Evan Longoria was already under the Rays’ control through 2016 thanks to a long-term contract he signed literally one week after his big-league debut in 2008, but today the two sides agreed to a six-year, $100 million extension that runs through 2022.
By combining the remainder of his previous contract and the $100 million extension Longoria will now be paid $136 million for the next 10 seasons. Tampa Bay also holds an option for 2023, potentially keeping him under contract through age 37. In other words, this is essentially a career-long commitment.
Tampa Bay made a very bold, unique move signing Longoria to a long-term deal days into his MLB career and this is another aggressive, interesting decision. Clearly the penny-pinching Rays couldn’t compete for a player like Longoria on the open market, but by taking on the considerable risk of a decade-long commitment to a player they already controlled for another four years they will be in line to get a significant discount if he stays healthy and productive into his 30s.
Of course, injuries have been a major issue for Longoria. He missed 88 games this year with a torn hamstring and was out for 28 games in 2011, but his production has never waned. Longoria hit .289 with 17 homers and an .896 OPS in 2012 and the No. 3 overall pick in the 2006 draft has an .877 career OPS that ranks third among all active third basemen behind only Alex Rodriguez and David Wright (and the retiring Chipper Jones).
The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.
Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.
Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”
Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.
The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.