Just a couple of weeks after the 2008 season started, the Rays and Evan Longoria agreed on a contract that would guarantee the highly touted prospect (at the time) $17.5MM over six years with an additional three options that would pay him an extra $30MM+ should the Rays pick them up.
Little did we know, over the next three seasons, Longoria would become not only the biggest bargain in baseball, but one of the best players in the game. With many interesting young players in the fold, is it impossible to imagine a player becoming a bigger bargain than Longo? Is there any player who would even be willing to sacrifice long term money for security the way the Rays third baseman did? Let's take a look...
At the time, Longoria took comfort over uncertainty. Citing security as the prime reason for signing the deal, Longoria knew he'd be able to live up to the contract, according to Bill Chaistain of MLB.com. But it took some guts for a confident young player to commit to such a long deal while paying him just a fraction of what he could possibly get just one or two seasons in to his Major League career.
In his brief three-year career, Longoria has been worth 19.6 wins. Signing the deal at age 22, he was able to earn the Rays 5.4 wins. Over the next two years, he was worth 7.3 wins and 6.9 wins respectively. Incentives aside, he's made $2MM so far in the short three-year span. Back to the whole "best bargain in baseball" moniker, if you put it in to perspective, A-Rod has made $91MM over the last three seasons earning himself 14.4 wins for the Yankees.
Alas, it's really a two part question. Obviously, living up to the contract (thus far) has been a huge reason the "best bargain in baseball" term has been tagged on Longoria, but it's possible that the real challenge for a team is being able to find a player willing to sign such a deal rather than finding the player himself. Obviously, we have no idea who does and who doesn't want that type of security the way Longo did, but we can judge talent.
Using Eric Hosmer as an example, the Royals future first baseman has been nothing short of amazing over the last year or so. Proving to scouts at every level he's been at since the start of 2010 that there's nothing he can't do, it's only a matter of time until we see him in Royal blue. With 2011 Spring Training being the icing on the cake, many believe Hosmer could potentially be one of the game's elite superstars.
Compared to Longoria's $3MM, Hosmer received a $6MM signing bonus out of High School -- he's fairly set for life and still 21 years old. Like Longoria in his rookie season, assuming Hosmer doesn't get significant at-bats in 2011, he'll be 22 at the start of the 2012 season. Now, if he rakes in Northwest Arkansas & Omaha throughout the first several seasons to earn himself a call up in August, for example, that would have to be the time for the Royals to offer a 6+ year deal worth a similar amount of money that Longoria received.
So let's say Hosmer signs a Longoria-like team friendly contract this August. While the deal would presumably start in 2012, Longoria would be getting $4.5MM in that year. He'd also be getting $6MM the following year and then the club options start the following. So if Hosmer were to get paid less than $2MM for each of the first two or three years as long as the deal runs five or six guaranteed years minimum, it'd be pretty comparable. Whoever overtakes Longoria, it would certainly have to be in the aforementioned last two years or later his contract as the money starts to escalate.
As far as salary arbitration goes, a players salary should grow 40%, 60%, and 80% of their free agent value through the first several years of their deal. Of course, teams go for the best available deal for their club, which was the case with Longoria and he is certainly being paid below market value at this point.
The one big difference here is the fact that Evan Longoria is represented by Paul Cohen while Eric Hosmer is represented by the Boras corp. Obviously, Eric Hosmer's wishes come first and foremost, as we would assume, but the goal of Boras is to get his client the most money regardless of whether Hosmer wants two years or ten.
Again, we don't know if Hosmer or anyone for that matter wants long term security the way Longoria did. We also can bet that players and their agents learned a lesson by the Longoria contract. However, long term security in addition to $15MM-$20MM is quite attractive and hard to pass up. That's coming from a blogger, though.