Before the Tampa Bay Rays gave Evan Longoria a contract extension after six days in the majors, such deals were unheard of. Now, these types of contract extensions have become somewhat commonplace, as these types of deals have helped smaller market clubs keep potential superstars for longer than usual at a price that is easier to handle. Yet, the benefit is not just on the side of the teams, for even though the players may be sacrificing some pay in the short term, they have the comfort of knowing that they have a guaranteed income should a career ending injury occur.
Yet, these deals are risky for the teams involved. Aside from the injury factor, the BioGenesis scandal has opened up another potential issue with these extensions. The Milwaukee Brewers followed the Rays model when they locked up Ryan Braun to a long term deal shortly after his arrival in 2008, similar to how the Rays locked up Longoria. The Brewers then locked up Braun for an additional five years in 2011, similar to what the Rays did with Longoria earlier this year.
Now, Braun has essentially become a pariah for his involvement in the BioGenesis scandal and how he lied to his teammates, his friends, and the world at large in the wake of his positive test in the beginning of 2012. Those extensions by the Brewers, which made sense in every way possible at the time, may now be a cause for regret. Meanwhile, despite injury concerns with Longoria, the Rays still appear to have made a smart move in locking him up through 2021, making it likely that Longoria will retire a Ray.
What remains to be seen is how the situation with Braun will affect these types of extensions going forward. While teams would want to lock up players that appear to be burgeoning superstars at an affordable rate before they get to arbitration, the sliver of doubt that may be in the back of some GM’s minds may lead to a more cautious approach. Extensions such as the ones Longoria and Braun received may not be as prevalent as they had become.
Even though this situation is unlikely to change the way the Rays operate, other teams may balk at continuing to follow their model of locking up players that early in their careers. Yet, it may not be the model that is flawed – teams may need to take a closer look at the players they seek to invest in. While Evan Longoria and Ryan Braun had a similar path with their extensions, they may end up with vastly different results, and serve as a reminder that not all extensions are created equal.