Trio of extensions show Rays' focus on continuity

February 4th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Adam Berry’s Rays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ST. PETERSBURG -- There are plenty of reasons the Rays signed a trio of rapid-fire extensions in the span of a week, first Jeffrey Springs, then Pete Fairbanks and Yandy Díaz.

Those three were otherwise set to proceed to salary arbitration hearings, which began Monday. Signing them to multiyear deals cleared three hearings off Tampa Bay’s slate and provided long-term financial security for the players.

The Rays also had money coming off the books and wound up being less active than anticipated this offseason. That gave them more financial flexibility, and president of baseball operations Erik Neander acknowledged that, “in a sense, it afforded us the opportunity to give the group we have a chance to stick together a little longer.”

That leads directly to perhaps the most interesting reasons: Those players like being here, and the Rays want to keep their current core together.

“For a lot of us,” Fairbanks said, “this is a place that we know that we want to be, and it's a staff that we really, really respect and appreciate and it's a group of guys that we want to be around.

“When you're able to have that come together and then be able to get it done on the other side of things, I think it kind of speaks for itself.”

It’s no secret that the Rays have been successful while constantly turning over their roster. One example: Of the 28 players rostered for the 2020 World Series, only nine remain on the 40-man roster: Randy Arozarena, Díaz, Fairbanks, Josh Fleming, Tyler Glasnow, Brandon Lowe, Manuel Margot, Shane McClanahan and Ryan Thompson.

For all their ups and downs last season, the Rays still reached the postseason for a fourth straight year -- something this franchise had never done more than two seasons in a row (2010-11) before this streak. They think this is a group that can extend that run.

That’s why they not only extended Springs (four years, $31 million guaranteed), Fairbanks (three years, $12 million guaranteed) and Díaz (three years, $24 million guaranteed) but also reached multiyear agreements over the last 15 months with Wander Franco (11 years, $182 million guaranteed), Margot (two years, $19 million guaranteed), Glasnow (two years, $30.35 million) and free agent Zach Eflin (three years, $40 million). Those players joined Lowe, who signed a six-year extension back in 2019.

The Rays have always operated with one eye on the present and another on the future, as GM Peter Bendix recently mentioned. But they have a lot of talent right now, and they don’t want to take that for granted.

“The season didn't end the way we wanted last year, but we've had a run here of really talented teams that have won a lot of games -- and we want to build on that,” Bendix said. “Our goal is to win a World Series. Our goal is to win multiple World Series. And if we see opportunities that we can double down on strengths and see opportunities where we can push some chips in and really try to win as many games as we can, we're going to be looking for that.”

Players don’t always see their long-term deals through with the Rays. Among the players the organization has extended and dealt away -- often at the right time -- are Evan Longoria, James Shields, Ben Zobrist, Matt Moore, Chris Archer and Blake Snell. You could easily argue their extensions made them more valuable on the trade market, because they provide cost certainty.

But for now, the Rays have locked in a group of key players, not to mention the young talent (like, say, McClanahan) that remains under club control, for years to come.

Margot and Glasnow delayed their free agency -- which, as we were reminded this offseason, can bring a massive payday -- to stay put. So did Springs, Díaz and others. Fairbanks, a classic Tampa Bay pitching success story, has been able to thank Neander for acquiring him after clinching a playoff spot the last four years.

Safe to assume they wouldn’t mind having that conversation again a few more times.

“We haven't taken that final step,” Neander said, “but those [winning] experiences are important. Going through them together is important.

“We're always looking to keep players we really appreciate around longer, if we can. A few, obviously, came together here, and we're grateful they did. We think really highly of this group, and we believe in continuity when we can make it happen.

“It's often been hard for us to make that happen here with the right mix of players. I think we're in a really fortunate spot where we can do that right now. And more than anything, extending the chance for this group to play together a little longer is probably the greatest benefit.”