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Who's Next?

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After Crawford was signed to his contract I saw the question posed about who would be next to sign on long-term with the Rays. That's an interesting question without an easy answer, let's take a look at the candidates.

Rocco Baldelli: This is the usual answer from Rays fans but I just can't see it even after he's back this season. He has had leg injuries, both freakish and major like the ACL tear as well as minor but worrying like his quad problems almost all last year. He's needs a full, healthy season to show that his legs aren't getting worn down already from the damage to them. There are other concerns too; he isn't Crawford's equal on defense, he improved some last season but not a whole lot, and he is lousy against right-handed pitching. Those could and hopefully will all improve but I can't see it being a good idea to risk a long-term contract on him right now.

Aubrey Huff: The other popular choice. I've been over this before and I can't see it being a wise decision. Don't get me wrong, I love Huff and wish the Rays could keep him, I just don't think it's a good idea to extend his contract. You have to figure that the Rays will be paying close to free agent price for him, at least $9 million I think. Paying roughly one sixth or seventh of your projected 2007 payroll to someone who may only be your third or fourth best position player at the time (and who will be 30 and probably past his peak) isn't a winning formula.

Josh Phelps Some of the same caveats about Huff come into play here since Phelps has no defensive value at all (Huff at least has versatility if not quality), meaning everything has to come from his bat. It's far better to be giving the big money to your Crawfords and Uptons (though Upton still has a while to go before getting that big money) who can both hit and have good defensive value than big bats. Phelps does have some advantages over Huff. He's a year behind in service time and thanks to his struggles isn't making much now in his first arbitration year. These two will combine to lower his price on a long-term deal since he lacks Huff's leverage. He would also be more likely to accept a new deal since he doesn't already have the security of a significant contract like Huff does. Phelps also has the potential to be a superior hitter, maybe even along the lines of a .600 SLG. All of this talk regarding Phelps is based on one gigantic IF though. He has to return to the promise he showed in his rookie year, something he may very well never do. If he does break out this season then locking him up for at least a year or two of his free agency is something the Rays would need to consider.

Scott Kazmir/Jeff Niemann: Kazmir will be a year ahead of Niemann as far as service time goes but they're both far from even getting into arbitration. If either fulfills his promise then the Rays would do well to lock them up but that's far in the future.

BJ Upton/Delmon Young: Same with Kazmir and Niemann, with Upton being a year ahead of Young. Great candidates for long-term contracts if they fulfill their potential but too early to consider.

Jesus Colome: Colome is the only current member of the bullpen that I'd even consider signing to a multi-year deal at this point. If he maintains his level of performance from last season then next offseason the Rays might want to think about signing him a year or two past free agency.

It's obvious that there isn't anyone that the Rays should discuss a new contract/extension with before next offseason. Before the 2006 season the best candidate may be Colome, Phelps is the only one I'd even consider (IF he harnesses his potential) and that would depend a lot on just how well he hit and how much he would want for his free agent years.