Martin Fennelly Columns
Fennelly: Rays, Longoria wisely get it in writing
ST. PETERSBURG - A Ray for life. Now that's a concept. "There's no better place for me," Evan Longoria said. We're not even sure if the Rays are going to be Rays for life, or where they'll be playing around here in 10 years or if they'll be playing around here at all.We only know that now, in a pinch, Longoria could spring for the sod at any new ball field. He has the green. The Rays star third baseman hit (earned) the jackpot today, signing a six-year, $100 million contract extension. There has never been a deal like it in local sports. Evan Longoria doesn't want to be going, going, gone. He'd love to track toward local institution, like former Bucs star Derrick Brooks, or Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis with the Lightning – as Lee Roy Selmon always will be. Longoria could be the Rays' first wire-to-wire Hall of Famer. He says right here is where he wants to stay. The Rays and their owner, Stuart Sternberg, they're saying it, too, though the fine print is that, clearly, the only way this deal, or franchise, will work here long term – Longoria will be 37 when the contract runs out – is with increased revenue, meaning another stadium. Maybe this deal gets it going, maybe not. Everybody grab a shovel. If you're a Rays fan, you're dancing. Longoria's new deal runs through 2022 , with a club option for 2023 . That's a lot of Game 162s. After letting left fielder Carl Crawford walk, and center fielder B.J. Upton, crying shames, score one for the home team, something to warm you like a fire until Cy Young winner David Price rightly presents another bill for his services. Back to Longoria, 27. He aims to grow old here, or older. "I always wanted to be kind of a benchmark player, the guy that you could think about or associate with the organization," he said at a Tropicana Field news conference. "Like someone touched on with Derek Jeter … they're kind of synonymous with the name of their franchise. We don't really have somebody here, and I kind of wanted to be that guy from the beginning." He likes it so much here he passed on eventual free agency, potentially crazier dollars, to muddle through at $136 million over the next 10 seasons. He likes it so much here he even likes playing in the Trop, "especially when it's full." The Rays like him here so much that they're dismissing nagging injuries to his wheels. And they're blowing through the stoplights that say this franchise has baseball's worst attendance. Is Longoria worth it? The Rays are probably getting him cheap. Since he first hit the majors in 2008, Longoria has been a franchise player, one of the 10 best in the game and among its most valuable. Longo is the Guy with the Goods, a man for moments, that weird, winning light, first-team It Factor. It still won't work, long term, without a new stadium down the road. The Rays passed on Crawford and Upton. They've picked Longoria, but what talent they'll be able to surround him with in coming seasons, that's the question. "This is just an astoundingly big commitment for us to be making to any player," Sternberg said. He was asked if the Rays' current economic model could support much more than that. "No," he said. "At some point, it stops. You've got to make a decision. We're going to eat steak and we're going to eat lobster and we're going to order some wine, but we're not going to be able to turn the heat on and, gee, the house isn't going to get painted." You might think Longoria's extension might move local leaders to action, ball park action, erasing fears of the Rays becoming the Miami Marlins, whose owner recently cleaned house and payroll after just one season in a spanking, $634 stadium built mostly of public money. Time will tell. In fact, I hear the clock ticking. Evan Longoria belongs here. So do the Rays. I wonder if it will work out that way. "My goal from Day One was to be the first player who played their whole career here," Longoria said. I bet he ate steak and lobster tonight. A Ray for Life. What a concept.