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The Cost of the Future

December 9, 2011

2010: $950,000.
2011: $2.0 million.
2012: $4.5 million.
2013: $6.0 million.
2014: $7.5 million club option w/ $3.0 million buyout.
2015: $11.0 million club option.
2016: $11.5 million club option.
2017: Free Agent

If you haven’t yet recognized the figures above, they represent the salary progression of the 6-year, $17.5M contract Evan Longoria inked with Tampa Bay just 6 days after his major league debut. It is undoubtedly the best deal in baseball; in his first 4 years, he has laid claim to the 2008 AL Rookie of the Year Award, a Silver Slugger, a couple Gold Gloves, 3 All-Star Games, and produced WAR values of 5.5, 7.6, 7.6, and 6.1, even making a glorified appearance on the cover of MLB 2K10. Not too shabby for a guy who just turned 26. And at the same point in his own illustrious career, after winning back-to-back Cy Young Awards, Tim Lincecum entitled himself to the first half of his 2-year, $23M arbitration buy-out. And what did Evan Longoria take home after another highly productive season?

Evan Longoria took home just $2 million last year. Yep. $2 million. He’ll earn less over the next two seasons than what Timmy got in 2010 alone, less in each of those years than what Miguel Tejada pocketed in 2011, and he’s held by 3 very reasonable club options that’ll cover the remainder of his prime years. Some deal.

What the Rays realized early on was that while they’ve got a budget, this kid they picked up from Long Beach was punishing the minors. And while most teams like to groom said players into future cornerstones, superstars usually don’t find much legroom on Tampa Bay’s Lilliputian island. Thus, they needed an architect; someone who could engineer a contract to lock Godzilla in a teapot for the next decade, and luckily they had Andrew Friedman to help out.

However, that architect wasn’t Friedman.

It was time. The Rays had lots of it, but they knew it wasn’t going to last forever. And with it, Evan Longoria would eventually pack his bags and take his talents to Boston, where he could carry his newfound team to glory and victory with the occasional postseason collapse along the way. But that’s not going to happen for another half-decade.

What the Rays have quite smartly done is lock their young star players up to extremely economical contracts at acutely early points in their careers. An upcoming prospect carries the risk of  failing to adjust to the major leagues; however they become costly almost exponentially once they begin to establish themselves, which Tampa Bay literally could not afford to happen. So what did the Rays learn from locking up Longoria? Well, those geniuses took care of Matt Moore too. Somehow, Matt Moore just agreed to a 5-year $14 million contract with 3 options that could potentially increase the value of the deal to $37.5 million. Pause.

Can you imagine if we only had to pay Lincecum $37.5 million over his first 8 years? Hell, can you imagine if we only had to pay Lincecum that much over the next three years? Can you imagine if we never had to worry about him setting a world record in arbitration cases? Can you imagine that, because we have two baby superstars named Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner who are about to wreck our payroll in a couple years if we stay sitting ducks.

Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain have already become expensive problems. Good problems for sure, but we can’t afford to field a roster if we pay Tim $25M and Matt $20M for the next 5 years when Buster, Madison, Pablo, and Belt are set to follow in their footsteps. The Rockies waited just one year before they had to relinquish $31 million over 6 years to Tulowitzki. Posey and Bumgarner are looking towards their third season already, but it’s not too late. Buster, coming off his injury, is in a more precarious situation than Bumgarner and provides a sizable amount of risk given that we don’t truly know how well he’s healing, however it could be the perfect opportunity to lock him up under value. Bumgarner has performed extremely well thus far, but he could still be had for far more cheaply than if we let him run his course like Lincecum.

Of course, locking up talented players is still risky. The A’s locked up Brett Anderson to a $12.5M deal early on, but his injury bouts have likely cost the A’s more than saved them money. That being said, I don’t think it’s too late to lock up Buster and Madison to cost-effective contracts, and these guys are in my mind definitely worth the risk. Get er done Sabez. Please.

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