Evan Longoria, The Best Bargain in Baseball

By Peter M. Gordon

Oct 8, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) looks on prior to game four of the American League divisional series against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

In November 2012, after a season where he appeared in only 74 games due to injury, Evan Longoria signed a long-term contract that will keep him on the team through 2022 (with a team option for 2023). Strictly speaking, they renegotiated and extended a contract that already kept Longoria on the Rays through 2016. Longoria’s salary over the life of the new agreement was reported as $136 million. Rather than test the free agent market, the then 26 year-old Longoria took the long-term security of Tampa Bays guaranteed money.

Was that a bargain for the Rays? Consider that the New York Yankees just signed Brian McCann, a 29 year-old catcher, for an average of $15 million per year. Longoria won’t make $15 million per year until 2020. Who knows what a player of Longoria’s caliber will command in 2020? The top players today earn over $20 million per year, and could be earning over $30 million in six years. If Longoria remains healthy, the Rays will have a great player for a great bargain that will enable them to use the saved cash to sign other good players.

It was also a good deal for Longoria. While he may have been able to get more on the free agent market, the money the Rays gave him is guaranteed. It’s possible that missing so much time to injury made Longoria appreciate the chance to get guaranteed money for his career. He enjoys his life in Tampa Bay and wanted to remain a cornerstone of the team’s achievements. If it wasn’t a good deal for Longoria, he wouldn’t have signed it.

In an article in the recent Baseball Research Journal, Jim Turvey analyzed Longoria’s contract by comparing his performance with that of Scott Rolen, another power hitting, good fielding third baseman, whose performance tracked Longoria’s fairly closely. Turvey concluded that if Longoria only hit as well as Rolen, the Rays would pay Longoria less than market rates for the majority of his career. The Rays took a measure of risk in making the deal, but as baseball salaries continue to inflate, having a player for what would be considered a bargain rate now could be a steal in the future.

Once again, Andrew Friedman and the Rays are setting an example for other teams. Instead of signing players on the wrong side of 30 like Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols to long term deals, teams receive much more value signing their stars to long-term deals when their in their 20’s – provided, that is, they they are as good as Evan Longoria.