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Rays finalize $200 million-plus deal with Wander Franco

Stuart Sternberg: “This is a great day for Wander and for the Rays,” as the largest contract in team history is done.
Rays baseball operations president Erik Neander looks on as shortstop Wander Franco prepares to sign a franchise-record deal with the team.
Rays baseball operations president Erik Neander looks on as shortstop Wander Franco prepares to sign a franchise-record deal with the team. [ Courtesy of the Rays ]
Published Nov. 27, 2021
Updated Nov. 27, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG — Wander Franco spent part of Saturday as he has many others, posting frequent updates to his Instagram account.

But this was no normal afternoon for the 20-year-old.

Not when hours earlier Franco and the Rays finalized and announced a record-breaking contract, one that guarantees the multi-talented phenom $182 million over 11 years and potentially $223 million over 12.

“Firstly, thank God for this opportunity and for this blessing,” Franco posted in Spanish. “Thank you to my family for always being there. ... Work hard and firm blessings.”

The Rays were thankful also, getting their best player — and one of top young stars in the majors — signed through 2032, plus a 2033 option, and with cost certainty.

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

“This is a great day for Wander and for the Rays and is evidence of the mutual trust between Wander and our organization,” Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said in a team news release. “So many of our areas had a hand in this — our scouting, development, health and wellness and coaching personnel plus many others.

“We are committed to fielding competitive teams year in and year out, and we all expect that Wander’s presence and contributions will play a large part in maintaining our standard of excellence.”

The deal sets records on several scales as the largest in Rays history, for any major-leaguer with less than one year in the majors and for any Tampa Bay-area pro athlete.

Franco’s agent, Manny Paula, and the Rays agreed to the terms Tuesday, and the deal was made official shortly before noon Saturday following the completion of a physical exam and other details.

Both sides were operating under a deadline, as baseball’s labor agreement expires Wednesday, and a lockout and transaction freeze are expected to be implemented, along with uncertainty over what the rules for free agency and player compensation will be in the new agreement.

A news conference is scheduled for Monday morning at Tropicana Field.

Franco will get a $5 million signing bonus, then relatively meager salaries the first three years ($1 million in 2022, $2 million in 2023 and 2024). His salary escalates annually from there, to $8 million, $15 million and then to $22 million in 2027, the last year of the Rays use agreement at the Trop.

Rays shortstop Wander Franco, left, hugs his dad of the same name after signing a record contract with the Rays.
Rays shortstop Wander Franco, left, hugs his dad of the same name after signing a record contract with the Rays. [ Courtesy of the Rays ]

Starting in 2028, when they will be in a new home — or homes if their Montreal season-sharing plan is implemented — he will make $25 million for each of the next five seasons, and has a $25 million option (or a $2 million buyout) for 2033.

Franco does not have a no-trade clause, which the Rays have never given, though he would get $3 million if dealt. There are escalator clauses worth up to $3 million for each of the last six years based on his finish in league MVP voting. There are no clauses in the contract related to the Montreal plan. Even after the 12-year term, Franco, who turns 21 on March 1, would be a free agent again for his age 33 season.

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Franco has been projected for stardom since signing with the Rays as a 16-year-old from the Dominican Republic for a $3.825 million bonus, and was ranked the game’s top prospect for the last two years.

Related: If you think Wander Franco got ripped off, I’ve got a broken-down reliever to sell you

He played at Class A in 2019, spent the pandemic-impacted 2020 season working out at the alternate camp site, started 2021 at Triple-A Durham and was promoted after 40 games.

He made a smashing debut for the Rays on June 22, then after getting adjusted over a few weeks, showed every bit of his talent, leading all American League rookies from the All-Star break on with a .314 average, 69 hits and 45 runs, playing strong defense at shortstop, striking out only three times in his last 97 plate appearances, and showing he could handle the spotlight.

“I think you could make the argument that he’s the most impactful player on any team in baseball,” manager Kevin Cash said after the season. “Certainly for us. Our team was really good, we got better when he came. He lengthened our lineup. He made our defense better. He worked really hard on his defense to make his defense better, and it made our overall defense better. He is a game-changing player. It’s going to be fun to watch for a long time.”

Overall, Franco hit .288 with 18 doubles, five triples, seven homers, 39 RBIs and an .810 OPS over 70 games. Despite the limited playing time, Franco finished third in AL Rookie of the Year voting.

“The pace at which Wander has developed speaks to his potential,” baseball operations president Erik Neander said in the team release. “We have seen him do special things on the field, particularly for a player that is only 20 years old. He’s an exceptionally driven, budding superstar who can contribute to our success for a long time.”

Largest contracts in Rays history

Before Wander Franco's new deal, Kevin Kiermaier was the current Ray with the largest contract.
Before Wander Franco's new deal, Kevin Kiermaier was the current Ray with the largest contract. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Wander Franco’s new contract, which guarantees him $182 million over 11 years and could max out at $233 million over 12, is by far the largest in Rays history. Here are six other big deals:

3B Evan Longoria: $100 million over 6 years guaranteed, added to existing deal for max value of $149.6 million over 11 years, signed in November 2012. (First long-term deal in 2008 guaranteed $17.5 million over 6 years with a max value of $44.5 million over 9.) Traded Dec. 2017.

CF Kevin Kiermaier: $53.5 million over 6 years guaranteed, max value $66.15 million over 7; signed March 2017.

LHP Blake Snell: $50 million over 5 years guaranteed, max value $52 million over 5; signed March 2019. Traded December 2020.

RHP Chris Archer: $25.5 million over 6 years guaranteed; max value $43.75 over 8; signed April 2014. Traded July 2018.

2B Brandon Lowe: $24 million over 6 years guaranteed, max value $49 million over 8; signed March 2019.

LHP Scott Kazmir: $28.5 million over 3 years guaranteed, max value of $39.5 million over 4; signed May 2008. Traded August 2009.

Breakdown of a $223 million deal

Signing bonus: $5,000,000

Annual salaries

2022: $1,000,000

2023: $2,000,000

2024: $2,000,000

2025: $8,000,000

2026: $15,000,000

2027: $22,000,000

2028: $25,000,000

2029: $25,000,000

2030: $25,000,000

2031: $25,000,000

2032: $25,000,000

2033: $25,000,000 option or $2,000,000 buyout

From 2028 on, $3 million escalators based on top five AL MVP voting finishes.

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