ST. PETERSBURG — A good baseball scout is never seduced by the name on the back of a jersey.
You don’t focus simply on allure, numbers and highlights. Instead, you consider longevity, flexibility and value. This isn’t a fly-by-night fantasy team, it is an investment in your future.
So you consider price. You ponder potential. Finally, you take this leap of faith:
Yup, I’m going to buy a Wander Franco shirt.
This is the day to splurge, Tampa Bay. You’ve been asking for a player to bond with, and the Rays signed Franco to a deal that could follow today’s 6-year-old from first grade through high school graduation.
It is momentous not just for manager Kevin Cash’s lineup, but also for Tampa Bay’s wobbly sense of loyalty.
Whenever we broach the subject of attendance, somebody invariably brings up the revolving door on the Rays clubhouse. No matter how many games the team wins — and few have won more than Tampa Bay in the past 13 years — there are always complaints about the constant reinvention of the roster.
Blake Snell. Willy Adames. David Price. B.J. Upton. Alex Cobb. Carl Crawford. Scott Kazmir. They were all gone before their 30th birthday. Charlie Morton. Tommy Pham. Logan Morrison. Wilson Ramos. C.J. Cron. Corey Dickerson. You barely said hello, and already they were waving goodbye.
It’s like being in an open relationship with a baseball team. Apparently, some fans don’t want to invest themselves for fear of being hurt.
Well, no more. The Franco deal is as long term as it gets. And if it goes according to plan, he will be the face of the franchise through the end of the Tropicana Field lease and whatever is beyond.
“The extent and the length of this contract is something we know that we can keep within our budget while, at the same time most importantly, fielding a team that will be competitive consistently,” principal owner Stuart Sternberg said Monday. “So it goes a long way toward being able to fill in the players around him at other positions and on the mound, where it’s most important.
“And yes, (for) the fans, we’ve got Brandon Lowe, he’s been here a number of years. Kevin Kiermaier has been here a number of years. A lot of players have been here. And Wander is now one of them and, certainly, the one here in 2021 with the longest commitment. And, if all goes well, I’ll be well into my 70s, and Wander will still be here.”
Cynics will point out that Franco’s contract does not include a no-trade clause and the Rays have been known to trade players before their deal concludes. This is true. In fact, when Snell signed an extension in the spring of 2019, I wrote there was a decent chance he would be traded before his contract ended.
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This is a different situation.
For one thing, the Snell deal only bought out one year of free agency and allowed him to hit the open market closer to his prime. So, if he pitched well, he would be too expensive for the Rays to re-sign. And if things turned sour, the contract would no longer look like a good value. That combination made it much more likely the Rays would seek compensation in a trade before the contract reached its end.
Franco’s deal, on the other hand, covers three relatively low-paid seasons (roughly $3.3 million if you include his signing bonus), three years of arbitration (an average of $15 million, which is what they paid Morton for his two seasons here) and the first five years of free agency, and potentially a sixth year (at $25 million a season, which is a bargain compared to the $31.3 million Fernando Tatis Jr. will make annually in the final 10 years of his deal in San Diego).
If Franco performs the way the team expects, there is no reason to trade him in the foreseeable future. In that sense, it is more akin to the Evan Longoria contract. For the first nine years of Longoria’s career, he was one of the best bargains in baseball. The Rays fully expected him to remain in Tampa Bay for the length of his contract, and traded him only when his body began to break down.
Even then, Longoria played a franchise-record 1,435 games for the Rays and only a handful of big leaguers had put in more time with one team during that span.
“We agreed to that deal before (Longoria) ever played a Major League game. We had confidence in him and confidence in our evaluation of him that he was going to develop into the player he did,” Rays president Matt Silverman said. “We have the same confidence in Wander and have seen in a 70-game sample what he’s capable of and the trajectory that he is on.”
For now, that trajectory will remain in a Rays uniform.
And that means you can invest in Franco, too.
John Romano can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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