With free agency a mess, contract extensions are all the rage. The Rays have now handed out two contract extensions of their own to young players as they look to secure the core of a 90-win team for the foreseeable future.
It may be wise for all sides involved (players, ownership, and fans who want to see players in Rays jerseys for the long haul) to continue the trend (which it sounds like it might!).
#Rays Neander on if there could be more extension coming: "when there are opportunities that increases the chance they can be here for a long period of time - that's something that we will continue to explore whenever those opportunities present themselves."— Juan Toribio (@juanctoribio) March 21, 2019
With the caveat it takes two to tango, here are some players the Rays should target for contract extensions.
The 23 year old Rays shortstop of the present seems like the most obvious candidate for the next extension. The former top prospect enjoyed a solid debut season that got better the longer it went on, finishing with a 109 wRC+. It’s true that with all the middle infield talent on the way (Wander Franco, Lucius Fox, Taylor Walls), The Kid might have to move off shortstop at some point. But his bat has always been his carrying tool, and that will play lots of places.
Prediction: Adames won’t be a free agent until 2025, and won’t hit his first year of arbitration until 2022. A 6 year / $32M deal with some options in the out years would definitely show the Rays were serious about contending. Adames would stand to add significant cash should he be open to options as well.
The newly acquired catcher from the Mariners is another likely target. Only 27, he is already an accomplished backstop with a bat that provides plenty of pop. If the Rays can lock up a young and solid major leaguer at a position that has vexed them throughout their existence, they should do so at the first opportunity.
Prediction: Already in his arb years, Zunino will be a free agent in 2021. Locking him up soon at 4 year / $28M deal (beginning in 2019) would be a huge win, as it buys out the next three seasons (including two years of free agency) at an $8M AAV. If that’s too light, perhaps a signing bonus gets it across the line.
The lack of a set position for Robertson is not a bug, it’s a feature. Because while everybody who shows the slightest bit of versatility gets the label “the next Ben Zobrist,” D-Rob might be earning it. Locking him up would be an aggressive move to be sure, but it would be a safer play than one they’ve already made in Lowe.
Prediction: The 25 year old Robertson (Happy birthday!) hits Arb-1 next year, and will be a Free Agent in 2024. We think a 5 year / $30M agreement would be fair to both sides, allowing the player to hit free agency ahead of his age-30 season.
Brent Honeywell Jr.
The idea that we’re even talking about extending a prospect who is coming back from Tommy John surgery and who hasn’t even spent a day in the Bigs shows how special everyone’s favorite screwball could be. Don’t expect anything terribly soon, but if Honeywell looks like his old self, the chance to secure another top of the rotation arm to pair with Snell would remove a lot of uncertainty from the Tampa Bay rotation for foreseeable future.
Prediction: Mama told me never to make predictions about young pitchers, especially those coming back from TJS. Mama was smart. But if the Rays really want to roll the dice, a 6 year / $24M deal with some options would be interesting.
ROY in our hearts Joey Wendle is an unlikely extension candidate. The late bloomer is already 28 and won’t be hitting his first year of arbitration until 2021, and won’t be a free agent till 2024. Teams don’t secure long term success by betting on guys to maintain a high level of success into their mid-30s.
Prediction: Wendle likely plays out his pre-arb years with the Rays, then gets moved to make way for the next wave of talent, but if he were to agree on an extension, the Brandon Lowe deal isn’t a bad model at $4M AAV.
Pham finds himself in a similar boat as Wendle. At 31, a long extension would be a mistake. But given that he is already making decent money through arbitration, and will be a free agent till 2022, a short extension might make sense for the risk-averse Rays.
Our previous attempt at projecting an extension for Pham was built around Charlie Blackmon’s recent contract (which offered something north of $20M for his free agent seasons) but the market seems to have already changed, with Andrew McCutchen signing this offseason for a lower $16.5 AAV in his contract with the Phillies.
From there, in a contract extension, the Rays would be looking for various discounts due to Pham’s advanced age (in comparison to the players being discussed above), and the risks associated with his previous eye procedure.
Prediction: 4/$40M would be nice, as it would lock in Pham at $4M, $8.5M, and $12.5M for his arbitration years and then give the Rays his first year of free agency at $15M, but it’s hard to think of a player more likely to bet on himself than Pham, especially considering his feelings about his treatment with the Cardinals. If Pham wants a longer guarantee, 5 years / $55M would be palatable, but Pham is a great reminder that it really does take two to tango.
It is ridiculous to think the Rays would throw a long-term mega-deal at a prospect in High-A. But the Rays haven’t seen a prospect like Franco since Evan Longoria, and how did that work out?
An 8 year/$50M deal today would be gutsy, but also not likely, given the bust rate of even the best prospects. Nevertheless, keep an eye on his rise through the minors. If Franco is who we hope he is, the Rays should be very motivated in talking about making Franco a very rich man round about 2021.
Prediction: A deal comparable to Eloy Jimenez’s 6/$43M with two club options would be wise to both sides, particularly if Franco would like to ride that rocketship to the majors even faster.
Who should the Rays extend next?
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Brent Honeywell Jr.
Other (see comments)