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Winter wonder: Will Wander want to sign long term with Rays?

Rays Tales | A reported offer of close to $200 million for 10-plus years is on the table and under consideration.
The Rays appear to be keen on keeping Wander Franco in the organization for the long haul.
The Rays appear to be keen on keeping Wander Franco in the organization for the long haul. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Nov. 20
Updated Nov. 22

It’s time to wonder about Wander Franco again.

As expected, the Rays approached their talented 20-year-old shortstop with a long-term contract offer after his dazzling rookie debut.

To their credit, based on the numbers reported by the Dominican Republic newspaper El Caribe, the Rays went big, offering “close to $200 million” for a 10-year-plus commitment.

And now, with the baseball world watching given the news getting out, we wait to see if they can make a deal, presumably before the Dec. 1 expiration of the current labor contract.

There’s a lot of important details we don’t know yet about the offer, such as the full term, number of guaranteed vs. option years, and opt outs. So it’s not fair to guess if the Rays have better than a 50-50 chance for an agreement, whether it’s a “good” or “bad” deal for Franco, or how an expected counter-offer could impact the team.

But there are some points that can be discussed.

Most simply, should Franco, who turns 21 on March 1, sign long term now?

There are some recent benchmarks for shortstops, such as Fernando Tatis Jr. getting a $340 million, 14-year extension from the Padres and the more established Francisco Lindor getting $341 million over 10 years from the Mets.

If Franco wants a deal that big, one that starts with a 3 — or a 4 — he is going to have to wait a while, likely until the Rays trade him as he gets close to free agency (under the current rules) in 2028.

For most of us, deciding how much is enough between, say, $180 million and $360 million seems unreal. But players are uniquely skilled, work immensely hard and deserve to benefit from a system that rewards them excessively.

Rays shortstop Wander Franco, coming off a stellar rookie season, could be in for a big pay day from the team.
Rays shortstop Wander Franco, coming off a stellar rookie season, could be in for a big pay day from the team. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

There are risks, such as serious injury for Franco if he decides to wait and go year by year, and for the Rays if he signs. Also, uncertainty over the to-be-negotiated new labor agreement, which could change the arbitration system, free-agent eligibility and/or how teams spend.

Franco seems to like playing for the Rays and being comfortable in a market is key. (Ask Carl Crawford, who never should have gone to Boston.) Plus, Franco is (relatively) close to home. (Although that could change somewhat if the split-city plan with Montreal happens.)

And, potentially, he could sign a 10-year deal with the Rays, then cash in again as a free agent going into his age 31 season. Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna is in that position, signing for $100 million over eight years at age 21, with two $17 million options.

But maybe it is important to Franco, who got a $3.825 million when he signed at age 16, to be among the highest paid. Or maybe he thinks he would like the lights and attention of a big-city market, to go with the luxury car collection he is assembling.

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Franco is sure to get plenty of advice, from agent Manny Paula, who hasn’t had a high-profile client like this, and many others.

The typically budget-conscious Rays have invested, though not to this extent financially, in a number of young players over the years, starting with Evan Longoria, who, to this point, is the best player in franchise history.

When Longoria was weighing an offer worth up to $44 million over nine years before even playing in his first big-league game in 2008, he decided to sign after getting what he considered sage advice from veteran Eric Hinske, and he has since shared to others: “Never pass up your first fortune.”

The Rays can hope Franco turns out like Longoria.

Julio Lugo remembered

Julio Lugo played shortstop for the Rays from 2003 to 2006.
Julio Lugo played shortstop for the Rays from 2003 to 2006. [ DIRK SHADD | Times (2006) ]

Julio Lugo, who died of a heart attack last week a day shy of his 46th birthday, was an intense player but an approachable and accommodating person during his 3 ½ seasons with the Devil Rays. Lugo, the primary shortstop from 2003-06, still has pieces of several Rays records, including the first to get five hits in a game and the second to homer twice in an inning.

Former Tampa Bay pitcher and current TV pre-/post-game analyst Doug Waechter recalled Lugo as a leader on the field with a passion for the game, “a true competitor in every sense of the word.”

And Waechter offered this anecdote:

“During my first start in the big leagues (Sept, 3, 2003, at the Trop), I had thrown eight shutout innings, and I ran out to take the field for the ninth to try and complete the shutout. As I got to the mound I turned around and realized the entire team stayed in the dugout as a way for me to cherish the moment. That’s the only time I’ve ever seen that happen in a big-league game. Lugo was one of the veterans who came up with the idea of giving me that moment. Still gives me chills.”

Rays rumblings

Rookie of the year Randy Arozarena, at least a year from arbitration eligibility and five from free agency under the current system, wasn’t specific on his reasons for switching to prominent agent Scott Boras, saying he was “very excited” and “looking forward to be part of that family and to see what lies ahead for our future.” … Brandon Lowe was named on 14 of the 30 AL MVP ballots, with two sixth-place votes, and had a second straight top-10 finish, ranking eighth last year. Five other Rays have been in the top 10, with Longoria’s sixth-place finishes in 2010 and 2013 the highest; the others are Crawford, Ben Zobrist, Carlos Pena and Blake Snell. … With Arozarena voted top rookie and Kevin Cash manager of the year, this was the third time the Rays had two award winners in the same year. Extremely hypothetical, but if Tyler Glasnow had remained healthy, could they have had a third, with a Cy Young? … New assistant hitting coaches Dan DeMent and Brady North will be in uniform and on the field for pre-game drills but relegated to working in the batting cages during the games, as teams are limited on the number of coaches in the dugout. …. In the new position of assistant pitching and rehab coach, Rick Knapp will split time between the big-league team, rehab workouts in Port Charlotte and Triple-A Durham. … The team has job postings for 20-plus positions, from baseball systems software developer to team dietitian to broadcasting intern at teamworkonline.com. … Outfielder Brett Phillips is expanding his “baseball is fun” T-shirt empire to now include tumblers, headbands and baby onesies, and a Christmas shirt, at baseballisfun35.com. … The Rays, based on their efforts to address food insecurity issues, were among the finalists for MLB’s Selig award for philanthropic excellence, which was given to the Royals.

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