For Evan Longoria's new contract to really work out, he will be leading the Rays onto the grass field at a new stadium, in front of packed houses and under championship banners before the deal ends in 2023.
That stage exists only on the Rays' wish list, but they made an aggressive — and expensive — move announced Monday to make Longoria part of that future, extending his current contract by six years and $100 million.
With the four years on the previous deal now guaranteed and a 2023 option tacked on, Longoria is signed for 10 years and is guaranteed at least $136.6 million. It's the largest contract in history for any Tampa Bay athlete.
"This is something,'' Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said, "where we feel strongly if we're going to bet on somebody, who they are and their performance and everything, he's one of the only guys we could do it with.''
Longoria, who turned 27 last month, was appreciative of not only the financial reward but also the opportunity to be with the Rays potentially for his entire career.
"It's the perfect situation for me," he said. "There is nothing about this I regret now nor will I regret. This is the place that I want to be."
The commitment is substantial and significant for the Rays, who typically operate with one of Major League Baseball's smallest payrolls and finish at or near the bottom in attendance. They also have yet to see any real progress in their much-debated quest for a new stadium before their Tropicana Field agreement expires after the 2027 season.
Though they will be buoyed in future years by MLB's enriched national TV contracts and a potentially lucrative new local deal, Sternberg said the increases alone don't offset what he termed "an astoundingly big commitment." He acknowledged they will have to make choices on which other players to sign.
That's where the hope to be in a new stadium comes in, with the accompanying increased revenue.
"If by the end of this contract we're not, it's not going to work out well," Sternberg said during the news conference at the Trop.
Asked again later, he said, "If it doesn't get done it doesn't mean we blow up and turn into pumpkins, (but) it could happen."
There is risk for both sides in such deals, which the Rays have made, to lesser extent, with several other players in an attempt to make them more affordable to keep.
For the team, the risk is mostly injury to Longoria. The three-time All-Star third baseman missed more than half of last season with a hamstring issue, which required surgery last week. Longoria has played in only 358 of 456 games the past three seasons.
For Longoria, the risk is primarily the potential that he could have made millions more through free agency. Also, there's risk that his deal is so big the Rays can't afford enough other good players to remain competitive.
Sternberg said that from a business perspective, the Rays felt the time was right. They first broached the idea, in somewhat general terms, in February. After agreeing to wait until after the season to consummate negotiations, Longoria had eight-plus months to consider, analyze with agent Paul Cohen and discuss with family, friends and other players in similar positions.
In the end, it wasn't much of a tough decision.
"There's a lot of win-win for both sides here," Cohen said.
Longoria likes playing for the Rays, working for his bosses, living in the Tampa Bay area during the season and having a chance to be a true franchise player. He's 27 and has guaranteed himself nearly $150 million in earnings.
"The free agent market really never enticed me," he said. "Obviously you know guys can maybe get a little more money here or there, but is it really worth it if you're not happy? In my opinion, no. I'm happy here. I've wanted to be here and raise a family here and put roots down."
And having those roots run strong and deep was important.
"Kind of from the beginning, I always wanted to be a benchmark player," he said. "They're kind of synonymous with the name of the franchise. We don't really have somebody here, and I kind of wanted to be that guy from the beginning."
This is Longoria's second long-term deal — both of which have been considered team-friendly. Under the first, signed when he came up to the majors in 2008, he would have been under the Rays' control through 2016, having already made $8 million (plus a $3 million draft bonus) with a guaranteed $6 million in 2013 and team options for 2014-16 worth $30 million.
The new deal guarantees those options and adds another $100 million guaranteed over six additional seasons (2017-22) plus either a $5 million buyout or a team option for 2023 at $13 million plus incentives. There is also a $1 million signing bonus and a $2 million assignment bonus if he is traded, as there are no no-trade provisions. In April 2018 Longoria will have 10-and-5 rights to refuse any deal.
"There clearly hasn't been a player since we've been here that's stepped into the shoes like Evan has, and done everything that this franchise has needed to have the success that we had," Sternberg said.
"We've seen everything that Evan is all about. We're not only going to have a player here for the very long term, somebody we would expect and believe could be a Ray for life, but we also have a person, who without his intangibles that he has as a human being, the way he lives his life, the way he leads by example, the way he goes at it behind the scenes, as well as on the field, we wouldn't be doing this."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Times staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.