ST. PETERSBURG — There will be times, Wander Franco knows, when it is going to be all about the money.
He will get heckled about it by fans when he isn’t playing well. Congratulated for it by teammates and opposing players. Approached to share it by assorted parties, be they friends, relatives, business interests, fundraisers, or others. Asked about the pressures it brings by reporters — whenever next season starts — on a regular basis.
That’s the price to be paid for signing a record-setting contract, one that guarantees the Rays star shortstop $182 million over the next 11 years and up to $223 million over 12.
And one Franco — sounding wise beyond his 20 years — said he is prepared to handle.
“I know money gives people power,” Franco said, with Rays official Jairo De La Rosa translating. “But the one thing I want to do is play baseball. If people come to me talking about money, I don’t think I’m going to pay too much attention to them.”
In doing such a large deal, the Rays are gambling that Franco stays healthy and plays at an increasingly elite level. But they also are banking on him handling the off-field aspects — remaining motivated and driven; not resenting larger deals given to other players; and not letting the money, stature or spotlight change him.
Calling Monday’s announcement “a great day,” Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg noted the “mutual trust” between Franco (plus his family and representatives) and the team. He said that level of comfort was a driving factor in completing the largest — by far — deal in franchise history.
“Two parts go into it,” Sternberg said. “Obviously, the talent we’ve all seen, you’ve all seen, on the field.
“But as a person, and as an individual, the way he carries himself. Everything we understand, everything I’ve seen and that has been passed to me about him, was of equal importance. We’ve got somebody we know we can trust in, who’s going to be there for his teammates and be there to make himself better.”
Rays baseball operations president Erik Neander also noted the trust factor, tracing it back to when team staff in the Dominican Republic first started scouting Franco as a young teen before signing him as a 16-year-old in 2017 for a $3.825 million bonus.
Neander acknowledged the efforts along the way of Danny Santana (their Dominican scouting supervisor), Carlos Rodriguez (vice president of player development and international scouting) and De La Rosa (Latin American cultural coordinator), who “has been a parental figure of sorts for Wander.”
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“This is a huge commitment,” Neander said. “Financially, certainly, it’s a big one. And that’s a driver when it comes to an agreement like this.
“But it doesn’t happen without the longstanding relationships and trust that has been built up over, really, a seven-year period now.”
Franco increased their confidence with how well he handled the spotlight of being predicted for stardom from the start of his career and labeled as the game’s consensus top prospect, as well as the hype that accompanied his June 22 promotion and 70-game indoctrination to the majors.
“I think being the prospect status he was for the last three years has helped shape him and understand what comes with that,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Now, this is an added thing, but we saw him transition from super prospect to super player. I won’t go as far as saying superstar yet, but he certainly has shown the abilities to be put in that category for years to come.
“The way he carried himself throughout the course of the season, the early season — not struggles, but it didn’t come as easy for him — and he just stayed at it. His confidence in himself never wavered. And then once he got it, he got it. He basically was part of carrying us the last month and into the postseason.”
That good impression extended beyond how Franco hit, fielded ground balls and ran the bases.
“We’ve all been impressed by so many things that Wander’s done,” Cash said. “The way he has carried himself off the field and on the field and how to answer some of those difficult questions. He continues to impress, and wouldn’t expect that to change.”
Franco said he’s ready for it all, focused on his goal of helping the Rays win.
“More than the responsibility, I see the opportunity here,” he said. “I know it’s a big opportunity, but I’m here for that.”
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