The Evan Longoria Demotion Debate

The idiots are taking over
Profiling the Big Three

For a team that’s never won more than 70 games, the Tampa Bay Rays are surrounded by buzz this year. Certain measures on Baseball Prospectus are predicting as many as 89 wins for the Rays while other people have tempered expectations of a .500 season for the AL East’s perennial bottom-feeders.

No matter the prognosis, it’s safe to say that the Rays are no longer the doormats of the American League. Why then is the team still run that way?

Earlier this week, after a very hot spring, Rays prospect Evan Longoria was exiled to the team’s AAA club in Durham. He wasn’t sent down for seasoning or maturation; rather, he was demoted because the Rays don’t want his arbitration and free agency clocks to start ticking. As Rays bloggers have noted, Longoria should be up in the Majors by the end of May, and the Rays will still hold his rights through the 2014 season. Had they allowed Longoria, the better third baseman in their camp, to head north with the team on Opening Day, they’d see him hit free agency in 2013.

Fans of the Rays are more or less unhappy with this move. Rays Index surveyed his fellow Tampa bloggers and found a mixture of outrage and disbelief. The players themselves are not too happy about the news either as quotes from Jonny Gomes and Carl Crawford show.

Rays of Light feels betrayed by management. “I can’t help but feel we were lied to by the Rays. Though they said prior to Spring Training that he would get a chance to compete for the job, I don’t really feel like that’s what he was allowed to do,” Scott Caruso wrote. For a team in need of fans, sending down one of their better players in the name of business sure isn’t a very popular idea.

But, hey, we’re Yankee fans. What do we care about the Tampa Bay Rays? If the Rays, who have played the Yanks hard over the last few seasons, are weaker for it in April and May, who am I to complain? Well, from an on-field perspective, the move is great. But from the economic perspective, it’s fairly despicable.

The Rays as a team don’t enjoy a high revenue stream, and they don’t have too many fans who pack their unremarkable stadium. Instead, they survive on small payrolls and revenue-sharing payments from the game’s big guns. So with these riches, the Rays are opting to weaken their team in order to save a few bucks down the road.

While some fans ridiculed Hank Steinbrenner for noting that the Yankees fund the Rays, the truth is that the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers and Angels all fund the league’s poorer teams. If the Rays aren’t going to use these funds to field the best possible team, shouldn’t the Yankees have their revenue sharing contributions back?

An independent commissioner could step in and stop this exploitation of loopholes in the service time rules, but Bud would never dirty his hands over this issue. Meanwhile, in the Bronx, we can just raise our eyebrows and wonder why exactly the Yankees are left funding everyone else if everyone else isn’t going to put the money to use.

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The idiots are taking over
Profiling the Big Three
  • Brian

    Ode to Rays

    As the Rays did to Delmon,
    they so doeth unto Evan,
    may they so doeth unto David,
    unto Davis, unto all their
    ballplaying brethren.

    Sweet blessings I have known.

  • Harry G

    Great post!

  • Harry G

    As I was reading the 1st part of the post, I was already thinking what U wrote in the end. I couldn’t have said it any better & i’m happy to see somebody finally raise the issue. ppl always complain that the Yankees “buy” their players (though this argument is being thrown out much less lately with the emergence of the Big Three & guys like Chris Russo shutting up because they see that their teams are the ones spending crazy money i.e. Barry Zito…) & that the low-market teams like the Rays

  • Harry G

    & Royals can’t compete. But as this post proves, the fact of the matter is that the reason these teams don’t compete with the big boys isn’t because they CAN’T but rather because they don’t WANT. That’s why I like Hank, he’s the only one guy who isn’t afraid to raise issues that other ppl neglect to mention. Ppl hatin on the Yanks need to realize that they’re the ones who are stuffing the little guys with cash & those teams take that money & instead of using it to put out the best product on

  • Harry G

    the field, they inexplicably pocket the money & don’t use it where they should. GO YANKEES! (sorry for the multiple posts, i’m posting from my phone & it looks like there’s some problems here… Sprint Mobile Web Stinks!) Anyway, like I said, great post.

  • dan

    Andrew Friedman should realize that the Rays are expected to compete this season. They will have a much harder time doing that if Longoria is in the minors. If they piss him off, he can just burn them when he has some negotiating leverage in arbitration and free agency. This is not the way to deal with ML-ready star players. Ryan Braun and the Brewers last year was one thing (he can’t catch or throw the ball), but the Rays’ handling of Longoria is going to be bad for both sides. Which, of course, is good for the Yankees.

  • http://www.thebronxzoo.wordpress.com iYankees

    I understand people love Longoria, but, he could still use some AAA seasoning. He’s only 21 years old and the Rays can get a lot more out of him if he spends some time in the minors and learns to hit for a higher average. He’s going to be big, yes, but the Rays have certainly demonstrated that they’re committed to winning now and in the future. They’ll have their core of Upton, Crawford, Pena, Longoria, Aki, Kazmir, Garza, Shields, all next year (I believe) too.

  • sciorsci

    You’re really talking about 6 weeks of service time to save a year of free agency. The Rays don’t have the revenue streams that some of their divisional rivals do, so they have to find other ways to keep themselves financially viable. I don’t know how you can laud the Yanks for buying out Cano’s arbitration years without realizing that, from a strategic standpoint, the Rays are doing something similar.

    And while you can make an argument that the Rays are expected to compete this year, the truth is, they’re probably better off slowing down Longoria’s arbitration clock as some of their other young prospects, such as Price and Niemann, develop so that they can bring their core talent into contention together, much like the A’s did in the late nineties.

    Does it make the Rays weaker early on this year? Possibly. Then again, who’s to say that the Rays aren’t preventing Longoria from becoming this year’s Alex Gordon, and instead helping him become this year’s Ryan Braun?

  • Miles Roche

    Hey, Harry, great rant…

  • http://www.thebronxzoo.wordpress.com iYankees

    sciorsi makes a good point. what if longoria comes in and struggles? then what do they do and who do they turn to? i understand rays fans are upset, but you also have to be realistic about a 21-year old kid.

  • http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=56352514 Jamal G.

    I definitely understand the uproar Rays fans and others have about this move. However, I would have to agree with the Tampa Bay front office on this one because like sciorsci said, low-revenue teams have to find creative ways to keep their budding superstars as long as financially possible. Honestly when you think about it, does Evan Longoria starting at 3B over Willy Aybar make that much of a significant difference in just one month worth of games? Is Longoria realistically going to contribute 5-7 extra wins over Aybar in the month of April that would really make a difference in the standings?

    Again, I definitely understand the uproar, but I don’t think it is as outrageous and blasphemous as people are making it out to be. If anything they are actually bettering the Rays by keeping him an entire season longer by cutting short his rookie season by one month. So which would you have, a full rookie season and six total seasons of Evan Longoria or one month shy of 7 seasons of Evan Longoria? Views may change a bit from that perspective don’t you think?

  • http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=56352514 Jamal G.

    OK, wait a God Damn second. If you read the article that Ben posted as the “Carl Crawford” link, then you’ll see something rather interesting. According to MLB.com, the Rays only have to delay Longoria’s debut until mid-April to keep him from becoming a free agent until the 2014 off-season. So if that’s true and it really is mid-April and not May then I take back what I said in my previous post, I DO NOT understand the uproar. Your going to bitch about a couple weeks of non-Longoria Rays when he would be able to stay with the team an extra season of what should be his prime years at 27? Are you kidding me? That’s idiotic and very short sighted for fans and followers of a small market/low-revenue team. Again IF MLB.com is correct, and he would only have to be at AAA until mid-April for the free agency not to begin until after the 2014 season then this is a no-brainer move by the Tampa Bay organization.

    I defy anyone to tell me there is a valid argument for a small market team to forgo an extra year of service time from a top prospect just to appease fans and media and have him up on Opening Day. I literally sit here and defy someone to give me a valid argument IF MLB.com’s article in which it states that he has to be at AAA only until mid-April for the extra 2014 season to be part of his service time with the Rays.

    • Sciorsci

      Jamal,

      Even if it was May, there’s really no valid argument against what the Rays are doing. They’re trading a month of 21-year old Evan Longoria for a year of 27-year-old Evan Longoria.

      They haven’t made a trade that shrewd since Kazmir.

      • NYFan50

        I agree with this line of thought exactly. From a long-term standpoint this is clearly the right move to make. Longoria might be ready now, but I’d make the “deal” you outlined above in a second. The Rays might be ok this year, but let’s not pretend that 6 weeks of Longoria, either way, is going to make the difference between making the playoffs and not.

  • It’sMeSNITCHES!!!

    I was just pissed because I drafted him on my fantasy team.. damn it’s late.

  • LiveFromNewYork

    I beat this revenue sharing drum all the time. The Yankees generate scads of revenue for other teams only to see those teams’ owners put the money anywhere but into the team. Revenue sharing was supposed to level the playing field, as it did in football, but baseball owners of small market teams are content to see their revenue sharing checks as personal income. It’s total crap.

  • CB

    Joe Maddon’s whole reason for why Johnson breaking Cervelli’s wrist was because the point of baseball is to win every game.

    Even spring training games had to be one. It was a new Rays team. They had to completely overhaul their entire organizational attitude and culture. That was the whole thing with Maddon and Friedman.

    Can’t have it both ways. Can’t say we are going to do everything it takes to win everygame (even spring training) and then send down longoria. Can’t do it.

    All of the players, including Longoria, who could be the face of their franchise one day know the team is just lying.

    Before the Rays – Yankees game last week I listened to the Tampa pregame. They were interviewing Maddon and they asked about Longoria. It was just embarrassing to listen to Maddon lying through his teeth. Basically what he said was that you can’t make too much of spring training – the pitching isn’t as good as regular season. He said that Longoria hadn’t seen real good sliders and needed more “work” in AAA.

    But of course willy aybar is fine hitting major league sliders.

    It would be one think if Longoria was like Jay Bruce. Fine send him to the minors. But Longoria is an accomplished college player. And the Rays have bee very conservative already with his development. It was clear since they drafted him they were trying to delay his entry into the majors.

    • sciorsci

      Can’t have it both ways? Sure you can. The point is to win every game, but not at the expense of tomorrow’s game. The Rays may be incrementally weaker (there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that Longoria might struggle when he first faces regular season MLB competition, a la Alex Gordon last year) with Longoria at AAA, but they’re giving themsleves the opportunity to win many more games 6 years from now, when they’ve essentially bought back a year of Longoria’s free agency in exchange for the first month of his rookie season.

      As for those who are using the revenue sharing argument, the Rays are not the right team to point to for your example. They’re not the type of team that passes on guys for signability issues. Granted, the reason why they’re always picking at the top of the draft is because they’ve been so bad, but at the same time, they have always made an effort to pick the most talented player and they get him signed.

      With all the prospects they have coming up in the next year or two, they have every right to be careful with their money (even if it is coming via revenue sharing). It’s not like Longoria’s their only concern. They also have Upton, Crawford, Kazmir, Shields, Price, Pena, Niemann, Brignac, etc. This is a macro issue; they need to balance all of their financial concerns and try to do what ultimately benefits the club.

      Again, I ask you, what’s more valuable: a month of 21-year-old Longoria, or a year of 27-year-old Longoria? And if you really want to add some context, pay attention to what other prospects currently in the Tampa system might be ready to join Longoria within that timeframe?

      The Rays aren’t going to be able to keep all of that young talent coming up through their system right now, revenue sharing or not; it’s just too high-ceiling and there’s too much of it. Longoria, if he reaches his potential, will either be the guy they keep at the expense of much of their other talent, or the guy they let walk so that they can keep other guys. Meanwhile, they can ensure that they’ll get to keep him for an additional year at a more reasonable rate by sacrificing one month of his rookie year. This, to me, is a no-brainer.

      • CB

        Nope. Can’t say that you are claiming to be changing the entire organizational culture this year and then send down the guy who is probably already the 4th or 5th best hitter on the team.

        Doesn’t work that way if you really want to win. This is going to hurt the Rays down the line. All of the veterans and all of the prospects will easily see through this charade. It sends an awful message.

        If this was BJ upton a few years ago, a guy who didn’t go to college, fine. But Longoria was already one of the most accomplished, polished hitters to come out of college in recent years.

        And the thing that makes the Rays look like such a joke is how Friedman and Maddon just keep lying about it. Everyone knows why they are doing this – all of the players and the fans know its just money – so why claim that Longoria is going to AAA because he hasn’t faced enough sliders?

        That king of bald face lying just makes you sound stupid as an organization.

        • Sciorsci

          Of course you can say they’re changing the organizational culture. Previously, they’ve brought up guys like Baldelli (though that’s an unfortunate situation), Crawford, even Young and Dukes, as soon as they deemed them MLB-ready.

          Now, they’re exhibiting more of a long-range plan, and they’re still be criticized for it. They are likely aiming to truly compete in 2010 or so (when their young arms will catch up to their young bats, theoretically). From that point on, their budget will likely only give them a finite number of years within which to contend. Why sacrifice a year of prime-age production from one of their potential stars during that window of opportunity to satisfy a fickle fan base in April/May before that window of competitiveness really begins? It doesn’t make any sense.

          Also, don’t underestimate the additional pressure of starting the season with the MLB club, versus starting in AAA and being called up early in the season. I keep using the example of Ryan Braun vs. Alex Gordon. While it’s easy now to claim that Braun’s superior production might be the result of better talent, that’s not what most people thought a year ago. But Braun was allowed to start in Nashville, have some additional success at the AAA level, and then join a Milwaukee team that was already doing well. As such, he was asked to contribute, rather than carry the team. Gordon, on the other hand, didn’t really get his feet under him until June anyway. April and May were wasted months for him, and what’s Kansas City’s reward? They get to deal with his impending free agency a year earlier.

          Revenue sharing or not, economics are an issue for 80% of MLB teams. It’s not like the Rays are going to just use 8 hitters and not have a 3B in the field; 21-year-old rookie Longoria’s value for 6 weeks relative to a replacement-level player will probably not be a huge difference. Even if it amounts to a few games (and that’s being generous), this season should be more about building a foundation for the team going forward, not trying to somehow topple the two biggest franchises in the sport ahead of schedule.

          Whether or not Friedman and/or Maddon are being somewhat disingenuous about their reasons for sending Longoria down (I’m sure there actually are some very good baseball-related reasons for wanting the kid to see more AAA pitching; to continue the Braun analogy, he was pretty polished himself coming out of UM), this is the right decision. The Rays may not be a better team in 2008 as a result of Longoria starting the season in Durham, but they’ll be a better franchise over the next 5-10 years as a result of making smart personnel decisions that will allow them to keep their core talent together long enough simultaneously to contend in a division that will never be easy to compete in.

  • http://skyking162.com Sky

    How is this the Rays “pocketing money”? Yes, this move will save them money in 2014, but chances are Friedman will spend that money on additional talent. The Rays have a budget that they’ll stick to. Saving money in one way allows them to spend it in another — for example, another reliever to bolster the bullpen that was darn awful in 2007.

    Yankee fans need to understand that most other teams can’t just spend another $5 or $10MM when necessary to fill a hole. That money has to come from saving money somewhere else.

    I’m fine with people having a problem with sending Longoria down. It makes the team worse in 2007 and they DO have a chance to compete. It actually doesn’t save them THAT much money (final year arbitration deals are about 80% the value of free agent contracts). And it pisses off players, fans, and future prospects coming up through the system. But to have a problem because you think the Rays are pocketing money is ridiculous. They’ve bumped up the 2007 payroll by at least $15MM in 2008 and it will only continue to grow.

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  • Curramba

    If this kid were in the Bronx there would be no problem with him starting the season in the Bigs but he’s in Tampa a team that is competing with the Yankees and other high spending teams, I for one see no problem with Tampa slowing down his free agency clock for a year. He’ll get his chance at the Bigs in about a month and won’t have to see the minors again if he produces.

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

    Just to clarify: My argument here is based on the assumption that the Rays will be competitive this season and that two months with Longoria could hurt their chances for a shot at October. Of course, if Kazmir’s out for a while or their pitching doesn’t hold up, they can keep Longoria in the minors for the whole season, and it won’t make much of a difference. But if they’re trying to sell fans and players on a winning team, this is not the right first step.

    • CB

      That’s the thing. Why should the Rays bring up Longoria at all this season? If they want to get the best 6 years of Longoria’s early career during the period in which they will be more competitive they could just keep him in the minors until next may.

      They’ll likely be better next year than this year. That way they can control him until 2016. At some point there’s no end to this type of thinking.

  • boones

    Rays = Smart

  • Sciorsci

    You’re right. They could just try to bury the kid until he’s closer to his prime-age years, but the Rule V draft exists to make sure that doesn’t happen. Also, part of reaching a player’s prime does require the learning curve of playing against MLB competition. But the idea that a month of learning curve development for a 21-year-old rookie (even one as polished as Longoria) is somehow more valuable than a year of production out of a 27-year-old potential star is extremely short-sighted, in my opinion.

  • Sciorsci

    That last comment was in response to CB’s 10:57am post.

  • Curramba

    Sciorsci,
    Do you honestly think that the Rays with or without Longoria will make the PS this year? If your answer to that is no, then the obvious choice is to leave the kid in the minors for a month and slow down his FA clock.

    • Sciorsci

      No, I don’t think they’ll make the postseason this season, regardless of whether Longoria plays 160 games or 120 games. That’s been part of my argument all along. I think you might be confusing my point with the exact opposite of what I’ve been trying to say.

  • ceciguante

    it may not taste good to rays fans or their other players who want to believe that they are playing for this october, but as a management decision they just upped longoria’s value by waiting 6 or 7 weeks to bring him up. for all the talk on this blog about how hughes is a better bet than santana b/c of the # of years the yanks have him under control for cheap, i’m surprised there is no similar appreciation of the rays converting ~7 weeks of replacement value performance into a whole extra year of control over longoria. it’s a no brainer management decision, not an issue of revenue sharing. this is the best move for the rays organization, the big payroll teams shouldn’t knock it.

  • http://www.mvn.com/mlb-rays Eric SanInocencio

    What the Rays front office is trying to build is a sustained competition for the next decade. I can’t imagine that in the midst of all this planning they’d succumb to emotions and entertain an extra two months of Evan Longoria. I’m not advocating Evan not playing this season, but just that fans and management wait until Memorial Day.

    If you do that, then in 2014 you’ll have Evan Longoria reaching his peak seasons while penciled into the middle of your order. At age 27, one has to think that he’ll be better than he is right now. More mature, stronger and capable of putting up better numbers.

    Couple that with then ace David Price, and you have a team full of blue chip players on the field, not just in the prospect books. While they may not be the team we recognize today, it will still presumably have more a chance to compete for a championship than the 2008 version.

    http://mvn.com/mlb-rays/2008/0.....-triple-a/

  • Bob R.

    If you think the Rays’ blogs have some consensus on the issue, you are not reading the right ones. In fact, even at Rays of Light there are dissenting views, and on some blogs the opinion is either evenly divided or very much in favor of the move.

    As a matter of fact, the Rays are doing exactly the right thing with Longoria, and the fact they are doing it in the face of some obvious backlash (and I stress “some”), it is proof not of foolishness or stinginess but of courage to stay with a clear and rational plan for building a consistent contender. It is not simply that Longoria can only benefit from more AAA time, no matter what ill-informed and long distance analysts think or for that matter what his own teammates think (there are many explanations for their statements), but also that the separation of business decisions from baseball decisions is artificial. They are intimately related and only by making smart business decisions can any team, and that includes the Yankees, hope to compete effectively.

    I suggest you check DRays Bay and Rays Anatomy to find more rational discussion of the issue. I also suggest that before pronouncing on motives of the Rays’ management, you study more carefully their activities for the past two years, activities that clearly demonstrate their commitment to winning and willingness to do what is necessary to reach that goal. Considering the generally emotional and short-sighted views of a few fans is hardly useful in forming an opinion of what the Rays are accomplishing.

    Incidentally, Hank Steinbrenner’s statements about revenue sharing were about as asinine as anyone can imagine. He was not just making an entirely irrelevant point at the time, but was addressing it to the wrong people.