Evan Longoria Rumors

Rays Notes: Matsui, Longoria, Cantu

The Rays formally introduced Hideki Matsui today, but they face the possibility that their best player will hit the disabled list. The details...

  • Rays executive VP of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said he's had interest in Matsui in recent offseasons, according to Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune (Twitter links). Though there's no formal out clause in Matsui's contract, Friedman said the Rays will treat the slugger with the respect he deserves. Presumably this means they'll release him if there's no room on Tampa Bay's roster and he asks to pursue other opportunities.
  • Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times suggested earlier today that Evan Longoria could miss six to eight weeks with a hamstring-related injury, but Friedman says it's "premature" to assume he'll even hit the disabled list. Reid Brignac and Will Rhymes are among the team's internal options in case Longoria does require DL time.
  • Jorge Cantu, who elected free agency yesterday, won't be a fit for the Rays, Topkin tweets. The Devil Rays signed Cantu as an amateur free agent soon after their inception in 1998, and the infielder played in Tampa Bay until 2007.

AL East Notes: Ortiz, Kim, Longoria

A few notes to share coming out of the American League East ...

  • An arbitration hearing appears likely for the Red Sox and David Ortiz, according to Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com. When the sides exchanged salary proposals earlier this month, the Red Sox offered $12.65MM, while Ortiz and his representatives at SFX request $16.5MM, so a pretty sizable gap exists. The 36-year-old DH posted a sharp .309/.398/.554 line and slugged 29 homers in 2011.
  • The Korean Baseball Organization is displeased by the Oriolessigning of 17-year-old lefty Seong-Min Kim to a minor league deal because of his age and is threatening to petition Major League Baseball, according to Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun. Orioles GM Dan Duquette said he doesn't understand the complaint, as Kim and his family were both in favor of the move, and he is closer to 18 than to 17. 
  • Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said during an appearance on MLB Network's Intentional Talk that he has no regrets about the club-friendly extension he signed in April 2008, according to Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times"I can honestly say that I’ve never regretted doing it. I can look at myself in the mirror and say that I made the right decision. You never know, who knows, one or two years in I might’ve hurt myself and not been the player that I am today." The six-year deal includes three club options for what would have been free-agent years for Longoria. It could be worth as much as $45MM and will expire after Longo's age-29 season. 

AL East Notes: Jurrjens, Chen, Longoria, Yankees

Here's the latest from the AL East....

  • The Red Sox are not in on Jair Jurrjens, but the Orioles, Blue Jays, Rockies and Tigers remain in on the Braves right-hander, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (on Twitter).
  • The Orioles are still interested in Chunichi Dragons left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, reports Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com, and the team has scouted Chen several times in Japan.  The O's were linked to Chen earlier this offseason and we've also heard that the PIrates had an interest in the free agent southpaw.  MLBTR's Tim Dierkes predicted Chen could be signed for a contract in the neighborhood of four years and under $20MM.
  • Rays third baseman Evan Longoria texted the St. Petersburg Times (reported by The Times' Marc Topkin) to deny recent internet rumors that he wanted to leave Tampa Bay.  "I don't have any idea where that rumor came from! It's completely false,'' Longoria said.  "I've said from the start I love Tampa, I love the direction we are heading as a franchise and there is no better place for me to continue to grow as a player and person.''
  • The Yankees have been quiet this winter seemingly in an attempt to avoid a hefty luxury tax penalty next season, but one AL executive doesn't think this strategy will last.  "I think they can sit back right now," the anonymous exec told The Star-Ledger's Jeff Bradley, "because on paper they have a very strong team. But do I think the Yankees won't spend aggressively if they start to dip in the win column? Not a chance. I think they'll do what they have to do to win."
  • The Athletics wanted right-hander Noah Syndergaard from the Blue Jays as part of any trade for Gio Gonzalez, reported Jeff Blair on the Fan590's Prime Time Sports radio show (passed on by Andrew Stoeten of the Drunk Jays Fans blog.)  Syndergaard was drafted 38th overall by Toronto in the 2010 draft and has posted impressive numbers in his first two years of pro ball.
  • Earlier today, MLBTR's Ben Nicholson-Smith posted a collection of Red Sox notes.

Rays Borrow Indians’ Model For Extensions

If you find it hard to imagine the Rays without the long-term extensions they’ve handed out to players like James Shields (pictured) and Evan Longoria, you’re not alone. Andrew Friedman, Tampa Bay’s executive vice president of baseball operations, says extensions for key players are necessary for the Rays. 

“They are because for us we want to be able to extend our competitive window by as many years as we can,” Friedman told MLBTR. “And to have a chance to keep our nucleus together for an extra year, an extra two years is critical for us.”

James Shields

It’s so important because the Rays play in the American League East against two of baseball’s best and richest teams: the Yankees and Red Sox. Boston, for example, committed $154MM to Adrian Gonzalez on his recent extension and while the deal couldn’t be going better for the Red Sox, it’s not a realistic model for the Rays. $154MM is three times Tampa Bay’s annual payroll, so Friedman has to look elsewhere for solutions.

One of the places Friedman looked was Cleveland. In the early 1990’s, Indians general manager John Hart had a roster full of talented players, but this was before the Indians reached two World Series and won six division titles in seven years. Hart didn’t have the financial leeway to consider the mega-extensions that players can command as they approach free agency. 

“We were running an entire crop through that were all going to hit arbitration within one or two years of each other and we never could have afforded it,” he said.

Simply put, the Indians couldn’t wait for players like Carlos Baerga, Sandy Alomar Jr., and Charles Nagy to advance too close to free agency, when their asking prices would skyrocket and the Indians’ chances of controlling their core long-term would plummet. So Hart signed the trio to multiyear extensions early on in their careers, gambling that the relatively unproven group would develop into stars and contribute to Indians teams for years to come. 

The system worked. Baerga blossomed into one of the best second basemen in baseball, Alomar made six All-Star teams and Nagy posted a 3.86 ERA (115 ERA+) in 1100 innings through his arbitration years without earning more than $3.5MM in a season. It’s been a while since those Indians teams took the field, but Friedman hasn’t forgotten them. Though each era and division brings different challenges, the Rays used the Indians’ approach as a loose model for their recent extensions.

“They vary from market to market and you can learn and you should learn from what other teams do,” Friedman said, “but you have to mold that into a specific strategy for your market.”

In Tampa Bay’s case, the market is small. The Rays cut payroll by $30MM last offseason after having $72MM to work with a year ago. They have never spent over $72MM on payroll under Friedman, who was promoted to his current role in 2005. 

That means the Rays are willing to commit tens of millions to players with limited MLB experience, but it doesn’t mean they’ll gamble on anyone with talent and a willingness to sign on the dotted line. The Rays look for maturity and work habits in extension candidates, not simply on-field results and potential.

"We’re all kind of elbow to elbow for six weeks of Spring Training and at least six months of the season, and so you get a chance to see a guy and assess how they go about their work,” Friedman said. “That being said, it’s far from an exact science and if it was I think the success rate for teams would be much higher.”

The Rays have completed some deals that appear shrewd now, though they were risky at the time. No team succeeds with every extension (the Angels are paying former Rays starter Scott Kazmir $12MM this year on a deal Friedman signed), but Tampa Bay has more successes than failures under Friedman’s front office (see table of extensions for current homegrown Rays). 

Current Rays Extensions

As Hart points out, players need to keep working after signing extensions and “you’ve got to get a little bit lucky that you don’t have an injury.” Now a special assistant in the Rangers’ front office, Hart says the Rays have succeeded in committing to players who are talented and dedicated.

“They’ve had outstanding players with quality makeup,” he told MLBTR. “Longoria? I love this guy. Wade Davis, you know, it’s risky yet as a GM and as baseball people, you have to know your guys and you cross your fingers you don’t have injury, but at the end of it, if these guys stay healthy, you’ve made a good baseball decision.”

After a few years it’s easy to distinguish good baseball decisions from bad ones. Part of the challenge for the Rays is determining which relatively inexperienced players will respond well to extensions - without the benefit of hindsight.

"So many of these deals for young players, especially zero-plus, one-plus and even two-plus players, odds are they aren’t going to work out,” Friedman said. “You have to get to know the player as well as you can, get to know their makeup and make the best decision you can knowing that they’re not all going to work out.”

The goal, Hart says, is to find players who can “bite down” and perform even after the life-changing experience of signing for millions. The teams, meanwhile, do some biting down of their own. There are always concerns about signing unproven players to generous extensions, but it’s one way for small market franchises to extend their competitive window on budget.

Photo courtesy Icon SMI.

Who Could Get The Next Mega-Extension?

In extending Ryan Braun and Troy Tulowitzki through the year 2020, the Brewers and Rockies made bold commitments to their young stars by adding multiyear extensions on top of pre-existing contracts that already covered both men through 2015 and 2014, respectively. 

Are these deals risky?  Absolutely, but the contracts represent the latest step in how clubs attempt to lock up their young stars.  It isn't enough to just gain cost-certainty on a player through his arbitration and first few free agent years.  If a team feels they have a true franchise player, it won't hesitate to sign that player to what essentially could be a lifetime contract in order to (hopefully) avoid spending even more money to re-sign that player or a comparable star as a free agent.

Should other clubs look to explore this tactic of extending an extension, here are some of the possible candidates to join Braun and Tulowitzki in the "2020" club.

  • Evan Longoria.  We start off with the man with arguably the most team-friendly extension in baseball history.  Longoria's six-year, $17.5MM contract signed in April 2008 contains three team option years (worth $7.5MM, $11MM and $11.5MM, respectively) that could keep him in Tampa Bay through 2016, his age-29 season.  As MLBTR's Mike Axisa pointed out over the winter, however, the Rays' uncertain financial situation makes it unlikely that they would make an even longer commitment to Longoria than they already have. 
  • Robinson Cano.  Cano signed a four-year, $30MM extension before the 2008 season that also includes team option years for 2012 ($14MM) and 2013 ($15MM).  New York will obviously keep Cano in the fold through his age-30 season by picking up those two options, unless those years get replaced by a longer-term contract.  Cano hired Scott Boras as his agent in February and while Cano said he isn't planning to ask for an extension before his current deal expires, the second baseman is clearly already thinking ahead.
  • Justin Upton.  The first overall pick of the already-legendary 2005 draft is signed through 2015 on a six-year, $51.25MM extension that will run out when he's 28 years old and right in the middle of his prime years.  The Diamondbacks explored a few deals for Upton over the winter and set off a flurry of speculation, but it appears as if GM Kevin Towers was simply doing his due diligence to see if another team would go overboard with a trade offer.  Upton had a slightly disappointing (.799 OPS) 2010 season, so Arizona might wait for at least one more superstar campaign from their young star to make sure he's worth the risk of another multiyear extension.
  • Hanley Ramirez.  It seems odd to think of the Marlins doling out any major extensions, let alone two to the same player.  With the team moving into its new Miami ballpark next year, though, the extra revenue could make another multiyear deal for Ramirez into a reality -- not to mention generating some goodwill amongst Marlins fans to get them to spring for season tickets. Ramirez is under contract through 2014 on a six-year, $70MM deal and 2015 will be his age-31 season.  If Florida did explore an extension for Ramirez, they would surely have to factor in a move away from shortstop, since his defensive woes (a career -9.4 UZR/150) are likely to worsen as he ages.
  • Ryan ZimmermanMLBTR's Ben Nicholson-Smith recently outlined how the Nationals' previous extension with Zimmerman -- a five-year, $45MM pact that runs through 2013 -- was a terrific bargain for the club.  Given Zimmerman's production, age (he'll be 29 when his deal runs out) and Washington's willingness to spend, Zimmerman is probably the most likely player on this list to receive a Braun/Tulowitzki-esque deal.
  • Joey Votto.  The Reds took the first step towards locking up the reigning NL MVP when they signed Votto to a three-year, $38MM pact that covered the first baseman's arbitration years.  Votto is still on pace to hit free agency as a 30-year-old in his prime, and as one agent put it, "the Reds took on all the risk" with this initial deal.  Cincinnati has put itself in position to contend over the next few seasons, so that will theoretically take care of the Great American Ballpark's attendance problems and make it possible for the team to get Votto signed to an even longer-term contract.
  • Miguel Cabrera.  Cabrera signed an eight-year, $152.3MM extension with the Tigers before the 2008 season.  He'll turn 33 in 2016, and that advanced age plus his off-the-field issues make him an unlikely extension candidate.  Detroit has the money and Cabrera has put up Cooperstown-worthy numbers throughout his career, but there just may be too much risk involved for the Tigers to commit more money to the slugger.

Longoria Open To Contract Extension

The Rays lost the greatest player in franchise history a few days ago when Carl Crawford bolted for the rival Red Sox, but Evan Longoria is open to signing a contract extension that would keep him in Tampa for the rest of his career according to Marc Topkin of The St. Petersburg Times.

"Tampa Bay is the place I want to be for the rest of my career if I can," said Longoria. "If there's an opportunity to do something like that, I would think long and hard about it."

Longoria, still just 25, famously agreed to what is considered the team-friendliest contract in baseball just six days into his major league career. He is signed through 2013 for just $13MM total, and team holds clubs options for 2014 ($7.5MM), 2015 ($11MM), and 2016 ($11.5MM). The obvious comparable here is Troy Tulowitzki, who was already signed through 2013 but landed a six-year extension that will keep him in Colorado through 2020. 

A career .283/.361/.521 hitter, Longoria supplements his offense with top-of-the-line defense, leading all third baseman with +44.0 UZR since breaking in. It's unlikely that he'll take such a deep discount again, and team with Tampa's financial restraints might not be willing to assume so much risk. 

Regular Season Award Winners Cashing In

Players take a lot of pride in individual awards. While most will say that team success outweighs winning a Cy Young, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, or MVP, there's no question that these achievements still serve as highlights in any player's career. There's more to it than just that, though. Many players have clauses in their contracts which award them extra cash for taking home these individual marks of excellence. As we're in the midst of award season currently, let's take a look at who's cashed in so far:

  • Mark Buehrle: The Chicago lefty took home his second Gold Glove and was rewarded with an extra $25K on top of his $14MM salary.
  • Joe Mauer: Minnesota's catcher earned his third Gold Glove and his fourth All Star nod, each netting him another $25K on top of his $12.5MM salary.
  • Evan Longoria: Longo grabbed his second Gold Glove and his third All Star appearance, bringing in $25K and $50K, respectively, for an additional $75K on top of his ridiculously affordable $950K salary.
  • Franklin Gutierrez: Seattle's standout center fielder finally took home a Gold Glove after missing out last season despite a terrific performance, and he'll bring home $50K to go along with his $2MM salary.
  • Yadier Molina: Both Molina's second straight All Star selection and third straight Gold Glove will earn him $50K, for a total of $100K, pushing his 2010 earnings to $4.35MM.
  • Albert Pujols: The NL's best player took home $25K for his All Star selection, $50K for his second Gold Glove, and $50K for his sixth Silver Slugger. Depending on where he finishes in the MVP voting, he'll take home $50K (third), $100K (second), or $200K (first).
  • Brandon Phillips: His second Gold Glove earned him a whopping $250K, as it caused his 2011 salary to increase from $11MM to $11.25MM.
  • Scott Rolen: Gold Gloves are nothing new for Rolen. He earned his eighth this season, and took home an additional $50K as a result. He also earned $25K for his sixth career All Star selection, for a total of $75K on top of his $6.5MM payday.
  • Troy Tulowitzki: It was a big year for Tulo, who earned his first All Star selection ($25K), Gold Glove ($25K), and Silver Slugger ($50K) to go along with his $3.5MM salary.
  • Michael Bourn: Bourn's second Gold Glove was good for $25K on top of his $2.4MM salary.
  • Shane Victorino: The Flyin' Hawaiian's third consecutive Gold Glove gave him a $50K bonus on top of his $5MM salary.
  • Matt Holliday: His fifth NL Silver Slugger brought in $50K, as did his All Star Selection, netting him $100K in addition to the $17MM he had already earned.
  • Felix Hernandez: King Felix's 2010 Cy Young earned him a cool million dollars, as his 2011 salary will now increase from $10MM to $11MM.
  • David Price: The sensational lefty's second-place Cy Young finish earned him $80K on top of his $1MM salary.
  • Jered Weaver: The AL strikeout king's fifth place finish in the Cy Young voting earned him $50K.
  • Adam Wainwright: A second place finish in the 2010 Cy Young voting earned Wainwright an additional $100K on top of his meager $4.65MM salary.
  • Ubaldo Jimenez: His third-place finish in the Cy Young voting added $50K to his dirt cheap $1.25MM salary.

Obviously, this isn't a complete list, as not all players' award clauses are available to the public. Still, that's a total of over $2MM in award bonuses, with the MVPs still to come this week.

Thanks to Cot's Baseball Contracts for the info.

Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Dodgers, Nationals, Rasmus

On this date back in 1988, a hobbling Kirk Gibson pinch hit for reliever Alejandro Pena with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the Dodgers down by one to the Athletics in Game One of the World Series. Dennis Eckersley, who finished second in the Cy Young voting that year, recorded two quick outs before walking the light hitting Mike Davis (.196/.260/.270 that year) in front of Gibson. You all know what happened next. Gibson battled Eck for six pitches before the Oakland reliever finally hung a slider, a pitch that resulted in one of the most famous home runs in World Series history.

Injuries limited Gibson to just that one plate appearance in the Fall Classic, which the Dodgers went on to win four games to one. Joe Posnanski ranked Jack Buck's and Vin Scully's call of the play the fifth greatest in sports history. These links might not be all-time greats, but they're still the best from the past week of the internet...

If you have a suggestion for this feature, Mike can be reached here.

Pirates Notes: Vazquez, Tabata, Alvarez

Let's check out some Pirates-related tidbits courtesy of MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch..

  • With Ramon Vazquez on the trading block, Langosch stresses that any talk of him being Texas-bound is merely conjecture at this point.  Furthermore, if they do move him, they are unlikely to get much back and may have to eat some of his $2MM salary.  However, Pittsburgh might be willing to move the 33-year-old for next to nothing.
  • One reader asks if the Pirates are considering locking up their young prospects, like Milwaukee did with Ryan Braun or like Tampa Bay did with Evan Longoria.  Langosch says that the Pirates will wait until players like Jose Tabata, Brad Lincoln, and Pedro Alvarez establish themselves in the majors to open up discussions.
  • Speaking of Alvarez, Langosch expects the Pirates to hold off on bringing him up to the big leagues.  Pittsburgh delayed Andrew McCutchen's promotion last season in order to give him more seasoning in the minors and, in all likelihood, to extend his time under team control.

Odds And Ends: Wagner, Peavy, Melhuse

Some links for Wednesday morning...

  • Billy Wagner says he could be pitching in the majors within 30 days, according to Adam Rubin of the New York Daily News. If he returns in mid-July, the Mets would have time to evaluate Wagner before deciding whether to acquire more arms via trade.
  • The Royals signed ten of their draft picks, according to MLB.com's Rustin Dodd.
  • Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post reports that Evan Longoria never wonders what it would be like to play for the Rockies. Colorado, who selected Greg Reynolds instead of Longoria back in 2006, has probably wondered what it would be like to have Longoria.
  • Tim Sullivan of the San Diego Union-Tribune says the Padres have an insurance policy in place that would potentially recoup money for the team should Jake Peavy miss much time. The details aren't clear, as GM Kevin Towers hasn't looked at the policy yet.
  • Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that catcher Adam Melhuse retired. He had been playing for the Pirates' Triple A affiliate.
  • Carlos Quentin has had second thoughts about his decision to turn down an extension from the White Sox, according to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times 

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