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Big contract, expectations for Rays' Longoria

PORT CHARLOTTE

The number, even Evan Longoria admits, is crazy.

One hundred million dollars.

It first came up during the 2011 offseason, when his buddy Gio threw it out in conversation. "He was joking, saying, 'You're not signing for anything less than 100,' " Longoria said. "I just laughed. We laughed about it. It wasn't even really a reality. It was like, 'Yeah, ha-ha, you know, whatever.' "

When it was brought up again in November 2012, it wasn't anything to laugh at. That's because it was his bosses with the Rays doing the talking, and with the completion of a six-year contract extension, Longoria joined the exclusive — though not as exclusive as you might think — cartel of the $100 million ballplayer.

"It's an insane number," Longoria said. "And it comes with a lot of territory. It comes with the expectation that I will continue to do what I've done, and nothing less. I don't feel that burden. I feel the same way that I felt with the last contract, but there's just, I don't know if there could be more of a desire, but there is still obviously a strong, strong desire to live up to it. And to win."

They all say that, of course, the 36 major-leaguers before Longoria and the two, Josh Hamilton and Felix Hernandez, after to sign deals for at least $100 million.

But those large checks have a checkered past. More often than not, the deals haven't worked out, with either the player not performing well enough, or well enough for long enough, to justify the nine-figure contract or the team not winning enough while he was on the books to make it worthwhile.

Longoria, 27, is savvy enough to be aware of what comes with the contract, and the accompanying designation as the face of the franchise, primarily the potential for increased criticism and skepticism. (Maybe even a second verse added to the derisive serenades of "E-va, E-va" that greet him in some road ballparks.)

And he knows the simplest defense.

"There's always going to be that fine line with contracts like this," he said. "Either you're doing your part — I'm having great years of production, but the team's not winning, therefore I'm not doing my part living up to the contract, or on the flip side, the team's winning but I'm having .230 years with 15 home runs, so you're not living up to the contract that way.

"So there's always going to be that, and I understand that. So, really, the goal is just to win a World Series. Because it seems like that is the erase-all for these kind of things."

Longoria insists the contract doesn't make him think he has to do any more than he has in past seasons. But that is from a guy who goes into every season trying to do better, having reviewed fine details from the previous one to assess what he could have done differently, and who doesn't necessarily disagree with the notion that, as much due to injuries that have cut short four of his five seasons as anything, he has yet to have that year, with top numbers across the board.

His one full season, 2009, has been his most productive. He hit .281 with 33 homers and 113 RBIs, and had a .890 on-base plus slugging percentage. He has finished in the top 20 in the American League MVP voting four times (and the top 10 twice), though curiously, has never been voted the team MVP by the local baseball writers.

"I just expect to go out, and the best years that I've had, I just want to meet or surpass those. You don't ever want to take a step backward," he said. "When you're talking about that year, when people say that year, you're talking about MVP-type years. Obviously, everybody wants to have that year. I'd love to just go out and be consistent and just be that kind of player that everybody expects me to be."

There is a mutual comfort factor here, and less of a concern about Longoria's contract because he isn't coming into a new clubhouse with the contract preceding him.

Just as with the first big deal he signed before being called up in April 2008, Longoria said the security of this one allows him to perform better without feeling like he is playing for a contract. Also, he joked, it allows him to buy "lots of diapers" for Elle, the daughter he and girlfriend Jaime Edmondson had last month.

He has grander plans, starting with the house he bought for his parents near his in Scottsdale, Ariz., and arrangements for his mom to quit her medical office job to come to Florida to help with the baby, and for his father eventually to retire from his job with the Long Beach, Calif., school district.

The Rays will have their way to judge the worth of the deal, which kicks in after Longoria's current contract ends in 2016 and puts him under their control through 2023 at a potential overall value of close to $150 million. Keeping him healthy is the key, and certainly a championship trophy or two — and a new stadium — would be on the plus side.

As leery as the Rays were of making such a large commitment — principal owner Stuart Sternberg called it "gargantuan" — they determined the potential payoff is greater than the risk. It allows them to keep their franchise player for a much longer time and at a relatively more reasonable rate than could have been expected given their small-market status in an always-escalating marketplace.

And they feel confident Longoria is the right player to invest in, citing how he handled not only the guaranteed millions from his first contract but the criticism that he sold himself short in what some labeled the game's most team-friendly deal.

"The one thing we feel extraordinarily good about was the psychological aspect of it," Sternberg said last week. "Here's a guy who came in and signed a deal and I don't believe once regretted it or looked back at it. And as a matter of fact, he has said it — and it seems obvious — it made him a better ballplayer. He's a special individual like that."

Even better, Sternberg said, is being comfortable with who Longoria is.

"Knowing the way he takes care of himself and tries and cares and is a team-first guy, he's just been an incredible face of the franchise," Sternberg said. "I can't imagine owning the team and not having him here."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.

.FAST FACTS

$100 million men

There have been 39 players (three of them twice) who have signed contracts worth $100 million.

Player, team $M, years

Alex Rodriguez, NYY $275, 10

Alex Rodriguez, TEX $252, 10

Albert Pujols, LAA $254, 10

Joey Votto, CIN $225, 10

Prince Fielder, DET $214, 9

Derek Jeter, NYY $189, 10

Joe Mauer, MIN $184, 8

Mark Teixeira, NYY $180, 8

Felix Hernandez, SEA $175, 7

CC Sabathia, NYY $161, 7

Matt Kemp, LAD $160, 8

Manny Ramirez, BOS $160, 8

Troy Tulowitzki, COL $158, 10

Adrian Gonzalez, BOS$154, 7

Miguel Cabrera, DET $153, 8

Zack Greinke, LAD $147, 6

Cole Hamels, PHI $144, 6

Carl Crawford, BOS $142, 7

Todd Helton, COL $141, 9

David Wright, NYM $138, 8

Johan Santana, NYM $137, 6

Alfonso Soriano, CHC $136, 8

Matt Cain, SF $128, 6

Barry Zito, SF $126, 7

Vernon Wells, TOR $126, 7

Jayson Werth, WAS $126, 7

Josh Hamilton, LAA $125, 5

Ryan Howard, PHI $125, 5

CC Sabathia, NYY $122, 5

Mike Hampton, COL $121, 8

Cliff Lee, PHI $120, 5

Jason Giambi, NYY $120, 7

Matt Holliday, STL $120, 7

Carlos Beltran, NYM $119, 7

Ken Griffey Jr, CIN $117, 9

Jose Reyes, MIA $106, 6

Ryan Braun, MIL $105, 5

Kevin Brown, LAD $105, 7

EVAN LONGORIA, TB $100, 6

Carlos Lee, HOU $100, 6

R. Zimmerman WAS $100, 6

Albert Pujols, STL $100, 7

Source: Baseball Prospectus

Big contract, expectations for Rays' Longoria 03/16/13 [Last modified: Saturday, March 16, 2013 9:41pm]

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