© 2023 BSN LIVE, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
From 2008 to 2013, Evan Longoria was one of the 10 best position players in baseball. He got MVP votes in five of those seasons, he made three All-Star teams and won two Gold Gloves. He hit .275/.357/.512 in 3,419 plate appearances. And by the end of that stretch, he was still just 27.
A decade has passed, and Longoria has fallen off the Hall-of-Fame trajectory of his early days in the league. Nonetheless, he’s still accumulated 7,500-plus plate appearances with a 120 OPS+, a feat that only eight third basemen in MLB history have accomplished. The Diamondbacks believe he still has something to offer, particularly for a team as young as theirs.
“Evan was someone we pursued all offseason,” Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen said. “We’ve been talking about…adding veteran presence onto the club, somebody that’s been around and done what he’s done, accomplished what he’s accomplished. He still hits the ball extremely hard. He’s still a good third baseman. And so all of those things were big net positives for us in bringing him on.”
According to the Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro, Longoria’s deal with the Diamondbacks is for one year and $4 million with an additional $1 million in potential bonuses. Ironically, the San Francisco Giants owe him more guaranteed money than the Diamondbacks in 2023, with a $5 million buyout in lieu of Longoria’s $13 million club option.
Longoria is the latest addition to a sizable group of veterans Hazen has brought in on one-year deals over the years. In 2022, the D-backs had two. One of them was Zach Davies, who performed well enough that the team has reportedly re-signed him for 2023. The other, Ian Kennedy, managed to outperform his peripherals for the majority of the year before falling apart in the last month. Based on fWAR, Kennedy had the worst season of any reliever in baseball.
Surely, the adage that “There is no such thing as a bad one-year contract” has not proven true for the Diamondbacks. Kennedy’s is far from the only one-year deal that hasn’t panned out. Here is a list of every free-agent pitcher Hazen has signed on a one-year, major-league deal since taking over prior to the 2017 season.
In total, the Hazen regime spent roughly $25 million on this group for a total of 2.4 bWAR. That works out to roughly $10 million per WAR. One WAR is said to be worth around $8 million on the open market, which suggests Hazen’s results have been below-average. Switching gears to position players, the results are similarly bleak.
Since Chris Iannetta’s outstanding 2017 season, the Diamondbacks have received just 0.3 bWAR from this group, despite a combined price tag of over $13 million. Suffice it to say the D-backs’ track record with one-year contracts is not great.
On paper, Longoria looks like the type of player that could buck that trend. Despite being the eldest of the group — he is entering his age-37 season — Longoria has been more productive in recent years than anyone on that list. In 2022, he slashed .244/.315/.451 with 14 homers and 42 RBI in 89 games. His 124 wRC+ against lefties would have ranked third on the 2022 Diamondbacks (min. 100 PA), trailing only Ketel Marte and Christian Walker.
Granted, Longoria has not reached 90 games played in a season since 2019. Expecting him to suddenly be a reliable, everyday player would be a gamble. The Diamondbacks do not plan to do that, however.
“We talked with Evan about [how], given where he’s moving into his career, I don’t know that 550, 600 plate appearances is the best way to maximize his contributions to our team,” Hazen said.
The Diamondbacks plan to use Longoria in a platoon of sorts at third base, with Longoria getting the lion’s share of at-bats against lefties and Rojas getting most of the at-bats against righties. Rojas will also get starts at second base, and Longoria figures to get some at-bats at DH, too.
Longoria’s part-time role signals something of a shift for the franchise. In the past, most veterans brought in on one-year deals have been tasked with roles that, out of necessity, were quite bullish. Adam Jones, for example, was an everyday outfielder for the D-backs in 2019, despite being well below-average on both sides of the ball. Similarly, Asdrubal Cabrera played nearly every day that he was healthy in 2021. The Diamondbacks made those choices not because Jones and Cabrera were likely to be good everyday players, but because they simply had no better options.
In Longoria’s case, the D-backs appear to be striking a balance between acquiring needed depth while also using that depth in an appropriate way. Longoria is not an .850-OPS, Gold Glove-caliber third baseman anymore. But can he still smack lefties and flash some decent leather at the hot corner? Based on his recent track record, the answer appears to be yes.
Whether Longoria will be able to fill that role for 162 games, though, is another question. On that, his recent track record answers a resounding no. Longoria had four separate stints on the injured list in 2022, all for different parts of the body. Still, the addition of Longoria makes the D-backs deeper at third base.
Previously, had Josh Rojas gone down with an injury, the team would likely have handed the full-time third base role over to Emmanuel Rivera or recent trade acquisiton Diego Castillo, neither of whom has shown the ability to hit righties in the big leagues. Now, with Longoria in the fold, an injury to Rojas would simply make Longoria the everyday player. An injury to Longoria could be mended simply by using Rivera in Longoria’s platoon role, which Rivera seems well-suited for based on his ability to hit lefties.
What the Diamondbacks have established at third base is something the team — and, to be fair, a lot of other teams — have not had enough of in recent years: depth. In nearly every plausible scenario, the D-backs will have a viable big leaguer ready to play third base. Too often in years past — and particularly in the blood bath that was the 2021 season — that depth was absent. Look at every other position around the diamond for 2023, and you’ll see a similar abundance of backup plans that should pay dividends when injures arise.
Granted, there is an undeniable possibility that Longoria comes out this season and takes a significant step back from who he has been in recent years. Heck, the guy is 37 and has already logged 15 seasons in the big leagues. Maybe Rivera takes a step forward in his development and is actually better than Longoria when all is said and done. There is a world in which Longoria hurts more than he helps on the field.
While that would be unfortunate, the Diamondbacks value Longoria’s contributions in other ways, too.
“I still think there are areas to our team that we need to continue to improve in terms of winning…close ballgames,” Hazen said. “Players like Evan contribute in major ways that aren’t always seen to those winning moments. Whether it’s helping a young player pick out a pitch they’re going to get or surviving a tough loss the next day and making sure that your team bounces back, I think those are the biggest areas that we feel there can be an impact here off the field.
“We are going to rely on the growth of our younger team to be the best version of our team over 162 games. I feel like that’s still going to be our identity in a lot of ways. I think there’s a lot — and I think Torey would agree with this when we talk about this — that the coaches over the last few years and Torey have had to do…[when] we feel like, a lot of times, the best application of some of that information comes from teammates.”
Last season, Giants rookie infielder David Villar credited Longoria for helping him break out in the final month of the year. The Diamondbacks hope Longoria can have a similar impact on their young players. By all indications, it’s a role he enjoys playing.
“Although I hope to be on the field as much as possible and contributing physically in terms of wins and losses on the field, my role has definitely pivoted a little bit as I’ve gotten older in these last couple years,” Longoria said. “Not only can I help on the field, but the impact is sometimes equally as great trying to help these other guys become the best player that they can be.”
The Diamondbacks have a number of players looking to take that next step in 2023, including Corbin Carroll, Jake McCarthy, Alek Thomas, Gabriel Moreno, Drey Jameson and Ryne Nelson, among others. By and large, the ceiling of the 2023 Diamondbacks will be determined by the progression of that group.
As for Longoria, the fact that he reportedly pondered retirement in the middle of the 2022 season at least presents the possibility that 2023 could be his last year in the majors. If that happens, there is something to be said for having a player of his caliber finish his career in Arizona. Either way, Longoria is slated to become the second-best position player (by career bWAR) ever to don a Diamondbacks uniform, trailing only Paul Goldschmidt.
Longoria is no Goldy, nor is he the player he was a decade ago. But it looks like the Diamondbacks have found a perfect role for him, and his mark on the franchise could go beyond 2023.
Top photo: Neville E. Guard/USA TODAY Sports
Get Arizona's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!
Become a smarter Arizona sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from PHNX's writers and podcasters!
Just drop your email below!