Tampa Bay Signs Evan Longoria for the Next 10 Years- Why Now?

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss

And lose, and start again at your beginnings,

And never breathe a word about your loss…If by Rudyard Kipling

You may wonder why I opened with a portion of the poem If.  Yes it is a bad ass poem that was used in last nights equally bad ass episode of Boardwalk Empire but that has no bearing on my usage.  The Tampa Bay Rays signed Evan Longoria to a 6 year 100 million dollar extension which will be tacked on to his previous contract which was not set to expire until 2016.  In locking up Longoria until 2022 (2023 if you include the one year team option), it appears as if the Rays are “heaping all of their winnings and risking it on one turn of pitch and toss.”  Don’t let the appearance fool you, the Rays know exactly what they are doing.  Allow me to explain.

1.) The next 10 year deal that works out will be the 1st

Yes, Longoria signed a 6 year extension but remember his extension is added to the remaining 4 years on his current contract.  Adding the two deals together Longoria is guaranteed $136 million dollars over the next ten years.  Of the six previous ten-year deals only one would likely be done again and we have one we need to wait and see on before we pass judgment (Derek Jeter/Joey Votto respectively).  Most of these deals end up being regretted by the ball club because of the absorbent amount of money being paid to older players well past the prime years of their production.  I have no question Andrew Friedman and the Tampa Bay brain trust are well aware of the success rate on ten-year deals.  Which is why, in terms of average dollars per year, Evan Longoria’s deal is the smallest of the ten-year deals, averaging 13.6M per year.  Therefore, in the event Longoria’s value decreases in his later years (he is signed through his age 36 season) the financial strain will not be as crippling as say Alex Rodriguez’s current 10y/ 275M contract which will pay him 28M dollar in 2013 (age 37 season).

Evan Longoria posses a superior bat and elite defensive skills.  So long as Longoria is able to stay healthy, his bat should play for the majority of his contract.  Considered one of the top two defensive third basemen since 2008 by Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), his defense will likely to decline over the life of the contact as he gets older.  This decline should not and likely did not give Tampa Bay much cause for concern.  As a stellar third baseman, the natural progression once his defensive prowess begins to deteriorate will be a move to first base followed by a move to DH.  The Rays foresee many years of plus third base play before said changes will be needed, thus minimizing their concern for the dreaded ten-year contract.

2.) Evan Longoria has a history of injury

Over the first 5 years of Longoria’s career he has only averaged 127 games per year while the past two years have seen him miss a total of 117 games.  What is astonishing about Longoria is that regardless of the games missed when healthy he is off the charts good.  So good that he has outplayed his salary each year, even in 2012 when he only played 74 games.  The website Fangraphs determines a players value in dollars based on the wins they provided to their team versus a replacement level player (think AAA player) also known as W.A.R.

____                 WAR                        VALUE             ACTUAL SALARY

2008                    5.5                        $24.9M                 $500,000

2009                    7.6                         $34.4M                $555,000

2010                     7.7                        $30.6M                 $950,000

2011                     6.1                         $27.4M                 $2M

2012                    2.4                         $10.8M                 $4.5M

As you can see Longoria has provided value to the bargain hunting Tampa Bay Rays each injury plagued year he has been in the league.  Therefore, the Rays were willing to heap their $100M on the chance that Longoria will continue to produce at an MVP level.  If for some reason he can not, just look at all the value they have already realized underpaying for such a phenomenal talent.  It would be almost criminal for Tampa Bay to complain about money lost in the event Longoria can’t physically perform over the final few years of the deal considering the savings they have received for a talent like Longoria.

3.) Why Now?

A team as frugal as the Tampa Bay Rays has trouble competing for the top free agent talent.  Even though Longoria would not have been a free agent until 2016 under his initial contract, the upcoming free agency of two talented third basemen, David Wright (2014), and Chase Headley (2015) would have surely driven up the price for a healthy Evan Longoria in 2016.  Longoria, a younger and arguably more talented player then both Wright, and Headley, would have commanded the type of dollars Tampa Bay could not afford to pay.  Therefore, Tampa Bay took advantage of Longoria’s early injuries and signed him to a deal that represents of the fraction of the amount he would have received had injuries not been a concern.

As always there is a risk involved when signing a player to a ten-year deal.  Tampa Bay found a way to minimize that risk, lock-up the face of their franchise until 2023 and if for some reason Longoria can’t go in 2020 you will hear no complaining from the Rays.  So what does all this have to do with the poem If.  Tampa Bay has taken the calculated risk on one turn of pitch & chance, if they lose and are forced to start again at their beginnings, I doubt Tampa will ever breathe a word about their loss.