Rays position analysis: Third base

Evan Longoria (left) is the mainstay at the hot corner, and the return of sometimes backup Sean Rodriguez (right) is not guaranteed.

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The offseason has arrived, and the time has come for the Tampa Bay Rays to study what went right and wrong from a season that ended short of October.

In the coming weeks, we’ll break down the Rays at each position. The review will include highlights and lowlights for the players that saw a majority of the action there, and we’ll touch on the possibility of their returns.

This week, we focus on third base, where Evan Longoria remains the face of the Rays’ franchise. He played in all 162 games for the first time in his seven-year career, passing his previous career-high total of 160 achieved in 2013. After an offensive struggle early in the season, he recovered with a stronger second half despite Tampa Bay fading late.

Here’s a closer look at the play from Rays’ third basemen during the 2014 season …

EVAN LONGORIA

What he did right: He was the Rays’ iron man, playing in all 162 games, with 155 appearances at third base in addition to serving as an occasional designated hitter. Though he struggled at the plate early, his second half played out more as expected. He finished hitting .253 with team-high totals of 22 home runs and 91 RBI. Still, his power declined noticeably this season. He produced 10 fewer home runs than in 2013, and he also drew just 57 walks compared to the 70 he had last year.

Where he needs to improve: The Rays need more home runs from him, plain and simple. Their lineup lacks power overall, so he must produce to his potential in order to give Tampa Bay’s offense a jolt next season. Perspective: Longoria’s 22 home runs were his fewest in a season in which he played in more than 74 games since he also had 22 in 2010. He looked uncomfortable at the plate too often in 2014, especially early. Longoria should strive for more comfort to gain greater consistency next year.

Contract status: Signed through 2022 (with a team option for 2023) as part of a 15-year, $144.5 million deal.

Likelihood of return: There aren’t many constants with the Rays’ roster, but Longoria is one. He’s the face of the clubhouse for a reason, and often, Tampa Bay goes offensively wherever his bat leads. The Rays need more from him next season to have a chance to return to the playoffs.

Position analysis

SEAN RODRIGUEZ

What he did right: He made seven starts (nine games played) at third base. He also was seen at first base (18 games), second base (23) third base (nine), left field (17), right field (two) and shortstop (one). His power was a pleasant surprise this season, and he finished with 12 home runs and 41 RBI, both career-high totals. He saw an uptick in his at-bats this year with 237, compared to the 195 he had last year.

Where he needs to improve: Rodriguez can use more refining on defense. Despite his ability to play both in the infield and outfield, his lack of consistency as a fielder has hurt his attempt to become an everyday player. He committed three errors this season, an increase from one last year. His defensive WAR was -0.6 this season, a decline from his 0.0 total last year.

Contract status: Arbitration eligible. He made $1.475 million last season.

Likelihood of return: He’s an interesting case. Rodriguez can become a free agent after next season, so it wouldn’t be out of the question to consider that the Rays could try to package him in a trade to receive some value. He has been a serviceable presence off the bench, especially against left-handed pitching. But with Logan Forsythe and Nick Franklin maturing as versatile talents, Rodriguez could be replaceable.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.