The question Monday in the wake of the mega-contract extension signed by Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, the one that will pay him an additional $100 million and has the potential to keep him in a Rays uniform through 2023, was: Why now?
Why would the financially strapped organization commit so much money — $136.6 million over the next 10 years — to one player?
And, why would Longoria pass on the opportunity to at least dip a toe in the free-agent market when his current contract expires in four years?
For Longoria, the answer was easy. He wants to be the first player in franchise history to play his entire career with the Rays.
"I always wanted to be kind of a benchmark player, a guy that you can associate with the organization," Longoria said. "We don't really have somebody here (like that), and I kind of wanted to be that guy."
For the organization, it was a way to ensure it will have a two-time Gold Glove winner and three-time All-Star in the lineup for a long time.
"We like to make calculated, educated wagers on the future of our franchise and our business. I think we've shown in the past a willingness to do things a little differently, and especially on the players side, signing long-term deals like that," Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said.
Added executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, "(Longoria is) a premier defender at third base. He has value on the bases. He does a lot of different things to help the team win beyond what he does in the batter's box. It speaks to how much he wants to win and the commitment that he has to winning that he puts as much time into those areas of his game as he does to his hitting."
Longoria, who missed 85 games in 2012 with a partially torn left hamstring, underwent a hamstring debridement on Nov. 20 to remove scar tissue from the hamstring. He said he expects to be ready by the start of spring training. The Rays are gambling Longoria's recent hamstring and oblique injuries are a thing of the past and he will return to a level of play that placed him among the best position players in the major leagues.
At the same time, Longoria is banking Friedman will continue to surround him with enough talent to keep the Rays competitive in the American League.
"Andrew, nobody wants to win more than he does," Longoria said. "I told them from the beginning that I want to win, and if we're not going to be able to put guys around me that are going to help us win, I can't do it myself. One guy can't do it all on his own, it doesn't matter how good you are, you need a team to win. He obviously understands that, he knows that. Just knowing him and his personality gives me the assurance that I need that he's going to do his best to put guys around me who are going to help us win."
Longoria has four years left on the contract he signed in 2008 just eight days after he was promoted to the major leagues. That contract, which runs through 2016 and includes three club options, will pay him $36 million now that the option years have been picked up by the team. The extension, which runs through 2022 with a club option for 2023, is for $100 million.
Longoria, who will make $6 million this season, will receive $13 million in 2017 during the first year of the extension. He will make $13.5 million in 2018, $14.5 million in '19, $15 million in '20, $18.5 million in '21 and $19.5 million in '22. The Rays hold an option for 2013 that calls for $13 million-plus options and a $5 million buyout.
The contract does not include a no-trade clause, though Longoria will receive $2 million if he is traded.
It is the richest contract received by a Tampa Bay area athlete, topping the 11-year, $85 million extension signed by Vinny Lecavalier of the Lightning before the 2008 season.
Longoria, who turned 27 in October, will be 37 when the contract reaches its option year.
"I'm pretty satisfied," Longoria said. "When you go through a negotiation, you have to look at players at that age and what they're doing."
Longoria said he has known for some time that he wanted to remain a Ray throughout his career.
"I've seen a lot of guys come in and out of here and a lot of guys are disappointed when they leave, and a lot of guys that have been here for a long time express their interest in being here and not wanting to go anywhere else," he said. "I've always had that thought, but it's just more clear when you talk with veteran guys who have been other places then come here."
The Rays' payroll will remain near the bottom of Major League Baseball unless they can increase their revenue stream through a new stadium and new lucrative TV deals. If not, Longoria's yearly salary will be the lion's share of the payroll.
"I told them from the beginning that I didn't want to be the one sucking up all the payroll so that we can't afford anyone else," Longoria said, "because it's not giving ourselves the best chance to win."
When asked if Longoria's extension will hamper the Rays' ability to sign players in the future, Sternberg said, "It doesn't help. Things are going to work one way or the other. There's no such thing as a tie in my book, whether at first base or anywhere else. This is just an enormous commitment for us."
So, finding new revenue streams, like those generated by a new stadium, are imperative.
"In order for it to work well," Sternberg said. "If by the end of this contract we're not (playing in a new stadium), it's not going to work out well."
Sternberg said Longoria's contract will not prevent the Rays from signing Cy Young Award-winning pitcher David Price to a multiyear deal.
"In theory, no," Sternberg said.
And Friedman said Longoria's extension does not impact what the Rays need to do this offseason to field a competitive team in 2013.
"We talk a lot about how important it is for us to keep one eye on the present, one eye on the future. We feel like this helps us in a significant way for the future, doesn't necessarily do anything for the present," Freidman said.