The Rays Extended Two More Good Players

Dave Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays are infamous for running a tight ship payroll-wise, and because arbitration salaries are usually higher than rookie ones, they tend to trade arbitration-eligible players for younger, more cost-controlled talent. Then those new contributors develop into solid major leaguers, who become arbitration-eligible and therefore trade-eligible… and the cycle continues.

Yet the Rays have been good despite this. A major flaw in the described rinse-and-repeat style of roster management is that it depends on a regular influx of talent; without legitimate prospects in the farm system, you’d simply be making the big league squad worse, one trade at a time. Of course, the Rays are also known for their scouting and player development acumen, churning out viable big leaguers at a rate that, compared to other organizations, seems supersonic. But this too isn’t foolproof: Even if you run a supposedly smart front office, there’s a good chance that you’ll be wrong about a prospect or a trade acquisition more often than you’re right. That’s just how baseball works; you find yourself fighting to minimize risk, not to maximize return.

So really, the best option might be to avoid this conundrum in the first place. A good way to do that is to lock up your fresh-faced stars to contract extensions, à la the Braves of recent years. I don’t know if the Rays are following in Alex Anthopoulous’ footsteps, but they do seem to have become more open to the idea of making multiple multi-year commitments. As our Chris Gilligan covered, they recently signed Jeffrey Springs to a four-year contract extension with a club option for a fifth year. But the Rays weren’t done, as Jeff Passan reported last Friday:

Let me get my notes in order: The Rays agreed to a contract extension with… a reliever? An oft-injured one at that? This is uncharacteristic of them. The “stable of guys who throw 98” consists mostly of misfits whom the Rays pick up in hopes of unlocking their potential. That also makes them convenient to dispose of: If one guy blows out his elbow, the Rays can reliably find another arm to replace him on the waiver wire or from within the organization. It was surprising when they signed Brooks Raley to a two-year deal. A three-year commitment to a reliever was previously unimaginable. Raley is now a Met, and it’s reasonable to think that the Rays might offload Pete Fairbanks’ contract in a similar fashion when convenient. But it’s significant that a proposal to extend Fairbanks passed the brainstorming stage and became a reality.

Let’s consider why the Rays chose Fairbanks in particular to extend. There’s the fact that, as Passan noted, he closed out the season with 22 scoreless innings, during which he collected 36 strikeouts. That Fairbanks’ stuff is unbelievably nasty is no secret. Here’s a guy who leverages every last inch of his 6-foot-6 frame by generating great extension and an extremely vertical arm slot, from which he catapults triple-digit fastballs and a hard slider. Hitters often have mere milliseconds to react, or at least try to.

But Fairbanks wasn’t always this good. Sure, he added a tick of velocity to all of his pitches last season, but that’s within the range of standard modern player development fare. I’m talking about something else, which I’m not sure what to make of:

If it’s revealed that contraband Spider Tack was involved, I’ll be very sad. For now, though, and assuming the Rays stayed within the boundaries of the law, my guess is that they think their secret formula for supercharging Fairbanks’ fastball is worth safe-guarding. During his time in St. Petersburg, Fairbanks has seen that pitch go from a good offering to one of the best in the league, arguably rivaled only by Félix Bautista’s. Presumably, such a progression is possible only if the player has faith in his organization; there are stories of players resistant to change, after all. And as a relief pitcher with a shaky track record of health, Fairbanks had an additional incentive to work out a commitment with the Rays. These sorts of extensions tend to feel a little exploitative, but it doesn’t seem like Fairbanks is leaving a lot of money on the table. He was projected to hit free agency in 2026 as a 32-year-old reliever. Now he’s guaranteed a decent sum of money. The Rays, meanwhile, secured a premier setup man and perhaps got to keep one of their secrets.

And the Rays weren’t done, as Juan Toribio reported on Sunday:

Yandy Díaz’s career to date has taken a few unexpected turns. Since joining the Rays, he’s gone from burgeoning slugger to oppo-loving slap hitter to something in between those two former selves. But recently, he seems to have fully embraced the one thing he does best: getting on base. If you disregard the 60-game 2020 season, Díaz’s 2022 featured the highest walk rate and the lowest strikeout rate of his career. He rarely swung at a pitch outside the zone and made frequent contact with the ones inside. Opposing pitchers were worn down by his persistence, resulting in free passes and juicier pitches for Díaz to drive. No wonder he had an on-base percentage of .401 (which ties him with Juan Soto, by the way).

In fact, you could argue Díaz has been undervalued all his career: Among hitters since 2019 with 1,500 or more plate appearances, he ranks 13th in on-base percentage (.374). That actually puts him ahead of Jeff McNeil (.368), who just signed a four-year, $50 million contract extension with the Mets. McNeil is an adroit defender where Díaz is slow and bulky, and McNeil is a year younger. Still, the two aren’t very far apart offensively, which makes it a bit surprising that the Rays were able to lock Díaz up for three years with $24 million.

These aren’t early arbitration years that are being bought out, either. The extension covers Díaz’s penultimate and final year of arbitration, then his first year of free agency. If Díaz manages to get on base roughly 40% of the time next season, which seems very likely, he can be the worst defender in the league and still be worth more than $8 million a year. It’s worth noting that these numbers aren’t totally official, so maybe there’s more to the deal. But so far, this looks like a steal. Unlike Fairbanks, for whom signing a cheap-ish extension makes sense given his track record, I think Díaz could have held out for a better offer. Though as is usually the case, you can’t really blame the player for taking the guaranteed money. The Rays being a tough sell – they lead the league this offseason in unsettled arbitration salaries – probably didn’t help, either.

Speaking of the Rays, this is the best-case scenario for them. It’s been speculated for a while that they would trade Díaz due to salary reasons and replace him with, I guess, Isaac Paredes. But in finding a way to hold on to Díaz at a discount, they’ll now have someone Wander Franco can drive in for years to come. Franco himself signed an extension back in 2021, and altogether, this Rays squad looks more sustainable than past iterations. Here are all of the players on the Rays who might just stick around:

The Rays’ Future Commitments
Player Contract Guaranteed Final Year
Yandy Diaz 3 yr, $24M 2025*
Wander Franco 11 yr, $182M 2032
Tyler Glasnow 2 yr, $30.35M 2024
Zach Eflin 3 yr, $40M 2025
Manuel Margot 2 yr, $19M 2024*
Jeffrey Springs 4 yr, $31M 2026*
Brandon Lowe 6 yr, $24M 2024*
Peter Fairbanks 3 yr, $12M 2025*
*Denotes club/mutual option

Basically, the Rays have at least two more years to contend with their current core, possibly three if they pick up a majority of those options. And note that this is a relatively long list of players! It’s not as if the Rays were totally against the idea of extensions perviously, but it doesn’t seem like there was ever a period when they had handed them out en masse. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee that all of these players will remain with the team, as Blake Snell can testify. You could make a reasonable bet that a few of them are going to be shipped away. But for the first time in a while, we have a very clear picture of what the Rays’ roster might look like in the years to come. Whether that signals the start of a new era, though, remains to be seen.

Justin is an undergraduate student at Washington University in St. Louis studying statistics and writing.

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Michael Contemember
1 year ago

How do these extensions get written up before last year’s batting champion

1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Conte

You’re talking about the Arraez / Pablo Lopez trade?

Michael Contemember
1 year ago
Reply to  cowdisciple


1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Conte

I would assume it’s because of the clear and obvious anti-Mets bias exhibited by all right thinking people?

David Klein
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Conte

I feel like if we don’t get the McNeil extension article I’ll be like the guy that kvetches about the lack of the Strider extension article.