What’s behind the Rays suddenly spending big bucks?

Guaranteeing $74 million and hoping to do more deals is an investment in the future.
Blake Snell and the Rays will have plenty to talk about going forward. [MARC TOPKIN | Times]
Blake Snell and the Rays will have plenty to talk about going forward. [MARC TOPKIN | Times]
Published Mar. 23, 2019|Updated Mar. 24, 2019

PORT CHARLOTTE — That your woe-is-us, small-market, low-revenue, fan-challenged Rays last week guaranteed $74 million, and potentially more than $100 million, in extensions for Brandon Lowe and Blake Snell wasn’t the biggest shocker.

It was that they had hoped to do more deals.

“Would love to keep the one-a-day pace here if we could,’’ general manager Erik Neander said. “We’re very high on the group of players that we have here. It’s a group we believe in. And when there are opportunities to find overlap between our players and our organization that increases the chances they can be here for a longer period of time, that’s something that we will continue to explore whenever those opportunities present themselves.

“They can’t be forced, and you have to be responsible with how you do it. But (the agreements are) a representation, not only how we feel about these players but our group as a whole and the belief we have and how competitive we’ll be here as we move forward.’’

The Rays are open to showing more of that love, having reached out, at least initially, to a number of other young core-type players about talking long-term. Willy Adames and Brent Honeywell acknowledged they’d been approached, Honeywell last year after his Tommy John surgery. Tyler Glasnow and Daniel Robertson didn’t want to say, preferring to focus on the season. Jose Alvarado said he would be very open to hearing what the club has to offer, as would others, perhaps Diego Castillo or Ryne Stanek.

The Rays had their reasons for the late-spring spending spree, and it goes beyond the initial spin of illustrating their commitment to make the most of 2019.

“They’re continuing to show they care and that they want to win,’’ Snell said. “And they want to win now.’’

Sure, there could be some onfield benefit for Lowe and Snell, in an existential peace of mind way, having contract concerns resolved and megamillions banked.

There was a wave of good vibes rolling through what already is a close-knit and high-camaraderie clubhouse with the team showing two young players the money and approaching others. (Though it’s also fair to wonder if in some corners there is any jealousy.)

“I think it’s a great message,’’ said Adames. “They said they want to keep it (together), so they’re honest with that, and they showed it.’’

And even some pushback to the team’s reputation, fair or not, for being, well, cheap.

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“I think it’s great,’’ said Kevin Kiermaier, who got his own $53.5 million guaranteed two years ago. “We know what we’re up against, that financially it’s the way it’s always been, and I don’t see anything changing crazy in the near future, and that’s okay.

“They know who they want to keep around. These two signings are movement in the right direction and might give the fans not as much of a reason to sit here and bash our guys. We have great players, and we’re so excited about this season.’’

But ultimately these deals are more about the future, arguably to the point that the Rays are spending some of the money saved with this year’s majors-low payroll of $50 million to do so.

The biggest benefit is extending their control of the young players, whether to keep or to trade. While gaining cost certainty through their arbitration years, they delayed their eligibility for free agency, such as having Snell signed on for 2023 as part of the five-year, $50 million pact.

There’s some risk for the team with injury or poor performance. There’s also the potential for considerable savings by signing them early, which is the ultimate motivation given the financial challenge of big-bucks opponents.

“I think we’re smart,’’ manager Kevin Cash said. “Every team is built different ways. Ours is a lot different than some of the clubs that are in our division.’’

The players union, which openly questions if teams are trying to win and last year filed a revenue-sharing spending grievance against the Rays and others, is curious about what they’re doing.

“History would suggest that teams presenting or offering long-term deals to players means that they recognize the value that that player has, and is going to have, and are trying to determine whether to what extent the player having security is willing to find some common ground that may be less from a monetary standpoint from what their value might be otherwise,’’ union chief Tony Clark said Friday, after meeting with the Rays as part of his annual spring tour.

“So we’re glad the guys are comfortable and have gotten those extensions. But for us it’s a reminder that teams have the financial flexibility to make those decisions now and moving forward and, we hope, to continue to make them from the standpoint of improving their club.’’

In other words, if the Rays can find the money when they think they’re potentially getting a good deal, it would be nice if they did so to get better all the time.

For now, the investments in the future (plus the signing of veteran Charlie Morton for $30 million over two years) will have to suffice.

“Our goal is not to just be competing in 2019, it’s to be competitive over a longer period of time and to have sustained success,’’ Neander said. “The (two recent deals) raise our chances of accomplishing that.”

Contact Marc Topkin at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.