With the news that Evan Longoria has been locked up to his second contract extension, one that may well keep him as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays until he retires, the Rays have seemingly begun to lock up players that they feel would be integral to sustaining their recent run of success. Naturally, this would cause one to wonder whom the Rays may lock up next. Here is a look at some potential candidates.
David Price: Price is probably the most obvious choice. Fresh off a Cy Young Award winning campaign, and about to enter his second arbitration hearing, this may be the last chance to lock Price up for what may be considered a below market contract. Only 26 years old, he has already notched 61 career wins with an ERA of 3.16, while striking out over 8 batters per nine innings. Price has also decreased his walk rate in each of the last three years, while maintaining a strikeout rate of approximately 8.7 per nine. Price has also indicated that he would like to sign an extension with the Rays, so the interest is definitely there on his end.
Jeremy Hellickson: Yes, Hellickson is not even arbitration eligible, but neither was Longoria, nor Matt Moore when they signed their extensions. With Hellickson, the key to signing him is whether or not the Rays would feel that he can fulfill the potential that has turned him into seemingly the most attractive trade target on the team.
Yet, Hellickson comes with risk. Even though he has 27 wins and a 3.06 ERA in just over two full seasons, part of that is due to his extremely low batting average against on balls in play. Over his career, opponents have batted only .227 against him, with a BABiP of .245, both far below the league averages. He also has a fairly low strikeout rate, of 6.1 per nine innings, despite an ability to get to two strikes on opposing hitters. The good news is that in 2012, Hellickson showed flashes with his curveball as a potential third plus pitch to complement his fastball and changeup, and when he had his curveball working he looked overpowering for the first time. Should Hellickson continue to develop his curveball into an additional weapon, he has a chance to be a frontline starter. However, if the batting average and BAbip against him normalizes, and he does not develop his curveball into a consistent plus offering, he could end up as nothing more than a back of the rotation type of starter. If he ends up in between, he may be roughly what he is now, albeit with a better strikeout rate. Regardless, given Hellickson’s performance the past two years and his ability to be better moving forward, he may very well be worth the gamble.
Desmond Jennings: Jennings is another candidate that still has a while before free agency. Yet, Jennings does have a tantalizing blend of power and speed that would likely draw a great deal of interest should he become a free agent. In his first season and a half, Jennings has hit 23 home runs with 29 doubles, while stealing 53 bases. With the likely departure of B.J. Upton via free agency, Jennings becomes that much more important as a catalyst at the top of the lineup. He has also been a very good defensive outfielder as well, having made one error in his major league career. Jennings also has a bit of versatility defensively, as he played center while Upton was injured. As he continues to develop, Jennings may turn into a Carl Crawford type of player; and, like Crawford, may receive a contract extension before arbitration.
Under the leadership of Andrew Friedman, the Rays have consistently been proactive about offering contract extensions to players they feel can be important pieces for the club going forward. Each of the above players is just about to enter their prime, and may be the next targets for a contract extension.