Could the Rays Regret the Evan Longoria Extension?

By David Hill

Oct 8, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) reacts after he struck out to end the game against the Boston Red Sox of game four of the American League divisional series at Tropicana Field. Boston Red Sox defeated theTampa Bay Rays 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

You know you have set a high standard when a .269/.343/.498 batting line, and an OPS+ of 134, are considered a down year. When 88 RBIs are your lowest total in a full season since your rookie year. When even though you are the most feared bat in the lineup, and finished amongst the top ten in most offensive categories, the 2013 season still did not feel like a great year. That is the standard that Evan Longoria has set for himself.

Longoria had an excellent start to the season, with a .298/.367/.550 batting line and 17 home runs through the first eighty games of the season. He appeared as though he would be a lock for the All-Star team, and could potentially put himself in the mix for MVP consideration depending on how the Rays finished. It appeared to be yet another typical Longoria season.

Then, Longoria injured himself running out a ground ball to first on June 28th. Diagnosed with plantar fasciitis, he missed two games and struggled after returning. In contrast to his great start to the season, Longoria only hit at a .240/.320/.449 rate during the second half of the year, striking out 88 times. He seemingly became susceptible to breaking pitches on the outer edge of the strike zone, and just did not appear to be the same player he normally had been. The ball rarely seemed to jump off his bat, and Longoria really appeared to be a shell of himself at times.

This also marked the third season that Longoria has struggled with injuries, after missing time in 2011 with a strained oblique, then missing more than half of 2012 with a partially torn hamstring. Although Longoria did play 160 games this year, he was visibly hampered by his foot, and may have been better served by spending time on the disabled list, instead of trying to play through the pain.

At this point, if Longoria is not considered to be injury prone, he may well be close to that label. He also plays a physically demanding position at third base, and, as not only one of, if not the best bat in the Rays lineup, Longoria is also a premier defensive third baseman. When he is out of the lineup, the Rays defense as a whole suffers.

Yet, Longoria may not be able to be counted on to remain on the field. He has displayed a tendency to break down, and at only 28 years old, that is likely to get worse. The Rays also have a minimum of $129Million invested in Longoria through 2023, as they may be gambling on him to stay healthy. For a team with payroll concerns, Longoria may end up being an albatross down the line, affecting their ability to keep players that they feel to be vital to the overall success of the squad. In fact, that contract could turn into the Rays version of the contract that Eric Chavez signed with the Oakland A’s in 2004.

Any long term contract comes with risks. Yet, the risk for the Rays here may be even greater than usual. As a team that has had to trade players such as Matt Garza and James Shields due to payroll concerns, and may end up trading David Price as well, signing a player that may turn out to be injury prone could backfire. Even if that player is Evan Longoria.