In the early 1980's Apple Computers came onto the scene. It was a small operation, one that didn't figure to rival the larger, more established companies like Microsoft and IBM. But they looked at the market from an angle others couldn't see. They found inefficiencies in their own market, exploited them, and became one of the most successful companies in the world. What the Tampa Bay Rays are doing may be more impressive.
Yesterday, the Rays extended third baseman Evan Longoria's contract. The new deal is for six years and is worth $100 million. That's a lot of money for a small-market club like the Rays. However, for the second time in his career, Longoria may have been locked up for a bargain.
Just six days into his Major League career, Longoria signed his first deal. It was an unprecedented move. In 2008, the Rays' front office took a gamble and gave Longoria a six-year contract guaranteed with the chance at nine years overall. The total value of the contract, if the Rays picked up the final three option years, was to be $44 million. The contract was a roll of the dice on a player that had, to that point, only proven himself in the minor leagues. However, as it worked out, the Rays got Longoria for five seasons at a deeply discounted rate. Had Longoria qualified for arbitration, his productivity would have earned him far more than the $17.5 million he was going to be due through the 2013 season.
As it stands, Longoria's highest earning year came in 2012. He made $4.5 million. Let's put this in perspective. Ryan Roberts, a seven-year veteran who started 2012 with the Diamondbacks and finished with the Rays, made a little over $2 million this past season. He has never hit over .279 in a season and has never hit more than 19 home runs. Kevin Youkilis, who at least has some All-Star appearances and the title of team leader, hit .235 in 2012 between his time with the Red Sox and the White Sox. He made $12.25 million. Evan Longoria has a career line of .276/.361/.516. He has hit 20 or more home runs in four of his five seasons. He's a three-time All-Star and a potential MVP candidate every season. His highest earning year was in 2012 - I repeat, he made $4.5 million.
Now, the Rays have given Longoria another guaranteed deal. This one will last through the 2022 season and it doesn't alter the upcoming four years at all. Longoria will still make what he would have had the Rays picked up the team options for the 2014-16 seasons. The difference is the back-loaded additional six years of this new deal. There is also a club option for the 2023 season. The six additional guaranteed years will cost the Rays $16.67 million per year on average. It's a large chunk of change, but really, it's pocket change if Longoria keeps up his current pace.
As Bill Chastain of MLB.com reported yesterday, the deal would take Longoria through his age 37 season, and possibly through his age 38 season with the 2023 option. Longoria could finish his career as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays. However, he could also continue down the path of injury, miss more games than he plays, and cost the Rays too much money to recover from. Such is the risk associated with this contract. But the Rays' front office is not afraid of risk. They must take risks if they are going to continue to compete in the American League East.
"Everything we do has an element of risk, has an element of risk for the player, and I think the most important thing is that both sides go to the table and want something to happen," said GM Andrew Friedman. "It gives it a much better chance than not of that happening. And all sides understand and appreciate the risk associated with it."The reward for taking a risk like this is grand. Should Longoria continue to be one of the best defensive third basemen in the league, continue to hit for average and power, and continue to lead the Rays to postseason success, the Rays will have once again struck it rich with this contract. Their commitment to outside-the-box thinking is what sets the organization apart from others. Other teams have tried to duplicate their thinking - heck even the Rays themselves have tried to duplicate it and failed at times (see B.J. Upton as an example) - but success in the craps game that is early contract extensions takes a keen eye. It takes an iron gut. It take dedication to a belief and an unwavering commitment to doing things differently.
It worked wonders for Apple. Now it's working wonders for the Rays.