Sunday, April 6, 2008

How Eric Hinske could Ruin Evan Longoria's Career.

So what happens if Eric Hinske IS this year’s Carlos Pena? No one is talking about the consequences of Hinske making the everyday roster. We’re only a week into the season so it’s still too early to see if he will keep his average over .300, but so far he has looked solid as this year’s pick off the major league scrap heap. As a matter of fact, as I typed the last sentence he just drilled a single into right field off of Chien-Ming Wang to put runners on the corners with no one out.

The nDRO was criticized heavily for sending down prized super prospect Evan Longoria to begin the season. Their thinking was that it would be beneficial to Longoria (more at bats) and the team (delay his major league service saving them money long term). In the meantime the Rays would be able to hold court with the two headed dragon of Willy Aybar and Hinske.

Fans cried out in anguish on message boards across the vast internet wasteland. Even seasoned mainstream writers weren’t immune from the sexy prospect of the 23 year old starting the season with the big club. SI’s resident baseball guru Tom Veducci wrote, “Get him to the majors ASAP. The kid, polished and confident, looks as if he’s already been in the bigs 10 years”.

Well ok then. If a writer thinks it’s time for the Rays to call up the jewel in their top rated crop of future stars then let’s do it! From a quick look at his stats (11 at bats, 4 K’s and 0 hits) it appears the Rays may have made the right call. Hopefully, the demotion and his early struggles serve as a wake-up call. After spending all off season and Spring Training hearing how great he is and is going to be this could provide a little perspective.

Please don’t read this as a pile on Longoria post. He’s going to be good, really good when his time comes. Rather let’s give the Rays some credit for thinking long term. The easy call would have been to start the young kid on the roster. He didn’t embarrass himself in spring training and Aybar’s gimpy hamstring could have opened up a spot. The fans would have been happy; the press would be able to gush over the second coming of Mike Schmidt.

Andrew Friedman and his associates (Friedman and Associates – a new law firm?) stood firm with their decision. In comments to the St Pete Times he even acknowledged that they might be “erring on the side of caution” by sending him down. Of course they are and they should. The future Rays teams, the teams that fans insist will be competing for a title in 2010, must be built around the nucleus of Longoria, Crawford, Upton and their cadre of young arms.

If Longoria is called up to soon, loses his confidence and washes out of the majors then what happens? As unlikely as that scenario may be, it would be disastrous to the organization. The same fans who are calling for the bloody head of Friedman for not promoting him would promptly jump to the other side of the fence and blame him for destroying their new savior. More importantly the team will be missing a key component of their future. By keeping the slugger in Durham for a few months there is no long term damage.

On the other side of the coin there is the financial aspect. In the same article quoted above Friedman states that the financial aspect of sending Longoria down was “virtually irrelevant”. The unnamed interneters don’t buy that for one second. They see it as a ploy to keep the kid under Rays control for as long as and as cheap as possible. It’s still puzzling to hear people whine about the “cheap ownership” and how the “tightwads” are being unfair to the fans.

This current group has shown a willingness to spend money on the players that are important to the future of the team. How quickly the large contracts handed out to Carlos Pena and James Shields are forgotten. Feel free to criticize the past ownership about being a tight-fisted tyrannical crew ( I’m thinking specifically about Namoli making a band who was invited to play the National Anthem buy tickets to watch the game), but nothing the nDRO has done has indicated that they are willing to field a lesser team in order to save money.

Another thing to look at, in the long term this could actually cost the Rays more money. If they are unable to sign Longoria to a long term deal before he’s a free agent it would be better that he’s a free agent sooner rather than later. Why’s this you ask? Well when have you ever known the cost of free agents to go down from year to year? Signing the future All-Star to a big free agent deal in 2014 rather than 2013 could cost the Rays millions more over all.

Don’t believe it? Then let us turn back the clock to 2005. In April of that year a young Rays outfielder by the name of Carl Crawford inked a 6 year $32.5 million contract with the team. Everyone was happy. The team had locked up one of its stars and Crawford was being rewarded for his exemplary performance on the field. Even the fans were impressed by the commitment to the future shown by the new ownership. Now imagine how much more Crawford would have cost to lock up (or even in arbitration) if they had waited a year or so. Why’s that? Alfonso Soriano and Vernon Wells.

After the 2006 season Soriano (eight years $136 million) and Wells (seven years $126 million) drove up the cost of acquiring outfield talent. If he hadn’t signed his big deal the year before Crawford would have been in arbitration with the Rays, imagine how that would have turned out. Not well for the Rays especially with names like David Wright, Miguel Cabrera and Alex Rodriguez sharing Longoria’s position.
So fans, please relax. You’ll have plenty of time to enjoy Longoria’s heroics in the blue, white and yellow of the Rays. In the meantime enjoy the fact that your 2008 Rays are showing that they belong in the majors and just took two of three from the Yankees. If you have to get fired up about something go to an old standby – Jon Gomes not getting enough playing time.

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