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Rays continue trend of signing young core players

Archer, executive VP Friedman do homework before finalizing long-term deal

ST. PETERSBURG -- Before signing his new eight-year contract extension, Rays right-hander Chris Archer looked into every angle of the decision -- the pros and cons, risks and rewards. He said he talked to a few players who passed up on that chance early in their careers, and he sought advice from others who signed similar deals.

The Rays did their homework, too. They evaluated whether Archer was worth this kind of significant financial investment -- six years of guaranteed money, expected to be worth $25.5 million, plus club options for the 2020 and '21 seasons that would push the contract toward its maximum value of $43.75 million.

They looked at his talent, track record, potential, work ethic, off-the-field character and everything else on what executive vice president Andrew Friedman called an "extensive checklist."

They've run through that list plenty of times, at this point, so they know what they're looking for.

Archer is the latest in a long line of young players the Rays have locked up to long-term deals. The trend began in April 2005, when Tampa Bay signed Carl Crawford to a six-year deal. Since then, the club has agreed to similar extensions with Rocco Baldelli, James Shields, Evan Longoria, Scott Kazmir, Ben Zobrist, Wade Davis and Matt Moore.

Rays manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday that kind of mutual commitment is "the way to become consistent in regards to winning."

"I think the message for extremely talented players is that you don't necessarily have to wait three, four, five, six, seven years to secure your first fortune," Friedman said. "But it goes beyond your talent. We're also betting on the person, the motivation, the guys that have a burning desire to win, to be great. That's what we're trying to assess going through this. We've demonstrated that we'll be aggressive when we believe in people, and that is front and center today [with Archer]."

Despite the financial risk involved, those deals make sense for the Rays. They've been able to hold on to young, high-end talent at a fixed cost during their arbitration-eligible years and, occasionally, what would have been their first few years of free agency.

But there's a little bit more at stake for the players. Longoria's first long-term deal was widely regarded as the most team-friendly contract in baseball, and he has easily outperformed his salary. Did he leave money on the table? Was it worth it? Archer talked to Moore about exactly that before finalizing his contract extension.

"Honestly, he told me to do what I was comfortable doing," Archer said. "He said, 'Whatever decision you make, whether it's yes or no, you're going to have to look yourself in the mirror and say from this point on, I'm not going to think about it.' So if I say no and I don't pitch well, I can't be upset because the opportunity was there. And if I say yes, I can't be upset because of where you're at."

The immediate financial gain for Archer is obvious. He mentioned several times how much it means to make his parents debt-free, and he can contribute further to his charitable Archway Foundation. If he ever suffers a serious injury, he's still going to be taken care of.

But Archer and Friedman agreed that the right-hander could benefit on the mound from the relief that comes along with no longer having to worry about salaries, arbitration figures and, eventually, free agency.

"It's a partnership. These deals are long-term pacts that we're collectively making together," added Friedman. "It puts them in a position to potentially have even more success, to exhale and relax and really focus on the pitching aspect of it, the Rays winning games. I think all of our interests are perfectly aligned."

That doesn't mean Friedman is just handing out these extensions to anyone who will sign on the dotted line. Some players and agents aren't comfortable establishing their value through an extension before they can do so on the open market. Some players won't grant a "hometown discount." Other times, the concern rests on the club's side.

"We felt like certain guys could potentially exhale and put their feet up in a bad way. Like, 'I've made it. I've got my first fortune,'" Friedman said. "Not necessarily still driven to be great. Some people are driven to be great for the money. Some people are driven to be great for being able to dominate at what you do and the success and the exhilaration that you get through doing that."

There's a natural follow-up question on a day like Wednesday: Who's next? Two names on the Rays roster immediately stand out: reigning American League Rookie of the Year Wil Myers, 23, and 26-year-old right-hander Alex Cobb, whom Maddon has frequently lauded as a No. 1-caliber starter.

Myers said Wednesday he's focused only on playing well and winning games, not his contract; he's content to let his agent handle that part of the game.

Cobb allowed that every player would like the kind of financial security the Rays guaranteed Archer on Wednesday, and "maybe it's in the cards for the future." But when asked if the club has approached him about inking a long-term deal, Cobb smiled and said, "Plead the fifth."

So, could the Rays lock up yet another young star before the end of the season?

"We'll see," Friedman said.

Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.
Read More: Tampa Bay Rays, Wil Myers, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer