Desperate times call for desperate measures, and after San Francisco’s abysmal 2017 season desperation may be the name of the game for the Giants. Despite having a potential third baseman of the future in hand, Brian Sabean and company are going for a high-risk, high-reward play by bringing in Longoria, hoping that the move to real grass and the West Coast might put some life back in the former All-Star. It’s a gutsy move, and it might even work.
For the first nine years of his career, Longoria has been some version of the same player: above-average hitter and good, if not great, defender at third base. During his best seasons, he was a combination power and on-base threat, punishing mistakes and playing often despite the occasional injury that left him an impaired player or, in the case of 2012, cost him half a season. But over the past few years, Longo has been something of a sluggish slugger, and his production has tailed off from All-Star to “good regular” territory. He still smacks 20-plus homers, but his on-base percentage has hovered around .320 for the past four seasons. As you might imagine, over time his once-incredible fielding skills have dulled to the point where he’s a fine, if not exceptional, defender, more capable with his hands than with his arm or range. And he’s not much of a baserunner these days, either.
If the Giants are bringing in just an aging, moderately expensive veteran to hold down third base for the next several years, why bail on Arroyo and his terrific contact ability to make something of a lateral move? They think Longoria will see something of a renaissance in his age-32 season … and they might not be wrong. Longoria has long derided playing on the artificial surface in Tampa Bay, and while the damage may have already been done to his hamstrings, perhaps the crisp air and crisp grass in San Francisco will lighten his spirit and his step.
More critically, there’s a way that Longoria might be able to improve his hitting in San Francisco that’s under his control: stop swinging so much. Between 2013 and 2014, Longoria saw his walk rate drop because his swing rate rose, and this coincides with his slide from top-flight hitter to regular third baseman. In 2017 he swung more than ever, made more contact than ever … and it just resulted in more ground balls than ever. I’m not saying that one shift is a perfect panacea here, but last year pitchers gave him less to work with in the zone. By not making contact with pitches out of the zone (or worse pitches in the zone), he might be able to up his walk rate and also sit on pitches he can muscle into the outfield or beyond.
Still, a smart watcher of Longoria should project average or slightly above-average performance as he ages into the decline phase of his career. If you’re the Giants, that’s probably fine. Longoria’s downside isn’t very low–his defense and underlying hitting skills probably give him the absolute floor of a one-win player–and his upside is relatively high given his previous levels of performance. If the Giants aren’t afraid to continue to upgrade their roster, Longoria makes some sense as another in a line of veterans who could help push them near the top of a crowded NL West. The question is whether this particular player–and not, say, another outfielder or a pitcher–is the right allocation of both money and prospect resources.
I may be in the tank for Longoria thanks to 10 years of solid and sometimes spectacular production, but I do like this move for San Francisco, even though the cost was legit. The Giants have almost always been a veteran team over their last decade of success–or even longer in the Barry Bonds era–and manager Bruce Bochy and company can likely squeeze the best of what’s left out of their new third baseman. Unlike the Rays, who have to cut payroll and squeeze out every marginal dollar per run they can, the Giants can afford to add an expensive veteran, again, and hope the experience and skills are more than the sum of all parts. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that they’re looking to extend their current window and strike while they can. —Bryan Grosnick
When Longoria was called up on April 12, 2008, that was the end of the beginning of Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay. For the first 10 years of their existence, the Devil Rays were a fundamentally terrible team, finishing dead last in the AL East in nine of those seasons and fourth in their “best” season, 2004. (They won 70 games that year, a team high.) They’d cycled through a collection of interesting veterans and developed a homegrown star (Carl Crawford), but they’d never been good. Nevertheless, things were moving and changing in the background. Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon were playing modern-day Moneyball in the front office and on the field, and the team had one exceptional young player about to break through.
Drafted third overall in 2006, Longoria beat the hell out of minor-league pitching and forced his way to the majors to start the 2008 season. And from the minute he came up, he was a star. An exceptional defensive third baseman and a remarkable, complete hitter, he could’ve been “the guy whose name sounds like a famous actress” for his career if here weren’t so damn good. His rise coincided with one of the most exceptional and improbable reversals of fortune in MLB history—the Rays’ run to the 2008 World Series against the incredible Phillies. That season also saw the emergence of David Price and Ben Zobrist, but while the team produced other stars, none shone as brightly as Longoria, who was the prototypical fan-friendly slugging star.
He played like an All-Star for six consecutive seasons (though he only made the All-Star team in his first three) before time and injuries started a slow skills fade. He had a bit of a revitalization in 2016, but 2017 was another down year for the now-weathered veteran star. It was his 10th in Tampa Bay, and like the young and hungry teams of the late aughts, it started to appear that his time Rays blue and whites had passed. The Rays of today have no resemblance to the team of 10 seasons past: no Maddon, no Friedman, no Longoria. Where their old “Wall Street” analytics methodology once seemed like the plucky way an underdog could beat the odds and overtake the huge Yankees and Red Sox, now the team looks like something of an impersonal, cold corporation. Worst of all, they’re not even that good for all of their cybernetic cost-controlling acquisitions.
The Rays snuck wins using their The Extra 2% methodologies, but the strength of the older, greater Rays teams was always in the stars: Crawford, Price, Zobrist, James Shields, and even the too-forgotten Carlos Pena. Now that last link, and the greatest player in the team’s short history, is gone. From a purely analytical perspective, this move made sense: getting a talented young replacement at a fraction of the cost, plus a couple of interesting arms, makes the team better over the long term. Perhaps both player and team were ready to move on. Still, for those of us who went to the Trop to see the Rays play, often that meant going to see Longoria play. That meant a couple of slick plays at third base and maybe a dinger and a double. No player ever meant more to the Rays franchise, and that means that no matter the return, this move hurts.
Denard Span is simply salary ballast in this deal; unlikely to unseat any of the team’s regulars, he’ll either get a job as a part-time outfielder or get some form of release so Jake Bauers or Mallex Smith can play every day. His calling-card skills were once speed and defense, but too many lower-body injuries have robbed him of his wheels and left him a terrible defender in center field. Though he can still hit a little and makes sense as a corner outfielder, the Rays are loaded with left-handed bats. With the Rays, you never can quite tell how they’ll deploy someone–or what kinds of clever trades or signings they’ll pull in order to fill the gaps in their roster–but I’d project the team to put their younger talents in the field ahead of Span and use him sparingly, if at all. —Bryan Grosnick
Talk about an exclamation point on an up-and-down year for Christian Arroyo. The Giants’ first-rounder in 2013 rode an absurd two-and-a-half weeks of .446/.478/.692 Triple-A dominance in April to a big-league debut that went, well, just about the opposite of that. He’s never been an especially patient hitter, and big-league pitchers exploited his exuberance to induce vastly more swings and misses than minor-league hurlers ever could. A demotion back to the PCL ensued, then one disabled list stint, then another, with the latter a finishing blow to his season courtesy of a fastball to the wrist in early July. He attempted to make up for some of that lost time in the Dominican Winter League, but a recurrence of wrist soreness put the kibosh on that effort. And now, he’s been traded.
The calling card with Arroyo has always been his hit tool, which is a fundamentally sound place to start. He’s demonstrated outstanding hand strength, coordination, and barrel control going back to his amateur days, and the aforementioned aggressiveness has generally been rooted in a well-founded confidence in his ability to put quality contact on pitches in any quadrant. He added a leg kick last year in hopes of better engaging his lower half to tap into additional power, though it remains to be seen if the change will prove positive, given the injury lot.
It’s been a generally assumed eventuality that he would have to move off of shortstop at the higher levels, and true to form he slid over to the hot corner for the majority of his major-league reps. The arm strength and reactions of a solid third-sacker are present, and he should continue to offer as-needed versatility all around the infield. A hopefully healed wrist and ostensibly clearer path to playing time in Tampa Bay should go nicely with his natural level of readiness to tackle an everyday role next season.
A first-rounder who didn’t sign out of high school, Matt Krook’s draft stock tumbled all the way to the fourth round three years later on the heels of a wildly inconsistent junior season at Oregon. “Wildly” is the operative word there, as Krook’s command and control have proven a liability at pretty much every turn. He struggled mightily as a starter in the Giants organization, with issues largely traceable to poor balance through his drive and subsequent timing issues that saw his arrival at release point vary considerably from pitch to pitch. He walked north of seven batter per nine innings across 17 starts for San Jose last season, before a midseason conversion to the bullpen offered a brand new lease on life.
The success in relief wasn’t a particularly outlandish development, as the raw stuff is quite good. That it played up in short bursts shouldn’t necessarily surprise. As a starter the fastball sat pinned around 90 mph with outrageous movement that further exacerbated the control issues. Working exclusively out of the stretch, he more effectively ran it through the zone while maintaining plane and wiggle. The curveball was one of the better ones in the Cal last year, and especially in the context of a strict one-two punch off the gas, it works just fine to miss bats. The 65 plate appearances High-A hitters took against Krook the Reliever yielded a woeful .121/.215/.138 line, and the hope for the Rays is that he can hold onto those new-role gains through the higher minors. —Wilson Karaman