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Inside the Rays’ $200 million-plus deal with Wander Franco

Rays Tales | The potential for increased revenues in new stadium(s) led team to make the record deal.
Rays leftfielder Randy Arozarena, left, and shortstop Wander Franco, right, celebrate Arozarena’s solo home run in the fifth inning of Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox in October at Tropicana Field.
Rays leftfielder Randy Arozarena, left, and shortstop Wander Franco, right, celebrate Arozarena’s solo home run in the fifth inning of Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox in October at Tropicana Field. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Nov. 26, 2021
Updated Nov. 27, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG — Maybe Wander Franco “could have gotten more” than $182 million guaranteed over 11 years (and potentially $223 million over 12) from the Rays, as teammate Tyler Glasnow “partly” joked on The Chris Rose Rotation podcast and others have suggested.

The soon-to-be-very-rich 20-year-old will address his reasons for signing the record contract, which was finalized Saturday, at a news conference Monday. His comfort with the Rays and the Tampa Bay area, and the ability to focus on playing without annual salary or long-term contract concerns are likely to be among them.

Rays officials will share their thinking on making such a massive investment in an individual player, albeit a potentially spectacular one, given the considerable uncertainty surrounding the future of the franchise.

Among the topics to be discussed, here is some framework:

For the short term, the deal shouldn’t impact the Rays’ overall payroll. Even with a $5 million signing bonus, Franco’s salaries will be low enough for the first years ($1 million in 2022, $2 million in 2023 and 2024) that the Rays should not be prevented from making additions (like a veteran starter for 2022) or forced to dump salaries they otherwise wouldn’t. Nor should it keep them from signing other young players long term.

Eventually, the Rays could have to make some adjustments, leveling their spending in the middle years to better accommodate the higher back-end salaries, $25 million from $2028-2032, plus a $25 million option for 2033.

But they are also banking heavily on being in a better position revenue-wise by then, several seasons into a new stadium — or stadiums, if the Montreal split-city plan they are pushing hard for goes into effect by 2028, if not sooner. (There are no accommodations in Franco’s deal for that plan, such as an out clause or salary adjustments for Montreal games.)

Rays president of baseball operations Erik Neander hugs Wander Franco after they close on an extensive long-term contract
Rays president of baseball operations Erik Neander hugs Wander Franco after they close on an extensive long-term contract [ Courtesy of the Rays ]

The idea is that Franco will be the centerpiece on contending, not stripped down, teams.

The strategic expectation is that having the ability to generate additional revenues will lead to the Rays having higher payrolls, moving from the lower to mid-tier, and surrounding Franco with other good players.

Based on their history at Tropicana Field, there isn’t likely to be a revenue boost from an attendance spike, though having teams get deep into the postseason could help. More so from a new home, wherever that is.

If the Rays don’t realize those revenue boosts, well, that’s why Franco’s deal doesn’t include a no-trade clause, though he reportedly gets a $3 million payment if dealt.

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As much as the Rays are confident in Franco being a transformational star player, there are other risks for the team, primarily injury or other issues that could limit his performance. But that’s a trade-off for the cost certainty they get and the potential bargain if he outplays the value of the deal.

Also of note was the Rays’ aggressiveness, and both sides’ willingness, to get the deal done before the Wednesday night expiration of the labor agreement, which is expected to lead to a lockout, and changes in player pay rules, including free-agent eligibility.

Arbitrary thinking

The deadline to tender contracts was moved up from Thursday to 8 p.m. Tuesday, now in advance of the expected lockout following the labor deal expiration midnight Wednesday, allowing clarity for arbitration-eligible players (the Rays have 15 after trading Jordan Luplow on Friday). Those on the bubble will know if they are signed or cut loose based on their projected salary and will have a small window to sign elsewhere before the transaction freeze. The move also will add to the glut of free agents who will scramble to sign (and perhaps take less money) whenever the lockout ends, with early to mid-February a common guess.

Rays rumblings

Former Rays outfielder Carl Crawford is a candidate for the Hall of Fame.
Former Rays outfielder Carl Crawford is a candidate for the Hall of Fame. [ RONDOU, MICHAEL | St. Petersburg Times ]

New ballot addition Carl Crawford won’t be elected to the Hall of Fame and may not even get the requisite five percent of the vote to remain a candidate, but the speedy outfielder and four-time All-Star should definitely be acknowledged as one of the two or three best players in team history. …. Kind gesture by the Rays to re-sign minor-league pitcher David Hess as he undergoes treatment for a cancerous tumor in his chest. ... Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, who has a team-high $12 million salary for 2022, cracked on Twitter he is now “off the hook for team dinners” given Franco’s new deal. … MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince floated this salary dump-driven trade idea: Glasnow and Kiermaier to Seattle for outfielder Kyle Lewis, the 2020 AL rookie of the year who is returning from knee surgery, and pitching prospect Levi Stoudt. ... Traded-to-Oakland pitcher Brent Honeywell posted on Instagram: “I can’t express what my teammates, every single clubhouse guy, coaching/medical staff, and fans meant to me throughout my time in the @raysbaseball organization” and thanked the Triple-A Durham “family.” … No Rays made the media-voted all-MLB first or second teams; outfielder Randy Arozarena, designated hitter Nelson Cruz, reliever Andrew Kittredge, second baseman Brandon Lowe and catcher Mike Zunino were candidates. … Best wishes in just-announced retirement to Wade Davis, who seemed always approachable and appreciative during a career that started as a Devil Rays third-round pick in 2004 and included a 2015 World Series championship with the Royals. Seven players signed by the Rays in that draft played in the majors, listed in order picked: Jeff Niemann, Reid Brignac, Davis, Jake McGee, Fernando Perez, Rhyne Hughes (for O’s), Andy Sonnanstine. … The Athletic’s Jim Bowden suggests longtime Rockies right-hander Jon Gray as a top free-agent option for the Rays to add a veteran starter. … Even after adding five prospects to the 40-man roster, the Rays had four of Baseball America’s top 15 players of interest to be taken in the upcoming (at some point) Rule 5 draft: infielder/outfielder Miles Mastrobuoni, reliever Christopher Gau, outfielder Ruben Cardenas, catcher Blake Hunt. … The team is offering a holiday special on ticket credits: Fans spending $80 get an additional $20; see raysbaseball.com.

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