ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays have a history of attempting to sign their best young players to long-term extensions early in their careers, and they appear to have succeeded at doing so with 20-year-old shortstop Wander Franco.
A source told MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi on Tuesday that Franco and the Rays are on the verge of completing a contract that covers 11 years with a club option for a 12th. The Rays have not confirmed the deal, which ESPN's Jeff Passan reported guarantees $182 million and could max out at $223 million.
The Rays have completed deals like this before -- Evan Longoria, Matt Moore, Chris Archer and Brandon Lowe signed long-term contracts early in their careers -- but for every official pact, there are more unreported conversations that went nowhere.
It’s not an urgent matter in terms of Franco’s club control. Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, Franco won’t be arbitration-eligible until after the 2024 season and won’t reach free agency until after the ‘27 season. Even with the way the Rays constantly turn over their roster, a potential young superstar like Franco isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
And this is an uncertain environment for negotiations, as the current CBA is set to expire on Dec. 1. It’s unclear how the terms of a future agreement might affect teams’ budgets or the contractual status and earning potential of a young star like Franco.
It’s a fascinating idea, however -- a club with one of the Majors’ lowest payrolls considering the possibility of agreeing to a record-breaking, decade-long contract extension with a remarkably talented player who hasn’t yet played a full season in the big leagues or even celebrated his 21st birthday.
Let’s look at the reasons why such a deal might, and might not, make sense for both parties.
Reasons for a deal
• For the Rays, consider this groundbreaking analysis: Franco is really good and really young, and that’s the kind of player you want to build a team around.
The switch-hitting Franco has shown the batting eye, plate discipline and bat-to-ball skills that portend success. He’s an above-average shortstop who can play anywhere in the infield. As manager Kevin Cash said, Franco might already be “the most impactful player on any team in baseball.” That’ll play.
• For Franco, consider the advice Longoria said he received from Eric Hinske before agreeing to his initial, club-friendly extension in 2008: “Never turn down your first fortune.” Based on the reported terms being offered, Franco could obtain generational wealth at the age of your average college junior.
Players who have signed such extensions often speak of the certainty they provide, as they don’t have to worry about signing year-to-year or experiencing the arbitration process. Since baseball contracts are guaranteed, they are paid even if players sustain an injury that could derail or threaten their careers.
• Signing Franco for the long haul would give the Rays’ front office someone to build the rest of the roster around. Such deals provide financial certainty on both sides, as the team can project a certain level of production for a certain cost for a certain number of years.
Making Franco the face of the franchise for the foreseeable future would give Rays fans someone to rally around, too. It would also serve as a pledge to winning, with a huge financial commitment the club has never made to a player. If not now with Franco, then when and with whom?
• Franco could make history by signing a deal that even approaches the reported terms. The current record contract for a player with less than a year of Major League service time is the eight-year, $100 million pact Ronald Acuña Jr. signed with Atlanta. Blowing past those terms might help set a precedent for the next young star to aim just as high, or higher, at the outset of his big league career.
At the same time, Franco could bet on himself to sign another big deal later in his career. A 10-year contract would buy out four of his free agent years but still allow him to hit the market again at 31, the same age as current free agents such as Marcus Semien, Chris Taylor and Kevin Gausman.
Working against a deal
• Franco would risk leaving money on the table. Does that sound crazy given the numbers being thrown around? For most people, sure. But look at the young shortstops who have recently signed extensions and the bidding wars expected to unfold this winter for 27-year-old free agents Carlos Correa and Corey Seager.
In March, Francisco Lindor agreed to a 10-year, $341 million contract extension with the Mets. That came after Padres superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. signed a 14-year, $340 million deal. The closer Franco gets to free agency and the longer he proves his elite-level talent on the field, the more he can make a case for that kind of payday -- or perhaps an even bigger one.
• Players enjoy the certainty these deals provide, but there’s one caveat: Most of them still end up getting traded. The Rays have extended and eventually dealt Longoria, Moore and Archer, among others. Without a no-trade clause, players can wind up losing control over where they finish their contracts at a point where they might otherwise be choosing their destination in free agency.
• Additionally, it’s no secret the Rays are exploring their “Sister City” plan to split future seasons between the Tampa Bay area and Montreal and will continue to ramp up those efforts. Their lease at Tropicana Field expires after the 2027 season, so with a 10-year contract, they’d be linked to a player longer than a ballpark. Agreeing to a long-term deal would be a commitment on Franco’s part to the Rays, but where exactly would he be committing to and is he on board with the answer?
• Most of the reasons against a deal are on Franco’s end, but there is always shared risk. For the Rays, it would come down to the size of such an investment. In a vacuum, yes, Franco will likely be worth it and then some. But given the financial constraints under which they operate, can they continue to build contending teams around a player absorbing that much of their payroll? How hamstrung would they be in the unlikely event that Franco doesn’t produce at a high level at some point? Can they take that risk?