May 10th 2008 10:15AM by Josh Alper
At the end of April, I took a look at the growing trend of teams locking up young players to long-term contracts long before free agency. The Tampa Bay Rays have been at the forefront of the movement and their decision to seal a deal with Evan Longoria six days into his big league career is the most extreme one to date.
Last night against the Angels, the team’s theory of team building looked like a can’t miss. Longoria hit a two-run, walk off ninth-inning home run to support James Shields’s one-hitter in a 2-0 win against the AL West frontrunners. Shields also received a long-term deal from the Rays and he’s pitched complete game shutouts in two of his last three starts.
Longoria hasn’t been so productive of late, 6-for-35 over his last 10 games, but the homer was the latest in a series of big late-game hits he’s gotten in his short career. Even with his struggles, Tampa’s won 11 of 16 and, at three games over .500, continue to navigate their way through uncharted waters of success.
They’ll stay there with pitching. Scott Kazmir’s back to join Shields in front of a rotation that’s been impressive all season. But the order of their importance, thought to be Kazmir-Shields, may be the reverse.