Rays, Longoria have faith in each other
Evan Longoria is more than the face of the Tampa Bay Rays franchise.
He is the foundation.
The folks who run the Rays know it.
And Longoria appreciates it.
And that's why last fall, even though Longoria had a contract that included three options through 2016, Tampa Bay signed him to an extension that exercised the options and lengthened their commitment for an additional $100 million through 2022.
The contract is one of 39 worth $100 million or more that have been signed in the Major Leagues, and it was the first for the Rays, who have only two other players on guaranteed contracts past this year, according to Baseball Prospectus.
Neither are even close to Longoria's deal. Matt Moore has four years left on the five-year, $14 million deal he signed after breaking in late in 2011. Reliever Joel Peralta has a two-year, $6 million guarantee.
The Rays are in constant reconstruction, trying to manipulate a limited income stream and remain competitive in the American League East. Longoria has become their roster stability.
It's more common for them to lose a player like B.J. Upton to free agency or trade pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City for prospects, such as they did this offseason, than to cut long-term deals.
But then, Longoria is an uncommon situation.
He is a homegrown player, a first-round Draft pick in 2006 who two years later was the AL Rookie of the Year. In less than five full big league seasons he already has earned three AL All-Star selections.
And he believes in the franchise.
That's why he can watch the annual Tampa Bay roster revamping without a sense of panic, and embrace a chance to be one of the few constants, confident that general manager Andrew Friedman and his staff will find the right pieces to keep the Rays relevant instead of allowing the franchise to fall into disrepair.
"We've done a really good job of adding the personnel we need to add to be competitive each year," said Longoria. "That gives me reason to believe we will continue to do that. When you speak with Andrew, his one and only desire is to win. Knowing that makes my decision easier."
The industry shares a similar respect for the way Tampa Bay does business. That was evident last winter when the Rays moved Shields and Davis.
"It was a product of necessity, and it was an opportunity for us to get Wil Myers, who is a big league-caliber hitter," Longoria said. "We need offense. It's the thing every year we are lacking in. We have pitchers who are big league-ready. Giving up pitchers like Shields and Wade was easier because we knew what we had coming."
That is not just a company line. Instead of the Rays being criticized for having a fire sale, it was Royals GM Dayton Moore who was questioned for giving up quality young players instead of being praised for being daring enough to make a move that could make Kansas City a contender.
It's the type of respect the Rays have earned. The assumption is if Tampa Bay does it, there must be a rational reason behind it because they have the track record of success. And that is a big part of what made it so easy for Longoria to sign up long-term.
"There is a lot of pride in the organization," said Longoria. "The pride in the belief in the system and what the ballclub is doing is a crucial element to being successful. This team believes it can go out and compete. It is fun to come from where we were to where we are."
A product of Major League Baseball's most recent expansion in 1998, the Rays lost more than 90 games in each of their first 10 years of existence. The past five years, they have won fewer than 90 games only once, advanced to the postseason three times, including a trip to the World Series in 2008, showing they can go head-to-head with the big-spending Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East.
"It has been fun to meet and exceed everybody's expectations," said Longoria, "and we want to have more and more expectations placed on this club every year. It gives us a sense of drive and urgency, but I really don't think anybody can consider us an underdog anymore."
The Rays have those three postseason trips and a composite record of 458-352 in the past five years. The Yankees have been to the postseason in four of those five years went 479-331 over that time. Boston is a two-time postseason entrant during that stretch with a 438-372 record.
It just so happens that those five years coincide with Longoria's big league career.
So why wouldn't he believe in the Rays' way and want to be a part of it long-term?
"I enjoy the organization," he said. "That's first and foremost. I enjoy playing for Joe [Maddon, the manager]. I respect Andrew and the moves he has made. I like the Tampa community. It's where I want to be."
The Rays agree.
That was apparent with the contract Longoria signed last November.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.