he Tampa Bay Rays have signed infielder Yandy Díaz to a three-year, $24 million contract through the 2025 season, including a $12 million club option for the 2026 season.
The surprise extension is the third player among the seven that were facing arbitrations in February to receive a contract extension, and the only one on the position player side. And the surprise overall comes not from Yandy’s talent, but his position on the field. More on that in a moment.
Díaz, 31, has spent parts of six seasons in the majors with Cleveland (2017-18) and Tampa Bay (2019-22) and is a career .278/.372/.411 (451-for-1,624) hitter with 39 home runs. Famous for the biggest arms in baseball, Diaz had only one longball prior to his acquisition in nearly 300 plate appearances in Cleveland.
Given his physical presence on the field, it bears repeating that we are discussing only 38 homeruns over four seasons with the Rays, but the casual fan should not be fooled. Yandy puts the ball in play with incredible feel and velocity. Last season, Diaz was 97th percentile or better in K-rate, BB-rate, chase rate, and xBA, which 95th percentile in max velocity, 93rd in average exit velocity, and 91st in hardhit%.
Diaz ranked fifth in the majors behind NYY Aaron Judge (.425), LAD Freddie Freeman (.407), HOU Yordan Alvarez (.406) and STL Paul Goldschmidt (.404) and ranked fourth for a single season in franchise history behind Carlos Peña (.411) in 2007, Fred McGriff (.405) in 1999 and Ben Zobrist (.405) in 2009.
With 78 walks and 60 strikeouts, Díaz was one of six players in the majors to qualify for leaderboards and finish with more walks than strikeouts, joining Luis Arraez, Alex Bregman, and Juan Soto. Since the start of the 2020 season, his .383 on-base pct. ranks third in the AL (min. 500 PA) behind Judge (.395) and LAA Mike Trout (.391).
Yandy Diaz is really freaking good at hitting a baseball and getting on base, even if it it’s consistently for distance.
So what’s surprising about the extension? Mostly it’s roster fit, it two ways.
Diaz is the team’s starting third baseman, and cemented himself there in 2022 even though his glove and arm strength were showing some signs of fading, thanks in part to breakout infielder Isaac Paredes being comfortable at first base. In signing, Diaz must surely be accepting that the Rays will not be keeping him at third base for the duration of the contract, and may even need to move him to the DH slot with the upcoming top prospects on the infield, namely imminent corner infielders Curtis Mead and Kyle Manzardo.
Second, the Rays were not expected to have room for Diaz on the roster for the long haul, but it’s important to remember what the Rays didn’t do on offense this winter: add. The team was largely expected to add a top notch hitter this off-season, which would have locked up the next wave of the Rays needs on offense for the next few seasons. That bat never arrived, but in its stead was this extension.
A veteran with a positive influence on the clubhouse — Díaz won the club’s 2022 Paul C. Smith Champion Award, as voted by the Tampa Bay Chapter of the BBWAA, which is given to the player who best exemplifies the spirit of true professionalism on and off the field — and gives the Rays a bat with a wRC+ of 146, 111, 139 over the last three seasons.
If he were a free agent, $8M AAV for three years would feel like a bargain for his services. If it goes belly up, it’s even a low enough price that you can walk away relatively unscathed.
And while for some, who have an eye on the farm and the future, it might seem like Diaz is being given the roster spot that might have belonged to the likes of Jonathan Aranda, it’s important to remember a couple things: 1) Diaz is good now, we know this, and Aranda might not be good because prospects will almost always break your heart, and 2) trades can still return value in the case of a roster crunch down the road.
The Rays team press release contributed to this article.