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.

Padres will try to lock up Fernando Tatís Jr. to a long term deal

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The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that the Padres will try to get Fernando Tatís Jr. locked up in a long-term deal before the start of the 2020 season.

It’d be a wise move from the team’s perspective, of course. Tatís showed in 2019 that he’s the future of the franchise, hitting .317/.379/.590 with 22 homers and 16 stolen bases through 84 games while playing spectacular defense at short. He was a serious contender for the Rookie of the Year Award before going down to injury and still finished third despite playing just a tad over half a season.

That talent and promise means that, in all likelihood, Tatís stands to make massive money in arbitration and free agency once he gets there. If he gets there, that is. Because as we’ve seen so often in recent years, teams have been aggressive in their efforts to lock up young stars like Tatís, buying out their arbitration and at least a couple of their free agency years. These deals tend to be team-friendly, with multiple team options aimed at getting maximal value out of such players before they hit the open market. Of course, the players get much more up front money than they would in the three seasons in which teams can and do set their salaries unilaterally, usually at less than $1 million per year. It’s a standard now vs. later tradeoff, even if the value of the “now” is far less than the value of “later” and even if it pays these guys far less than they’re worth overall.

But that’s the system. And it’s one which will force Tatís to make a tough choice: either take a deal at a time when the team has most of the leverage or else turn down millions in hand now in order take a shot at many more millions later. In his case, he’ll have a rookie season with multiple injuries to think about too. Does that portend future injury issues? Could he, like some players who have been in his shoes before, end up damaged goods by the time he expected to get paid?

We’ll see how both he and the Padres calculate all of that between now and February, it seems.