ST. PETERSBURG — Pete Fairbanks has had a frustrating series of injuries during his career, including two Tommy John elbow surgeries, several shoulder issues and a torn lat muscle that sidelined him the first half of last season.
But the Rays have seen how dominant the hard-throwing reliever, acquired from Texas in 2019, can be when healthy and pitching well. On Friday, they showed how confident they are he can maintain that level by signing him to a three-year deal for a guaranteed $12 million. With incentives, award bonuses and a 2026 option, the contract could be worth up to $24.6 million over four years.
General manager Peter Bendix said the struggles Fairbanks went through are part of the reason for his success now.
“To kind of emerge on the other side of that as, in our opinion, one of the best relievers in baseball is really a testament to him and his work ethic in addition to his talent,” Bendix said on a media call. “There’s a lot of people who are very talented and would go through the things that Pete went through and wouldn’t be able to come out the other side as such a strong pitcher and great person and great teammate like Pete is.
“That’s really a testament to the work that he’s put in. That’s a testament to how he’s taking care of himself to get through the injuries to really harness the talent that he has and the stuff that he has. And we saw, especially last year, just how dominant he can be and just, when he’s locked in, there’s nobody in baseball who stands a chance against him. And he’s really made himself into that.”
Fairbanks showed as much after joining the team in mid-July, giving up three earned runs over his first two appearances and then none over his remaining 22. In 24 innings total, he struck out 38 while allowing just 13 hits and three walks, converting all eight save chances.
Fairbanks, who made $714,400 last season, said it was a surprise and an honor when the Rays reached out to see if was interested in an extension. After the initial talks, he was confident agent Aaron Elking and the team would get a deal done.
“I think that not having to go to any arbitration process is a big plus,” Fairbanks said. “And then to be able to lock it in in a place and a destination that I have been vocal about to peers and through the organization that this is some place that I really, really want to be, I think that to have both of those come together is a great thing.”
Fairbanks said the numbness and “pins and needles” feeling in his right middle and index fingers that forced him out of the season-ending playoff game in Cleveland was diagnosed as “good old genetic Raynaud’s (disease).” He said it has not been an issue since and won’t become a concern unless he is pitching “in super cold for a long period of time.”
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Fairbanks, 29, was headed to a hearing next week in his first of three years of arbitration eligibility. He was seeking a $1.9 million salary, with the team offering $1.5 million. Instead, he will get $11 million split equally over the next three seasons, with salaries of $3.67 million and up to $300,000 more in 2024 and 2025 by finishing 40 games the previous season.
In 2026, which would have been his first year of free agency, the Rays have a $7 million option that can increase to up to $11 million based on a combination of incentives for appearances and games finished in 2025 and cumulatively over the three years. There is a $1 million buyout if the Rays decline the option. Fairbanks also can earn up to $2 million by winning the league’s top reliever award in all four years, with a $500,000 bonus per year.
“I’m thrilled to be able to call Tampa home, and I get to go out there and play baseball with some of my favorite guys,” Fairbanks said.
He is the second arbitration-eligible pitcher to sign a long-term deal with the Rays this week. Starter Jeffrey Springs got a three-year deal for a guaranteed $31 million that, with a $15 million option for 2027 and some lofty incentive and escalator clauses, could be worth as much as $65.75 million. The team has hearings starting next week with infielder Yandy Diaz, outfielder Harold Ramirez and relievers Jason Adam, Colin Poche and Ryan Thompson.
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