ST. PETERSBURG — A couple of years ago, Scott Kazmir wouldn't have done this. Not at the end of last season, when he publicly questioned the Rays' commitment to winning. Not even a couple of months ago.
But seeing is believing, and Kazmir, 24, decided he liked enough of what the Rays have done that he, too, wanted to stick around, becoming the latest of their young stars to agree to a long-term deal, which could pay him nearly $40-million over the next four seasons.
Specifically, Kazmir said the improvements the Rays made during the offseason convinced him to be part of their future, and he was willing to give up two years of free agency.
"They really stepped up,'' Kazmir said. "It was just being in spring training and getting the vibe from everyone. We've got a young group of guys that are going to be here for a while. It's a great bunch of guys, and you look around and realize we could be really good in the next couple years. I was like, I want to be a part of this.''
Agent Greg Genske said what has happened since helped, too.
"I think winning is infectious," he said. "Scott realized the front office and the team are moving in a very positive direction. The biggest issue for Scott was really feeling confident in what they are doing and that they are building something really special."
Kazmir, making $3.785-million in his first year of arbitration eligibility, is guaranteed $28.5-million under terms of the new deal. He will make $6-million in 2009, $8-million in 2010 and $12-million in 2011 in what would have been his first year of free agency. The Rays hold an option for 2012 at $13.5-million or will pay him a $2.5-million buyout.
The Rays and Kazmir have talked on and off but didn't make significant progress until the past six weeks, as he rehabbed a spring training elbow injury, and got close to a deal by the time he made his May 4 season debut.
The Rays were happy to add the left-handed ace to the list of signed players. "As we continue to win games and play in October, we envision Scott anchoring the staff for us," executive VP Andrew Friedman said. "We envision it being a series of contracts that keeps Scott in this uniform for a long time."
As the Rays signed Carlos Pena, James Shields and Evan Longoria to long-term deals, there was a question about whether Kazmir would want to commit or if he would prefer to wait for a free-agent windfall after the 2010 season.
The elbow injury could have made Kazmir more receptive to the security of a deal, or at least more cognizant about the mortality of his career, but Genske said that was "not at all" an issue.
Instead, it was a matter of seeing where the Rays were headed.
"This is the place I wanted to play,'' Kazmir said. "I wanted to win and play in October in Tampa Bay. I'm happy we got everything accomplished. Now it's just going out there and winning ball games."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.