ST. PETERSBURG — Yandy Diaz’s impact isn’t measured by the standard basic stats, as he doesn’t drive in a bunch of runs or — most notably for a guy with bulging muscles — launch a lot of home runs.
His value to the Rays comes in working counts, making contact and getting on base while battling even the league’s most elite pitchers, evidenced by a .401 on-base percentage that was third-best in the American League and a career-high .824 OPS last season.
They formally showed their appreciation on Tuesday, finalizing a three-year extension that guarantees the corner infielder $24 million over three seasons and includes a $12 million team option for 2026.
“Yandy is a very physically imposing human, but one that I think contributes in a way different than you might assume,” baseball operations president Erik Neander said on a media call. “Look, getting on base — a .400 on-base percentage this past year, .400 (slugging percentage) — that is really valuable. No matter how you look at it, just bottom line, to get on base at that clip, you keep the line moving, you pass the baton. Very little is more important than doing just that.
“Yandy’s someone that sees the ball exceptionally well, sees it exceptionally early, puts the ball in play, is as competitive as anybody against good pitching. Those are things that you can never have enough of in a lineup like that.”
Because of Diaz’s size, there have been expectations, and some team-driven efforts, to get him to be more of a prototypical power hitter and home run producer, going back to when he worked his way to the majors with Cleveland before the Rays acquired him in a December 2018 trade.
Diaz, 31, said he appreciates that the Rays appreciate him for what he does best.
“I just want to give thanks to Tampa Bay for giving (me) this opportunity and letting me be the player that I wanted to be ever since I was a minor-league player with Cleveland,” he said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “And I thank them for the opportunity to let me show that off.”
The Rays not only enjoy what Diaz does well — including being one of six big-leaguers (with enough plate appearances to qualify for the leaderboards) to have more walks (78) than strikeouts (60) last season — they flaunt it, batting the 6-foot-2, 240-pounder in the leadoff spot more than anywhere else.
“We’ve tried to always appreciate him for who he is and how he creates his value and embracing that as much as we can,” Neander said. “I think it’s served us and served him well in that regard.”
Diaz has played primarily third base for the Rays but, pending an additional acquisition, may shift back to first, where he started 66 games in 2021. He is not particularly adroit at either, and the Rays may decide it is better to use a combination of Isaac Paredes, Taylor Walls and possibly Vidal Brujan at third.
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“I’ll play anywhere,” Diaz said. “I’ll be the bat boy if it means I’m going to help the team win.”
Diaz will get a $6 million salary in 2023, $8 million in 2024 and $10 million in 2025, when he would have been eligible for free agency. The team has a $12 million option for 2026, with no buyout, and there are no incentives in the deal, just a $1 million bonus paid by the acquiring team if he is traded.
Diaz was headed to an arbitration hearing, having filed for a $6.3 million salary with the team offering $5.55 million.
Now, he has two things to celebrate, sharing that he and his wife are expecting their first child in late July. “This (contract) has been the second blessing,” he said.
Talks with Diaz started in November. He is the third Ray in the past week to sign an extension, joining starter Jeffrey Springs, who got a four-year deal for a guaranteed $31 million, and reliever Pete Fairbanks, who got $12 million over three years.
Four Rays are still headed for hearings, beginning with reliever Ryan Thompson on Monday, then outfielder/designated hitter Harold Ramirez and relievers Jason Adam and Colin Poche. The Rays may work out a multiyear deal with Adam.
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