Thursday, February 22, 2018
Sports

Tom Jones' Two Cents: Evan Longoria contract carries risks for Rays, Longoria

Monday was a good day for the Tampa Bay Rays. They signed Evan Longoria, the best player in franchise history, to a deal that could keep him in Tampa Bay through 2023.

The news, however, was as stunning as it was welcoming.

The Rays are a franchise that counts pennies, while Longoria is passing up a chance to sell his services to the highest bidder someday on the open market. In the end, both the Rays and Longoria are taking major risks on this $100 million contract extension.

Here's a look at the risks taken by the Rays and Longoria and whether it's all worth it.

Three risks for the Rays

1 Longoria gets hurt

The Rays are on the hook for $136.6 million over the next 10 years whether Longoria plays 162 games a year or never plays another inning. The worrisome part is that injuries have been a major issue with Longoria throughout his major-league career. He missed 88 games last season with a torn hamstring and, we learned Monday, just had surgery on that hamstring. Since his Rays debut in 2008, Longoria has missed 163 of 800 games with injuries. Don't underestimate the risk the Rays are taking with a player who has yet to prove he is as durable as he is talented.

2 Longoria doesn't live up the contract

Alex Rodriguez, Todd Helton, Alfonso Soriano, Vernon Wells, Jason Giambi. All of them signed long-term deals worth at least $100 million, and none were worth those fat paychecks by the end of those contracts.

Now, the major difference is that Longoria is only 27, much younger and arguably better than when the other players on this list signed their big deals. Still, what will he be like when he's 35 or 36? Maybe Longoria is grossly underpaid today, but will he become obscenely overpaid in the final few years of the contract? The Rays could end up with the same headache the Yankees are experiencing now with A-Rod. Then again, the Yankees can live with overpaying A-Rod. The Rays cannot afford to overpay anyone.

After five seasons of being one of the best players in baseball when healthy, there's no indication that Longoria will become a mediocre player, but if he does, the Rays will be stuck with him.

3 They won't be able to afford other players

When asked how Longoria's contract will affect the Rays' ability to sign other players to big contracts in the future, owner Stuart Sternberg said, "It doesn't help.'' He laughed as he said it, but he wasn't joking.

Unless the Rays can find greater revenue streams (read: a new ballpark with increased attendance), how can they afford to pay Longoria and, say, Cy Young winner David Price and still have any money left to fill out a major-league roster?

Three risks for Longoria

1 He overplays the contract

Longoria said he wants to overplay the contract, meaning he puts up numbers far exceeding what the Rays will pay him. But how will he feel if he really does overplay his contract? How will he feel seven years from now if he has a couple of MVP awards and World Series rings and he sees players around baseball with inferior talent, fewer accomplishments and bigger bank accounts?

2 Rays don't surround him with talent

The Rays have been a contender in each of Longoria's five seasons. They figure to be a contender next season as well. But there could come a day when the Rays, perhaps unable to secure a new stadium, decide to dump payroll like the Marlins just did and leave Longoria surrounded by 24 players who should be in Triple A. Longoria could end up being Ernie Banks, a great player on a bunch of bad teams who never won a World Series.

3 Longoria is stuck in Tampa Bay

He might never play in his native California. He might never play in New York. He might never go to where he, along with his model girlfriend, can live the life of a real celebrity and pick up the endorsement deals that New York or L.A. offers.

Longoria talks about being a "benchmark'' player, someone who spends his entire career with one team like, say, Derek Jeter with the Yankees. But Longoria will never be another Jeter because Tampa Bay is not New York. He will always be a big fish in a small pond.

Final analysis

So who is taking the bigger risk, the Rays or Longoria? In the end, it's hard to say someone who is guaranteed $136 million is taking a risk. Ultimately, the Rays are sticking their necks out for one (oft-injured) player.

But this is how the small-market Rays must do business. They have to gamble that Longoria will stay healthy. They have to gamble that Longoria's next 10 years will be as good as or even better than the past five.

Actually, the Rays really didn't have a choice. If you can't hold on to your best player ever, what's the point? The real risk was seeing what would have become of baseball in Tampa Bay if Longoria ended up in Yankee pinstripes or Dodger blue.

Give the Rays credit for being proactive. Give the Rays credit for being creative. Give the Rays credit for being committed. Most of all, give them credit for taking a risk. Without it, there can never be a reward, not with this franchise, anyway.

 
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