Wait, what? The Rays are on a spending spree?

Extensions for Jeffrey Springs and Pete Fairbanks are the latest of several relatively big deals.
On Friday, the Rays signed relief pitcher Pete Fairbanks to a new multi-year deal.
On Friday, the Rays signed relief pitcher Pete Fairbanks to a new multi-year deal. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Jan. 28

ST. PETERSBURG — No, they still haven’t added a hitter.

And that’s a topic, depending how the season goes, the Rays may be hearing about for, oh, the next nine months.

But they are spending money.

Not massive amounts, certainly compared to some of their big-market brethren, and they still likely will be among the lowest payrolls. The deals typically come with minimal-to-reasonable risk and the upside for a potential bargain, especially by extending team control into free-agent years. And always with the option to escape by not offering no-trade clauses.

But the Rays, often questioned and occasionally criticized by their methods, are spending, and spending money they don’t have to.

Twice in the past week they made arbitration-avoiding multi-year deals, guaranteeing breakthrough starter Jeffrey Springs $31 million over four years (with a potential of $65.75 million over five) and dominant-when-healthy reliever Pete Fairbanks $12 million over three (and up to $24.6 million over four). And another appears to be coming, with infielder Yandy Diaz and the team working on a three-year, $24 million extension that could be done by Tuesday.

Sure, there are benefits to avoiding the cost and potential bad feelings of arbitration hearings, which start next week. (The Rays still have five, including Diaz.) And if you want to go all conspiracy theory, they’re making deals just as St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch will decide by Monday whether to pick their group to redevelop the Tropicana Field/Historic Gas Plant District and build a new stadium.

Rays starter Jeffrey Springs also got a new contract this week.
Rays starter Jeffrey Springs also got a new contract this week. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

But there also was the December signing of free agent Zach Eflin, whose three-year, $40 million contract may end up being one of the better deals for starters.

Scrolling back to November 2021, they signed shortstop phenom Wander Franco to a record deal guaranteeing $182 million over 11 years and up to $223 million over 12. In April 2022, outfielder Manuel Margot got $19 million over two years and the potential of $29 million over three.

In August, before Tyler Glasnow had completed his recovery from Tommy John surgery, they delayed his likely departure by buying out his first year of free agency with a two-year, $30.35 million extension that includes a team-record $25 million salary (plus some incentives) for 2024.

In contrast to how they usually churn their roster, the Rays have had a relatively quiet offseason beyond free-agent departures. That’s in part because after failing to land the top hitters they pursued, they opted to not just make moves with lesser options for the sake of doing so.

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And they say there is some definite benefit to keeping the gang together — especially players they feel they know and who express interest in wanting to stay.

“I think we always appreciate the value of continuity and especially when you have such a young group, being able to grow together to develop hopefully, as (Fairbanks) mentioned, that kind of close-knit bond of guys who are all pulling in the same direction and all want the best for each other,” general manager Peter Bendix said. “That’s a really important thing.”

But an even bigger reason for their version of a spending spree, Bendix said, is the potential of the players they have to win.

“We recognize that this is a really talented group,” Bendix said. “The season didn’t end the way we wanted last year. But we’ve had a run here of really talented teams that have won a lot of games (making the playoffs four straight years) and we want to build on that. Our goal is to win a World Series. Our goal is to win multiple World Series.

“And if we see opportunities that we can double down on strengths, and see opportunities where we can push some chips in and really try to win as many games as we can, we’re going to be looking for that. We always keep that one eye on the future. It’s a cliche, but it’s true. But we’re really trying to win as many World Series as we can and not take for granted this period where we have a lot of talent.”


Keeping the guaranteed money relatively low, while offering ample incentives and escalator clauses, is a way to limit the risk of multi-year deals and reward the player for doing well. In Springs’ case, exceptionally well. His $65.75 million max out includes $13 million in additional salary based on winning four straight Cy Young awards. There are lesser bonuses for finishing in the top 10, as well as for combined innings pitched for 2023-24, starting at a very attainable 300.

Fairbanks’ incentives are based mostly on appearances and innings pitched, but there is an additional $2 million available for winning four straight top league reliever awards.

Rays rumblings

Fan Fest is set for 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on Feb. 18 inside Tropicana Field, with plans for player interaction, games, clubhouse tours, a charity yard sale, autographs and initial access to 25th anniversary merchandise. A ticket, available free via the MLB Ballpark app, is required. … Brandon Lowe was fifth on MLB Network’s ranking of top second basemen, analyst Dan O’Dowd calling him “a legitimate power hitter” and host Brian Kenny citing his “elite baserunning.” Franco was 10th, and ex-Ray Willy Adames eighth, among shortstops. … Former Rays Matt Joyce and Denard Span are among candidates for some pre-/post-game TV work … Congrats to Lowe, and wife Madison on the recent birth of their son, Emmett Dean. … While the Rays have a temporary base for minor-league spring training at the Disney complex (with Port Charlotte unavailable due to Hurricane Ian damage), they are still looking for a home for their extended spring program and Florida Complex League team, which they sometimes use for major-league player injury rehab. … The start time for the May 26 home game vs. the Dodgers was moved up to 11:35 a.m. as part of the Peacock TV package. … Reliever Jaime Schultz, who was drafted by the Rays in 2013 and debuted in 2018, signed a minor-league deal last week, having spent 2022 recovering from Tommy John surgery. He was last with Seattle.

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