The Tampa Bay Rays are an MLB small market team competing in a tough division, but they have talent and the financial positioning to compete quickly.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Tampa Bay Rays were one of the best success stories in all of Major League Baseball.
A small market ‘David’ with a horrible home ballpark, the Rays nonetheless parlayed astute player development and smart trades into a consistent contender in a division of ‘Goliath’ opponents.
For a half-dozen years from 2008-2013 the Rays were a playoff contender. The won the AL East Division crown in both 2008 and 2010.
The Rays also finished second in 2011 and 2013, and reached the postseason four times in that stretch. This included a 2008 World Series appearance.
The club faded to fourth place in both 2014 and 2015, but did not collapse. In those two seasons they finished a combined 10 games below the .500 mark. The collapse finally came this year with their first last place finish in nearly a decade.
One of the biggest keys when the Rays were winning was third baseman Evan Longoria.
During that 2008 AL pennant-winning campaign, Longoria won the American League Rookie of the Year Award. He slammed 27 homers, drive in 85 runs, and made the AL All-Star team.
It was the first of three straight All-Star appearances for Longoria. He also won an AL Gold Glove Award in both 2009 and 2010, and received AL MVP votes in five of his first six seasons.
A month ago, Longoria turned 30 years of age. As he hits baseball middle age, he remains a major key to any possible Rays future success.
That role as a key could come in a couple of ways, both made possible by Longoria’s contract situation.
The Rays signed their third baseman to a 15-year, $144.5 million deal that makes him one of the most affordable star caliber players in the game.
The contract ensures that he will remain affordable throughout its length, which is guaranteed through the 2022 campaign.
Thanks to that affordability, the Rays could keep him as a veteran cornerstone as they rebuild their lineup, or could use him as an attractive trade piece to acquire a couple of high-valued prospects or younger players.
On the field in 2016, Longoria bashed a career-high 36 home runs and knocked in 98, scoring 81 times. He hit for a .273 average, his highest in four years, and had a 127 OPS+ mark.
Longoria plays next to 27-year-old shortstop Brad Miller, one of the most underrated players in the game today. Their presence on the left side of the infield gives Tampa a nice start on building that future lineup.
The Rays have some strong young pitching and talented hitters coming through their system. The decision on what they choose to do with Longoria in the long-term will be interesting to watch.
Either way it goes, Longoria is sure to be a major key to any success for the Tampa Bay Rays over the next few years.