Rays' signing of Longoria a win all around
Locking up young star third baseman sends best possible message
Evan Longoria is 27. He's hit 130 regular-season home runs, including one on Sept. 28, 2011, that stands as one of the more dramatic in baseball's long history. He's driven in 456 runs, played superb defense at the hot corner and, according to Baseball Reference, has amassed 28.5 wins above a replacement-level player for the low-budget, small-market Rays.And for all this, to date, he's been paid $8 million. That, friends, is called bang for your buck. The long-term contract Longoria signed a week into his big league career has, to date, stood as the gold standard of club-friendly deals not just in Major League Baseball, but perhaps the American professional sporting spectrum. What's more, that contract, with three club options worth a combined $30 million, ensured the Rays control of Longoria through the still far-off date of 2016, when Longoria will be 31. So on Monday, when the Rays announced that they have extended the extension, so to speak, it qualified as a particularly interesting decision. The Rays didn't have to extend Longoria's deal. Not yet, anyway. But in doing so, they did right by a player who has provided so much to them at such great value, and they did right by their community, even as plans for a necessary new stadium currently remain little more than a pipe dream. The Rays agreed to pick up those three option years and tacked on another six years and $100 million to the deal already in place. Throw on another club option for 2023, when Longoria will be in his age-37 season, and you've got what essentially amounts to a career-long commitment -- an all-too-rare arrangement in today's game. Risk? Oh yes, there's considerable risk whenever a club with the kind of financial limitations the Rays endure promises this much money to a single player. Especially when so much of that player's value is tied to his defense. And especially when you remember the player appeared in just 74 games this season and -- in a bit of news buried in the press release announcing the signing -- just had surgery performed on his hamstring. Perhaps the recent injury issues made the thought of some added stability and security all the more appealing to Longoria, who has said all along that he'd be foolish to complain about the wealth he's already accrued. There was a time, remember, when Grady Sizemore played on what was considered the most club-friendly contract in the sport: a six-year, $23.45 million deal he signed after his first full season. By the end of it, the contract was decidedly player-friendly, as Sizemore struggled to take the field due to an array of injuries. That's the chance the Rays are taking, and we know well the revenue limitations that force them to be continually creative in their approach to building a ballclub. Keep in mind, though, the influx of national television dollars due to arrive in 2014. New agreements with FOX, TBS and ESPN will guarantee each team up to $50 million per year in national TV money alone. If that money leads to more clubs locking up homegrown stars like Longoria, the game will ultimately be better for it. The Rays' stadium situation is another matter in play here, beneath the surface. Because in locking up their best player essentially for the length of his career, the Rays have demonstrated a desire to continue to put a winning product on the field, even if that field is situated in a stadium that makes every matter of club construction extremely difficult. Let this, then, be another example of how the Rays go about their business the right way, even as the hurdles placed in front of them seem to grow higher by the year. It is entirely possible that the recent course of action employed by Florida's other Major League inhabitant will make the Rays' bid for a new ballpark -- a bid already saddled by a long-term lease at Tropicana Field -- all the more difficult. To their credit, the Rays, from owner Stu Sternberg on down, have answered all that adversity in the most earnest and laudable way possible -- by winning ballgames. This contract should help them continue to win, and that, ultimately, is all any fan can ask of a front office.