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Rays invest in future with 8-year, $49M deal for Brandon Lowe

Infielder/outfielder obviously made a strong impression in 2018 climb to majors ... and the new agreement is no knock on Blake Snell.
Brandon Lowe has even more reason to celebrate now with a long-term deal. {MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Brandon Lowe has even more reason to celebrate now with a long-term deal. {MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published Mar. 20, 2019
Updated Mar. 21, 2019

PORT CHARLOTTE — Since you’re going to ask, no, the mountain of money the Rays gave Brandon Lowe on Wednesday was not what they instead should have given Cy Young award winner Blake Snell.

First, they have plenty and can spread it around if they want. Second, they’ve tried with Snell a few times, including this winter, but didn’t get close to a long-term deal. And with the riches of arbitration awaiting after this season, Snell feels pretty swell about betting on himself.

That does create this odd reality:

Snell, after a remarkably historic season, will make only $573,700 after getting just a $15,500 raise (which really was $5,500) and take his chances going forward year-by-year.

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And Lowe, after playing just 43 games for the Rays after opening last season at Double-A, is now guaranteed $24 million over the next six years (including $1 million this season) with the chance to earn up to $49 million total over eight with escalators and team options for 2025-26.

So why do it?

As snarky as it sounds, because they could.

Though not as heralded publicly as others, Lowe, with that sweet, powerful lefty swing that produced 28 homers over three levels last year, is seen by the Rays as one of their key young impact players, with the potential to push 30 homers while playing first, second, corner outfield and designated hitter.

RELATED: Blake Snell salary situation reveals the best and worst of the Rays

And at the stage they are, expecting to be competitive for years with the core group in the majors and more coming, it’s time to start locking at least some of them up, exchanging the hefty guarantees for the chance to keep them into their free-agent years, and with some cost certainty along the way, heading off some of the ensuing escalation of what this year will be a majors-low payroll of about $50 million.

“We’ve taken steps to develop a young, controllable group that is extremely talented and can be competitive for a long time,” Rays GM Erik Neander said, “and we’re always going to be looking to take steps to solidify that further.”

Was Lowe, 24, the right guy to start with? Or just the first one to say yes?

We really won’t know if it was wise for a while, given how little he’s played in the majors, though the deal at the least will make it easier to remember the proper pronunciation of his name — Lowe as in wow.

Neander, naturally, said Lowe is well worthy. That is based on what they think he can do — “We believe in the bat,” Neander said — and more so how he will go about doing it, unaffected by his newfound, and admittedly unexpected, riches. “When you make these type of deals and these commitments, you have to believe in the person and that it won’t affect their motivation in any way,” Neander said. “And that’s certainly the case here with Brandon.”

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Lowe, a 2015 third-round pick from Maryland, sounded good, and reassuring, admitting he was surprised by the team’s interest — “Kind of crazy to think about” — and acknowledging it was “life-changing” money for someone of “humble roots,’’ but also adamant he was determined to show he was worth it.

“There’s definitely something to be said to know what’s going to be there for the six years,” Lowe said, “but it’s also, as much of a security blanket it is, that to me it is something, it’s a goal to out-perform. You see that and now I want to do better than this contract. I want to perform better so maybe they realize they got something good from it as well.”

Lowe is the fourth player the Rays had laid out big bucks to with less than a full year in the majors, joining Evan Longoria in 2008 (six years, $17.5 million plus three options in the first of two deals), Matt Moore for 2012 (five years, $14 million plus three options), and Chris Archer in 2014 (six years, $25.5 million, plus two options). All, by the way, ended up being traded.

Did the Rays get a great deal, guaranteeing Lowe $24 million through his arbitration years? Well, if he averages 30 homers, or hits on the escalators that bump up his option years a couple million from $10.5 million in 2025 and $11.5 million in 2026 by finishing in the top five in the league MVP voting, probably so. If he ends up a platoon hitter with sub-par defense, definitely not.

The Red Sox will have paid Xander Bogaerts $24.75 million through this season for that same six-year window, and he’s pretty good. Scooter Gennett will go into free agency having made $19.5 million over six between the Reds and Brewers.

Among the recently extended, the Cardinals guaranteed Paul DeJong $26 million over six years after watching his first four months, and got a solid initial 2018 return. The Phillies last spring gave Scott Kingery $24 million over six before he played a big-league game, and year one wasn’t great.

After the $1 million this season, Lowe gets $1.5 million, $2.5 million, $4 million, $5.25 million and $8.75 million. He joins Kevin Kiermaier as the only Rays signed past 2020.

Though the window for any deal with Snell seems closed, Neander sounds open to adding more — Willy Adames? Daniel Robertson? Brent Honeywell? — to the longer-term core. “This is certainly one step, a really good step in that direction,” Neander said. “And in terms of what else we can do to continue down that path, we’re going to look to find ways to do it.”

Contract details

2019 salary: $1M

2020: 1.5M

2021: 2.5M

2022: 4M

2023: 5.25M

2024: 8.75M

2025 option: 10.5M ($1M buyout)

2026 option: 11.5M ($500K buyout)

Options can go up up to $2M each year based on top 5 finishes in league MVP voting.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.