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2012 Season in Review: Tampa Bay Rays

90-72, 3rd in the AL East

When a team wins 90 games with a Save-A-Lot level budget, it’s hard to be disappointed. But the Rays have turned winning with limited resources into an art form. They can’t get away with pretty good anymore, so third place is third place.

Jack of all trades Ben Zobrist led the way (5.9 WAR) and his teammates Desmond Jennings (3.5), B.J. Upton (3.3), Jeff Keppinger (2.8), and Evan Longoria (2.4 in 74 games) had his back. No other position players made it to 2.0 WAR, but darn it all, Matt Joyce (1.8) came close.

But the pitching, oh my, the pitching. Cy Young winner David Price (5.1) was obviously the staff ace, but he was flanked on all sides but one of the best support staffs around. James Shields (4.3), Matt Moore (2.3), and Alex Cobb (2.2) performed well and Jeremy Hellickson (1.0), who WAR hates, performed pretty well at a 3.10 ERA even if he shouldn’t have.

Also, the Rays had two relievers top 2.0 WAR. RELIEVERS! 2 WAR! Fernando Rodney (2.4) and Jack McGee (2.0) dominated, and Wade Davis and Joel Peralta both hit 1.0 on their own. Man, that bullpen was good.

So the Rays, if one of baseball’s toughest divisions, were really good and won 90 games. They could have used a little more production from first base and the half a year at third base that Longoria missed, but you can’t really ask for much more. Two more wins against the Orioles and they were playing in October.

And the Rays show no signs of stopping. They restocked the farm by taking everyone in the Royals farm system and they filled in holes in the lineup. Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson both have question marks, but they have high upside for low risk contracts.

I’m a big believer in the Rays formula and a full season of Longoria and more Joe Maddon magic should keep the Rays in contention. Very much in contention if you ask me. The fans might not show up and the stadium might be a dive, but they play baseball better than most.

2012 Grade: B

Early 2013 Projection: 92-70


Rays Extend Best Contract in Baseball, Evan Longoria is now Rich, Awesome, and Loyal

Baseball’s most team friendly deal just got longer. It didn’t get better, but that would have been impossible.

This morning, the Tampa Bay Rays signed Evan Longoria to a 6 year, $100 million extension that tacks on to the end of their current accord.

Let’s summarize Longoria’s salary progression:

2008: $500,000

2009: $550,000

2010: $950,000

2011: $2,000,000

2012: $4,500,000

2013: $6,000,000

2014: $7,500,000

2015: $11,000,000

2016: $11,500,000

2017-2022: $16,667,000 (average, breakdown unknown at time of publishing)

2023: (undisclosed option at time of publishing)

Basically, Longoria’s first three seasons brought him standard pre-arbitration payment with a touch of sweetener. In what would have been his arbitration seasons, he will make $12.5 million. That’s about what Hunter Pence will earn in arbitration next year alone.

Needless to say, the Rays made a good investment with the first contract that guaranteed money through in 2013. Longoria ended up earning a lot less than he could of, but he opted for certainty over potential.

The new deal exercises the options from the first deal (14-16) and adds 6-7 more seasons. Longoria’s going to average $14.4 million over the life of this deal (not counting the 2023 option). He’s basically going to be paid to average 2-3 WAR over the next ten seasons after averaging 6 WAR through his first five seasons that included three seasons of less than 140 games.

His average WAR is 6 despite only playing two full seasons, two majority seasons, and one half season. That’s pretty awesome given that he is entering his prime according to our conception of aging in MLB. According to Fangraphs’ Salary numbers, Longoria has already been worth $128 million in his career. To earn the rest of his contract, he essentially only has to match his value over the next ten years with the last five.

This is a great deal for the club given the kind of money flying around to players these days. 10 year, $200 plus million deals are everywhere. Pujols, Fielder, and Votto all got that in the last 12 months.

Certainly Longoria could have earned more on the open market, but he’s also going to have more money than any reasonable person can spend for the rest of his life. He’s tied to one city and one team. He’ll easily earn 10 and 5 rights if the deal doesn’t include its own no-trade clause. He’s basically mapped out his professional career at 27 years old.

He’s an elite third baseman now, but he can move to 1B and then DH as he ages if need be. The Rays only need him to be pretty good to earn his contract and he’s set for life on a team he loves either way. Longoria can basically guarantee he’ll retire as the greatest Ray of all time and he’ll be a very rich man.

So while the Longoria contract is no longer a giant steal, it’s still a steal. It’s probably no longer the best contract in baseball because he’s making more than $500,000, but it’s still amazing.

Everyone wins, especially baseball fans in Tampa Bay. If any ex-Marlins fans are looking for a new team to follow, the guys in St. Pete are actually building a winner in a small market, and their poster-boy is now a Ray for life.

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