It was one year ago over the holiday weekend that Wander Franco signed his 12-year contract with the Tampa Bay Rays: 11 years, $182 million guaranteed, with a $25 million club option for the 12th year. The deal can max out at $223 million, and has $3 million escalators for 1-5 MVP finishes starting in 2028 (the year the Rays need to be in a new stadium).
In the first year following the deal, Wander Franco was... well, injured. He took the field just 83 times and accrued 344 plate appearances, slashing a .746 OPS (116 wRC+) with 6 HR and 8 SB. Franco played in 13 total games between June and July, and missed two whole months of play, from July 9 to September 9 (finishing the regular season with a 149 wRC+).
With all of that in mind, Marc Topkin has a question for all of us Rays fan!
Fifty-two weeks later, is there any different feel to the Rays’ team-record record contract with Wander Franco, which guarantees him $182 million over 11 years and could yield up to $223 million over 12?
I’m worried about the injuries, not the performance. This might be the year they start to explore a position change, because the best ability is availability. I still believe the Rays will be paying Franco well below market value for the duration of this contract.
I think I’m only hesitant because I still think about Kiermaier who was a defensive force of nature but never had a season he wasn’t injured. That makes me uneasy about the value per game of the contract if Franco has a similar story. If he doesn’t, well, I’m thrilled that team has him locked down because he’s an absolute joy to watch.
The injuries have been unfortunate to see so far, but none of them strike me as serious long term. The Rays locked up a truly elite talent for a decade-plus, which has been a major challenge for this team over the years.
Wander has produced 4.7 WAR in his first 153 big league games all while being essentially the youngest player in baseball and hasn’t been 100% healthy while on the field. I’d offer this deal to him again with very little hesitation.
I’m with Cole here — one season is still a small “n” and we don’t have reason to think Franco has some chronic issue or issues that will plague him.
Brett, “The best ability is availability” is a great line, is that original or have your heard that previously?
I stole that from a few coaches.
Proof I’ve never been on a sports team (unless you count one season of JV lacrosse in college, done as a PE requirement) so I don’t know that expression.
Ian Malinowski (he/him)
So we’re talking about vibes here, right?
Sure it feels different. Last offseason Rays fans were living in a dreamland where GMing is easy and prospects never break your heart. The 2022 season was a dose of reality and reality tends to kill the vibe.
When the scouts said there wasn’t huge raw power, they actually weren’t lying. Elite bat speed doesn’t help one recognize a changeup, and MLB pitchers always notice. Injuries happen.
Wander Franco is fine. Last year didn’t significantly change his career outlook. It just reminded us that risk exists. If it didn’t, then he’d never have signed that bargain star contract in the first place. We fans can learn to deal with reality. It can be fun too.
Also, if we are talking about vibes... didn’t seeing our team sign a potential elite player to a long-term deal make us feel a bit better about being Rays fans? First, that they have this long-term horizon and aren’t just running out the clock until after 2027. Second, that they are willing to commit significant money under the right circumstances.
Franco’s injuries do nothing to change my good feelings about this gesture, and the whole reason it can be difficult for clubs to write these sorts of contracts is that a guy can get injured his sophomore year and you STILL owe him $180M.
So my vibes are still, good job Erik & co., I am more willing to believe you when you say you are trying to win, and not just finding ways to field the cheapest team possible.
I’m not concerned about Wander or feel differently to the contract; however, strictly vibes wise, it was hard to lose out on seemingly a full season directly after the extension was signed. Wander is still electric, still so young, and rightly projected as one of the best SS in baseball by most projection systems.
1 year later, I’m still over the moon by the big contract extension, and glad to have Wander locked in long term. But also quite anxious for Wander to get a full season of action in to silence any creeping doubts.
The Franco contract is so long in length that it’s essentially two different deals: a six-year deal at $60 million to buy out his rookie contract, and then a five-year guarantee after that at $122 million. The deal is, of course, back loaded as Franco will earn $2 million in 2023 and was paid just $1 million for 2022 (after his $5 million signing bonus in 2021).
Financially? The Rays do not regret that 2022 salary, nor can they possibly regret having one of the best prospects in baseball history locked up through his age-32 season. When I consider the Franco contract, it remains inconceivable and somewhat perplexing that Franco remains under contract in ages 27-31 of this deal. There is no opt out, there is no no-trade clause until 2031 at age 30 (when he picks up 10-5 veteran rights).
The Rays may have lost half a season in 2022, but the value of time in this contract continues will into the years the Rays are no longer at Tropicana Field.
With all of that said, though, the Rays do need to get out of Tropicana Field and onto some real turf as soon as humanly possible. The injury risk of playing on concrete is real, especially for longterm players for this franchise. But overall, if I’m the Rays, I have no ragrets.