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Evan Longoria gives the Giants their best chance of winning in 2018

As long as you’re of the opinion that the future is filled with barrels of nuclear waste, this was the right strategy.

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Chicago Cubs v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

In addition to absorbing Denard Span’s contract, the Tampa Bay Rays are sending $14.5 million to the Giants in the Evan Longoria trade, spread out over several years, according to Marc Topkin. This changes how the trade should be perceived, at least a little.

Let us pretend we are in a utopian future where money doesn’t exist. All of your needs are taken care of, friend, so baseball players play simply for the love of the game. In this utopian future, you’re offered a choice of either Todd Frazier or Evan Longoria to play third base for your favorite team.

I would choose Longoria. Longer track record, higher peak. I’m curious about Frazier’s increased walk rate last year, but there’s no question that over their respective careers, Longoria has been the better player.

Money does matter, though, and so the question wasn’t just between Longoria and Frazier, but between $83 million with three prospects or whatever it took to sign the free agent. Estimates for Frazier range from $33 million to $48 million, but he’s almost certainly going to be cheaper than Longoria. At half the price and a shorter contract, I take Frazier.

With the Rays accepting Span back in the deal and sending over money, this gap narrows quite a bit. If the choice is between Frazier at $48 million and Longoria at $65 million (the Rays’ obligation to Span, along with the cash they’re sending over), I’m still choosing Longoria, if only by a little bit. We’ll see how I feel in 2021, but I trust him just a tiny bit more.

And if you crunch the numbers, like Eno Sarris did at the Athletic, you see that Longoria’s value on the open market was something like five years, $90.7 million, which is based on a projected average annual WAR of 2.1 over the life of the contract. The difference in that projection and the money that Longoria is owned is where Christian Arroyo comes in. The Giants gave one of their better prospects (relative, I know) up for what is essentially the ability to sign a player to a below-market deal.

That doesn’t mean Longoria is cheap. But he’s a bit cheaper than he probably would have been if he were a free agent. This isn’t even the most important part.

The most important part is that by using Span to get the salary relief, the Giants can spend more this year and stay under the luxury tax. If the Rays just sent over $30 million in cash, the Giants would have been about $11 million closer to the tax threshold. That would be $11 million they were less likely to spend on an outfielder.

What the Giants had to choose from if they wanted to address their hole at third base with a veteran, then, were a few different options:

Option A

Todd Frazier (~$12M)
A low-cost outfielder (~7M or less)

Option B

Eduardo Nuñez (~7M)
A moderately priced outfielder ($12M or less)

Option C

Maikel Franco (~1M)
An expensive outfielder or two lower-cost outfielders ($18M or less)
At least one top prospect leaving

Option D

Evan Longoria ($0, at least for this exercise)
An expensive outfielder or two lower-cost outfielders ($18M or less)
One top prospect leaving with two lesser prospects

Neither of the first two options appealed to me. I would probably take Option C, except that would rely on the Phillies agreeing to a trade, which they wouldn’t have to do. And Longoria is likely to be better in 2018, which is the only season we should care about, considering the rough patches that are almost certainly ahead. Even if Franco is a dominant force for several years, is he likely to help with a contending Giants team in those seasons? The odds are against that.

No, the more I look at this deal, and the more information that comes in about the money being saved and the implications for the Giants’ obligations for the luxury tax this year, the more I’m convinced this was the team’s best chance to improve the 2018 roster as much as possible. That’s why the Giants were willing to trade three prospects for an expensive player instead of spending to get a third baseman on the open market.

You can disagree with the cost, and you can disagree on just how valuable Longoria is expected to be, but I’m a fan of the creative all-in strategy for 2018. Even if they blow the savings on someone unlikely to help that much, like Jay Bruce, I’ll appreciate how they were able to even get to that point. That we can even talk about the possibility of Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen, while the Giants still get to dream about sliding under the luxury tax, was the result of some nifty sleight of hand.

I’m impressed.

Please don’t blow the savings on Jay Bruce or Jacoby Ellsbury now. Thank you.