What were the Rays thinking in signing Evan Longoria to a long-term deal before he played his seventh game in the big leagues?
Just about the future of the franchise.
The deal, which guarantees Longoria $17.5-million over six years and could be worth $44.5-million over nine, is definitely a gamble.
But it's one the Rays felt good about.
And that they had to take.
Just like their unconventional seven-year deal with James Shields, and with previous long-term commitments to retain top young players, they see it as a way — really, the only way — to remain competitive in the high-finance American League East.
"We're always going to have to manage our roster years and years in advance to be able to compete in this division," executive VP Andrew Friedman said. "It's the way the economics of the game are right now, and it's something that instead of feeling sorry for ourselves we've got to be proactive and do anything and everything we can to succeed."
In this case, they are confident Longoria — barring injury, of course — is a talented enough player, and a good enough person, to make the investment well worth it.
And the sooner they could sign him up, the better the deal they'd get.
Maybe the Rays would have been wise to wait to see how Longoria played for two seasons, or his first one (or his first month). To see if he indeed is the two-way star they project, if his power will translate to middle-of-the-order presence, if he can handle the rigors of major-league life (and potential pitfalls of the lifestyle).
But there were downsides to waiting. With success, Longoria's price could go up. And with time, he might be less enthused — for any number of reasons — about committing long-term. (For example, some think Scott Kazmir might be reluctant to sign long-term because he sees free agency coming after 2010).
So when the Rays approached agent Paul Cohen in early March and he indicated Longoria was willing, they moved quickly to — insert team credo here — be opportunistic and see what kind of deal they could strike.
So how did they do?
Although Cohen makes a strong case for how well Longoria did, with the chance to make nearly $45-million and be a free agent at age 31, there was buzz around the game that the Rays made the better deal, getting cost certainty for Longoria's three (or, more likely, four) seasons of arbitration eligibility, and the options to keep him through his first two seasons of free agency. Plus, in the potential last year of the deal, 2016, he'd be making $11.5-million — less than 50 players make this season.
"I give the Rays a lot of credit because they did what's hard to do anymore, which is make a heck of a business deal; they controlled their costs and extended their control," said Alan Nero, a prominent agent who represents several Rays and manager Joe Maddon. "I'm happy for Longoria if it's what he wants, but I'm a little disappointed that a player with seven days (in the majors) would give away his future like that."
The deal also seems to validate what the Rays said in the spring, that Longoria's eligibility for arbitration and free agency weren't primary factors in the decision to send him back to the minors. And they said Longoria didn't have to agree to the deal to get called up. "We were bifurcating the two, him playing in the major leagues vs. his contract," Friedman said.
Plus, there's a message this type of deal sends to other teams, that they Rays are no longer their farm system, as well as to their other young players, in the minors and the majors.
"It's not just rhetoric," Friedman said. "We are committed to keeping our young players in place and signing them to long-term contracts. It's a good, positive message for them to know that it's possible."
How does Evan Longoria's contract affect B.J. Upton's view of a potential long-term deal? "It doesn't," Upton said. … ESPN.com's latest power rankings have the Rays 20th, ahead of Cleveland and Detroit. … Former longtime Ray Toby Hall on the new uniforms and Trop paint job: "It's awesome. It all looks great." … The "more professional" aspect of the Trop's new ingame entertainment program must be being phased in. … Friday morning's advisory of a 1 p.m. "major announcement" drew calls asking if the Rays were signing Barry Bonds, including one from a curious MLB official. … Ex-Ray Shawn Camp, having added a changeup, got called up by Toronto and should be in the Jays bullpen at Disney.
Got a minute? | Evan Longoria
Best meal you make? I cook steak well. I like to barbecue steak, so I'd have to say steak and mashed potatoes.
Must-see TV? The only TV show that I've ever been into is Dexter, on Showtime.
Guilty pleasure at the mall? Shoes. I've got to buy shoes. Any kind. I love shoes. I've probably got at least 25 pairs.
First car? An '88 white Toyota Corolla, and that was in 2001.
Dream date? I'd have to say Jessica Biel. She's probably my favorite — right now.