselves and get prospects back in return to help kickstart a rebuild. Personally I’d go with the latter option, but I don’t work for the Illitch family.

 

There is a Tyler glut in baseball

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It’s a slow news morning — Miguel Montero is gone and everyone else is quiet — so you should go read Tyler Kepner’s latest column over at the New York Times. It’s, appropriately, about Tylers.

There are a lot of them in baseball now, Tyler notes. No Larrys and hardly any Eddies or Bobs. This obviously tracks the prevalence of the name Tyler in the population at large and the declines in Larrys, Eddies and Bobs. It’s the kind of thing I imagine we’ve all noticed from time to time, and it’s fun to do it in baseball. For his part, Kepner tries to make an all-Tyler All-Star team. The results are sort of sad.

There are always one or two Craigs floating around baseball from time to time, but not many more than that. We got a Hall of Famer recently, so that’s pretty nice. There will likely be fewer over time, as Craig — never even a top-30 name in popularity — is now near historic lows. I’m not complaining, though. I never once had to go by “Craig C.” in class to differentiate myself from other Craigs. Our biggest problem is being called Greg. We tend to let it pass. Craigs are used to it by now.