Over the weekend, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported that the Giants had some level of interest in Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, and following up on that report, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweets that the Giants have “keen interest” in swinging a deal for the Tampa Bay cornerstone. However, in order for any deal to work, Nightengale notes that the Giants would need the Rays to take the contract of either Hunter Pence or Denard Span back from the Giants in addition to whatever prospects San Francisco would send.
Taking on either of those contracts would be a fairly tall order for the cost-conscious Rays. Pence is entering the final season of a five-year, $90MM contract and is owed $18.5MM in 2018 — more than the $13.5MM that Longoria is set to take home this coming season. Obviously, taking on Pence’s deal would still provide the Rays with long-term cost savings — Longoria is owed $86MM over the next five years — but the short-term complications in that scenario are readily apparent.
Taking on Span’s deal would be closer to a cash-neutral proposition. He’s owed a $9MM salary plus a $4MM buyout in the coming year, though he will also reportedly be paid a deferred $3MM from his signing bonus come Jan. 20, 2018 as well, so even that scenario could require the Rays to take on some additional 2018 dollars.
Of course, if the Rays are to take on any salary in return, even a portion of one of those two deals, that’d give GM Erik Neander, senior VP Chaim Bloom and the rest of the front office greater cause to increase their ask in terms of prospects from a Giants system that is thin on upper-tier talent. At his current price tag of five years and $86MM, the 32-year-old Longoria isn’t exactly teeming with surplus value, though he remains a quality regular option at the hot corner.
Longoria hit .261/.313/.424 with 20 homers last season — the weakest offensive output of his career — but delivered excellent defensive marks at third base, leading to a season that was worth roughly three wins above replacement. The ever-durable Longoria has only missed 12 games since the start of the 2013 season and hasn’t been on the DL since 2012, though the downturn in his offensive profile in 2017 could create some cause for trepidation. Longoria’s ground-ball rate skyrocketed to 43.4 percent as his line-drive, fly-ball and hard-contact rates all fell. His infield-fly rate, meanwhile, trended upward for a fourth straight season.
Whether Longoria’s 2017 downturn was an aberration or the beginning of a decline remains to be seen but may also be a moot point in this instance. The Rays likely don’t relish the idea of taking on a negative-value asset in order to trade a player that has been the face of their franchise for nearly a decade, but the Giants can’t take on the $16.7MM luxury tax hit would accompany Longoria’s contract without pushing perilously close to the $197MM tax barrier.
San Francisco wants to avoid paying that tax for a fourth straight season and would love to reset its tax penalty — they’re currently set to pay a 50 percent tax on every dollar over that point this offseason and in subsequent years — making the Longoria scenario seem to be something of a reach.
If the Rays plan to trade Longoria at all, however, this would be the offseason to do it. He’ll gain 10-and-5 rights early in the 2018 season, which would provide him full veto power over any proposed trade.