While this winter’s MLB free agent market remains curiously stagnant, with all but a handful of the top available hitters and starting pitchers still seeking employment for 2018, the trade market remains rich and thriving — two realities that are almost certainly more than coincidental.
On Wednesday, the San Francisco Giants, who had been on the lookout for a veteran third baseman, pried away three-time all-star Evan Longoria from the Tampa Bay Rays for infielder Christian Arroyo, veteran center fielder Denard Span and two prospects. The Rays also kicked in an undisclosed amount of money to offset the $86 million owed to Longoria, the greatest player in the franchise’s history, through 2023.
The trade was a powerful indication the Giants were not ready to commit to a full rebuild, even after their disastrous 98-loss season in 2017, when they finished 40 games behind the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers. For a team already loaded with aging veterans, the trade for Longoria carries significant risk for the Giants, as Longoria, 32, has shown signs of entering a decline phase, posting career-low numbers in 2017; he is, however, just a year removed from a 36-homer, .521-slugging season in 2016.
Unlike other teams that might have gone in the opposite direction, the Giants’ response to last season’s bottoming-out has been to think big for 2018. They were one of seven finalists to land Japanese two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani, before he chose the Los Angeles Angels instead, and were one of the teams trying hardest to pry slugger Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins. But Stanton, wielding full no-trade privileges, vetoed a proposed deal with the Giants — later saying he didn’t see them as being ready to contend immediately — and maneuvered himself to the New York Yankees.
The Giants’ trade for Longoria is also more proof that the trade market has superseded the free agent market for many teams in search of premium talent. The Giants had been linked throughout the winter to free agent third baseman Mike Moustakas, but signing him would have cost the Giants a 2018 draft pick and international bonus-pool money — added costs they weren’t willing to take on.
While the Giants filled their third base need with Longoria, Moustakas remains part of the stable of free agent hitters — which also includes his former Kansas City Royals teammates Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain, plus outfielder J.D. Martinez — still waiting to latch onto a team for 2018. First baseman Carlos Santana, who took a three-year $60 million deal from the Philadelphia Phillies, is the only top-tier free agent hitter to have signed so far this winter.
For the Rays, the trade of the most significant figure in their 20-year history marks the start of what could be a drastic teardown effort, with other assets including outfielder Corey Dickerson, catcher Wilson Ramos, starting pitchers Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi and closer Alex Colome among those who will likely to be shopped in the coming months.
“Evan is our greatest Ray,” Tampa Bay principal owner Stuart Sternberg said in a statement. “For a decade, he’s been at the center of all our successes, and it’s a very emotional parting for all of us.”
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