The Tampa Bay Rays, Evan Longoria, and a shifting paradigm

Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

The financial landscape of baseball is changing rapidly, and the Tampa Bay Rays just took advantage.

In case you somehow, inexplicably missed the news, the Tampa Bay Rays have signed Evan Longoria to a new contract extension. This new extension pays Longoria $36 million through 2016, and then $100 million for the next six seasons. There's also a team option tacked on the end, so all in all, Longoria could be with the Rays through the 2023 season.

Needless to say, this extension was unexpected. The Rays have yet to pay a player more than $11 million for one season of service, and they've traded away players before when it looked like they would get a big raise going forward. Since they operate on such a small budget, the Rays have had to be ridiculously risk-adverse in order to avoid taking on any potential albatross contracts.

And yet, the Rays have just committed to paying Evan Longoria around $20 million when he will be 37 years old. What gives? How is this possible? Three words: changing revenue streams.

Although the Rays still have low attendance, they're getting a big boost to their bottom line from incoming television contracts. The new national television contracts will kick in next year, and they'll give the Rays an additional $25 million in revenue. And then, come 2016, the Rays' current local television deal will expire and they'll have to renegotiate a new one. Considering that the Rays ratings have been exceptionally good over the past couple years, and that the Dodgers may get $6 billion in their next local deal, the Rays should get another big bump in revenue at this point.

So without even seeing an increase in attendance -- which may or may not happen, at this point -- and without breaking ground on a new stadium, the Rays already know that they have a comfortable bottom line from 2016 onward. And wouldn't you know it, that's exactly when Longoria's new contract extension kicks in.

It's entirely possible -- likely, even -- that this contract ends up being a drag on the Rays payroll by the time it's finished. Maybe Longoria ages faster than anticipated. Maybe he goes the route of Eric Chavez. It's unlikely that he remains a +5 win stud all the way into his mid-30s, so at some point, the Rays are going to be left paying $16-20 million for a mediocre player.

That said, this was 100% the right decision by the Rays. As many people have mentioned in the comments here and on Twitter, Longoria is the sort of player that you build a franchise's identity around. How else are you going to increase attendance, unless you're actively working to build a fanbase and a legacy? The Rays are a young team, but now they've locked up the most important player in their franchise's history so that he'll be around his entire career. That right there --especially after the Marlins' actions this offseason -- that says something.

Not to mention, it's entirely possible that Longoria's contract will look like a value by the time 2016 rolls around. The influx of television money into the game is changing the market, and it's entirely possible that free agent contracts are only going to escalate even further in the coming years. Even as it stands right now, $16 million per year won't get you an elite talent. In another few years, that money would buy the Rays even less.

Only time will tell how this deal plays out, but right now? Today? It sends fans quite the message from the Rays ownership and leadership: We're here. We're hungry. And we're willing to commit to this franchise and area. Can you ask for much more than that?

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