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The Rays can invest in their future by extending their best players

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What should the Rays do with all their cash? Lock down their talent.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays current payroll sits at $50.8 Million according to Baseball-Reference. The Rays are seemingly going for it in 2019 by making a competitive offer to Nelson Cruz, signing All-Star Charlie Morton, and remaining in the hunt for the MarlinsJ.T. Realmuto.

After winning 90 games in 2018, the playoff window is starting to open for the Rays. We know the Rays aren’t afraid of extending and trading their young, promising prospects. Matt Moore was signed to a 5-year, $14 million extension in 2011. Chris Archer signed a 6-year, $25.5 million deal in 2014. Most recently, Kevin Kiermaier signed a 6-year, $53.5 million deal that will hopefully keep the Platinum Glove-winning fielder in a Rays uniform through 2023.

The Rays have historically have been able to craft favorable deals with a few of their high-quality players, presumably those more concerned with with securing their first million than their last million. With one young star locked up for the near future, should the Rays look at extending others? And would any of their most promising players be interested?

Yes. Absolutely.

Candidate A: Blake Snell

This is the obvious choice, and one we have been talking about for a while. The 26-year-old lefty just came off a Cy Young award winning season, posting a 1.89 ERA and going 21-5 over 180.2 IP. With Snell’s 2018 breakthrough, arbitration would not start out cheap, and if his potential and skill continue to rise, so will the arbitration cost.

The extension might be even more expensive than potential arbitration, but it might be in the Rays’ best interest to explore this option. By offering an extension, the Rays could show good faith and buy out his arbitration at above market value in exchange for some free agency years.

For Snell — and any young player — it is financial security in case he doesn’t live up to expectations or succumbs to injuries that derails his career.

Looking at MLBTR’s extension tracker, I tried to find Cy Young Award winning pitchers that signed extensions to see what a Snell extension could look like. Multiple names came up, including Johan Santana, Justin Verlander, and Cole Hamels.

Among them, one name stood out.

Corey Kluber signed a five-year extension worth $38.5 million in 2015, with escalators in the last three years that could make the deal worth $77 million. A contract extension after a Cy Young award winning season isn’t where the similarities between Kluber and Snell end either.

Corey Kluber signed his extension with only two years of service time in the MLB. Snell has 2.072 years according to Cot’s Contracts. Kluber was 28 years old when he signed his extension, Snell is 26. Kluber finished his 2014 Cy Young winning season with a 18-9 record, 2.44 ERA and 269 strikeouts in 235 IP, where Snell went 21-5, 221 strikeouts in 189 IP.

Here’s another reason why the Rays could lock up Snell for the long term. Blake Snell is represented by Sonsick Cobbe Sports agency, who represents the Rays’ Chaz Roe, and former Ray Matt Moore. They know how the Rays operate, and are used to negotiating contract extensions with the club.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

What would a Snell extension look like? Looking back on Kluber’s contract, it is obviously a bargain for the Indians, and I think the Rays will want to do something similar with Snell, but this will come at a higher price. What is an offseason without some predictions?

Note: I used a 5% growth rate based on this Fangraphs article regarding converting past contracts to 2019 offers. Let’s try that with Kluber’s contact:

Prediction: 5 years, $46.5 million - with options at $16.5 million in 2024, and $17.0 million in 2025

Keeping the projection close to Kluber, this contract buys out Snell’s arbitration and one year of free agency, before adding options to extend two years for a total value of $80 million, while still allowing Snell to test free agency at age-32.

But who says it has to stay boring, or so straight forward?

Vesting options for Cy Young votes, time spent on DL, etc could bump it up, and be a fair incentive to Snell, while allowing the Rays to control costs’ better than with, say, an “innings pitched” incentive. This contract could be wild, but any way you slice it, the dollar amounts could be fair to both sides.

Candidate B: Willy Adames

With or without a book bag, he’s still “The Kid”.

Adames seems to be a cornerstone of the Rays’ future success. He posted a 109 wRC+ in only 323 PA. And he is already loving the spotlight and big moments.

Longoria signed his first extension, a six-year $17.5 million, with the potential to go up to $44.5 million through three options, after just 32 plate appearances in six major league games. The Rays extended Longoria again, with a 10-year $100 million contract, but that was after he proved himself at the major league level.

For a more recent comparison, Cleveland Indians’ All-Star shortstop Fransisco Lindor made $10.5 million in his first go through of arbitration, and is only going to go up from there. The Indians also tried to lock him up in 2017 with a rumored $100 million deal that Lindor turned down.

The Rays would be wise to invest in Adames’s stock now.

Prediction: 6 years, $30 million — with three options at $15 million per season

This contract would buy out Adames’s rookie contract at a rate higher than Pham might receive in the standard arbitration process, while adding options for the Rays that could keep him in a Tampa Bay uniform through his age-30 season for a total value of $75 million.

Candidate C: Brent Honeywell

Wait, what? It probably is might be a bad idea to look at extending a pitcher with no MLB experience with already one Tommy John surgery down, and who might make his debut in 2019.

Short answer, yes. It doesn’t have to happen this offseason, but it wouldn’t be too far outside the normal operating philosophy for the Rays.

Matt Moore signed his five-year, $14 million guaranteed contract with only 17 days of service time, and at one point was considered the number three prospect in all of baseball behind Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. The contract included three team options to bring the total value to $40 million over eight years.

Honeywell is one of the top prospects in baseball, and according to Erik Neander is on pace for a July-August debut, maybe earlier. But not all top prospects in baseball pan out to their full potential, as we have seen with Matt Moore, which is why it makes sense to explore an extension with Honeywell in 2019. Honeywell could have financial security for the long term in case he does get injured again, and the Rays could potentially lock down an ace for the future and keep their playoff window open.

Plus, Honeywell wants to get back to the mound.

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“Imma be on the tv mama...” -tunechi

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Prediction: 6 years, $25 million - with options at $12.5 million in 2025, and $17.5 in 2026

This guarantees an extra year more than Moore’s contract, but still gives each side security, buying out all years of Honeywell’s rookie contract, with potentially his age 30 and 31 seasons secured, bringing the total value to $55 million over eight seasons and allowing him to be a free agent ahead of his age 32 season.

Candidate D: Tommy Pham

I’m not saying this is likely, especially after we found out that the Rays and Tommy Pham will be going to an arbitration case over a difference of $600K, but it needs to be considered.

An extension would be a measure of trust between ball club and player, but that is hardly why an extension should take place. Pham is having his first go through of arbitration and is only two years removed from a year in which he posted a 5.3 fWAR.

However, if he makes it to free agency with the Rays, he would be going on 34 years old, and while the Rays aren’t shy about spending money with over-the-hill proven sluggers, age could be a concern for the MVP candidate.

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As there is already a disagreement between the Rays and Pham in arbitration, it is difficult to see the two sides coming to an agreement via a contract deal.

If the Rays do extend Pham, they could model an offer on one signed by Charlie Blackmon last offseason: 3 years, $64 million with player options that could extend it to five years and for an extra $31 million. Blackmon was 31 at the time, and coming off a MVP caliber .331/.399/.601 2017 campaign, good for a 141 wRC+.

If you project out Pham’s remaining arbitration at something roughly around $4 million this year, $8 million next year, and say $13 million the next, the Rays could consider a similar extension to Blackmon’s at something like $22.5 million per year.

Prediction: 6 years, $92.5 million - with options at $22.5 million in 2025, and $10.5 million in 2026.

This is a steep price, one that rivals the team’s intentions with Evan Longoria, but worth it for a player who put up 6.1 and 4.0 fWAR in back to back years. This contract proposal buys out Pham’s age 31-36 seasons, and adds pricey but reasonable options for the MVP candidate to bring the value up to $125.5 million over eight years.

Now, you’ll note $125.5 million is one heck of a lot more money than the three players listed above.

The jarring contract difference is due to the wage disparity between veteran and rookie contracts. When Blackmon signed his deal, he was entering his final arbitration year and the Rockies were buying out multiple FA years. Rays would be buying out Pham’s arbitration and several FA years, and although it should be cheaper, Pham knows exactly how much he’s worth, and it is going to take a Veteran type contract to lock in the potential perennial All Star.

The Rays have done it once before, perhaps they can do it again; Lord knows the team can afford it.

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Tampa Bay’s payroll is currently at $50 million, with no sign of getting much bigger. While this can be used to field competitive offers to big named agents, it also allows the Rays to extend their core players and keep their playoff window open as long as possible.

The question is whether these players will want to secure the next few years, or roll the dice on continued health and productivity. At this juncture, however, I don’t foresee the Rays being able to lock up their superstars for far below market value.

Vesting options instead of team options might be the new trend in contracts, and as long as the parameters that trigger the option are fair, why not. Continued health; obtaining key awards are all things that could trigger bigger payouts which rewards productive players without putting too much risk on the team.

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Let’s say the Rays could budget extending one player with the contracts above. Who would you choose?

Poll

Who do you want the Rays to Extend?

This poll is closed

  • 67%
    Blake Snell - 5 years, $46.5 guaranteed (7 years, $80 million total)
    (293 votes)
  • 20%
    Willy Adames - 6 years, $30 million guaranteed (9 years, $75 million total)
    (91 votes)
  • 4%
    Brent Honeywell - 6 years, $25 million guaranteed (8 years, $55 million total)
    (20 votes)
  • 5%
    Tommy Pham - 6 years, $92.5 guaranteed (8 years, $125.5 million total)
    (24 votes)
  • 1%
    Other - Let us know in the comments!
    (7 votes)
435 votes total Vote Now

Daniel Russell contributed to this article.