The Rays will make a decision today or tomorrow about the fate of Evan Longoria and where he will begin the 2008 baseball season. All signs indicate that the Rays will send The Dirtbag back to the minors for a little more seasoning.
Many have argued that the smart business decision is to keep Longoria in Durham for the first two months of the season. If Longoria begins the 2008 season with the Rays he will be eligible for arbitration following the 2010 season. On the other hand, if the Rays wait until the end of May to promote baseball’s 2nd ranked prospect, they can delay his arbitration-eligibility until after the 2011 campaign. Waiting to begin his major league career can also delay his first year of free agency eligibility until after the 2014 season.
If the Rays do not secure Longoria with a long-term deal a demotion could mean a difference of $4-8 million in his 2010 salary and an extra year of service. And even if the Rays do agree to a long-term deal with Longoria, his arbitration-eligibility will be a deciding factor in how the contract is structured and could mean the difference in $1-2 million for each year of the deal.
But there is another financial factor to consider with this decision. Public Perception and the growth of the RAYSHEAD ARMY. The casual baseball fan views the Tampa Bay Rays as a laughingstock. The casual baseball fan sees a $28 million payroll in 2007 and they see a team that does not care about winning. Most importantly, the casual baseball fan sees very few reasons to root for the Rays and dozens of reasons to root against them.
The Rays new management has taken a lot of strides in the last 2+ years to change the perceptions of the casual baseball fan. We have begun to see the fruits of those labors this spring with an unprecedented amount of national media attention. National writers speak of the Rays as a team that is ready to step forward…a team that is ready to break out. Some National writers have even mentioned the Rays as a potential playoff contender.
Stuart Sternberg and Co. are trying to convert this unprecedented positive attention into new fans. Sternberg and Co. are trying to spread their gospel to casual baseball fans throughout the state of Florida and prove that the Rays are indeed serious about winning and that the Rays are worthy of their fandome. The RAYSHEAD ARMY is small, but it is growing. It has momentum.
However, if the Rays send Longoria to the minors, the public perception is going to be that it is just the “Rays being the Rays”. This move will prove the perceptions of the casual fan even if it is incorrect. The casual fan will not see a 22-year old prospect that needs a little more seasoning. They will look and see that the Rays do care more about saving a few dollars than they do about winning.
If the Rays demote Evan Longoria and the team gets off to a slow start…a very real possibility with Scott Kazmir on the DL…then all of the momentum that the Rays have built this off-season and this spring will be lost. Losing that momentum could eventually cost the franchise thousands of fans and millions of dollars. Casual baseball fans that want a team to root for, will once again turn their back on the Tampa Bay Rays as if the Devil never left.