ST. PETERSBURG — Wander Franco made it to the majors this past season as a 20-year-old and quickly showed the talent to be a star for a long time.
The Rays were impressed enough to invest — at a record-breaking amount — in his future, and are close to finalizing a 10-plus year deal that will guarantee him close to $200 million, the Tampa Bay Times has learned.
The agreement is not finalized, and several details still have to be worked out after Thanksgiving. Several iterations of the deal were exchanged, and the final version is expected to look like this: 11 years for $182 million guaranteed, with a 12th year option and performance bonuses based on MVP award finishes that could push the total value of the deal to $223 million.
If consummated, the final deal will be the largest in Rays history, and for a player with less than one year of service time in the major leagues. It also would be the largest total package for a player with any of Tampa Bay’s pro teams.
And it would be a significant accomplishment for the Rays to have their star player under team control for at least the next decade.
Under baseball’s current rules, which will be replaced by a to-be-negotiated new labor agreement, Franco would have been under the Rays’ control for six more seasons through 2027. So an 11-year deal would buy out what would have been Franco’s first five years of free agency and the option potentially for a sixth.
Franco, who will turn 21 on March 1, could hit the open market as a free agent in his early 30s.
Plus, he will make considerably more than he may have over the next three seasons if the new agreement is similar to the expiring deal, when players are limited to near minimum salaries during their first three full seasons.
Franco was called up from Triple-A on June 22 and made a smashing debut, then after a couple weeks to get adjusted, showed the hype was real, leading all American League rookies after the All-Star break with a .314 average, 69 hits and 45 runs while striking out only three times in his last 97 plate appearances. Though Franco played in only 70 games, he finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting.
The deal would be the largest for a player with less than one year of service in the majors, surpassing, by far, the eight-year, $100 million contract outfielder Ronald Acuna signed with Atlanta as a 21-year-old in April 2019. Acuna’s deal included two option years that could push the total value to $124 million.
Franco’s contract also would be the biggest the Rays have given any player, surpassing the six-year, $100 million second extension third baseman Evan Longoria signed after the 2012 season. (That deal pushed Longoria’s remaining guarantee to $136.6 million over 10 years, plus a 2023 option. He was traded to the Giants in December 2017.)
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There are risks for both sides.
For the Rays, if Franco sustains a significant injury, becomes sidelined for other reasons or has a dropoff in production.
And for Franco, if he plays well enough to exceed his level of compensation, if changes in the new labor agreement would have allowed him to become a free agent sooner, and/or if the Rays trade him to a market he doesn’t want to go to.
Franco has been pegged for stardom since signing at age 16 for a $3.825 million bonus, and he was ranked the top prospect in the game for consecutive seasons. He played in 2018 at rookie-level Princeton, split 2019 between Class A Bowling Green and Charlotte, was limited to alternate site workouts in during the pandemic-cancelled 2020 minor-league season and played 40 games at Triple-A this season before being promoted.
While the Rays, despite budgetary concerns, have been willing to invest in talented players near the start of their careers, this deal is significantly larger than some of the others.
That includes Longoria’s first deal in April of his 2008 rookie season (six years, $17.5 million guaranteed, and worth up to $44.5 million with three options), as well as 2011 with pitcher Matt Moore (five years, $14 million guaranteed; up to $37.5 million with three options); in 2014 with pitcher Chris Archer (six years, $25.5 million; up to $45.5 million with two options); and in 2019 with second baseman Brandon Lowe (six years, $24 million; up to $49 million with two options).
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