Jesse Crain has not yet put on a Rays uniform and it could be a while before he does. Even though the Rays acquired Crain yesterday, he is currently on the disabled list with a shoulder strain, and it should take him at least a week to finally make his team debut. As they looked to acquire Crain, though, the Rays viewed that injured not as a deterrent but an incentive. The injury allowed them to acquire a great reliever who looked to be one of the most highly coveted players at the trade deadline before the injury at the lowest his value was ever going to be. But could the Rays use the injury as not just an opportunity to acquire Crain but to extend him as well?
If someone asked you about the best extensions Andrew Friedman and the Rays ever made, what would you say? It’s impossible not to like Evan Longoria‘s first extension, and his second extension could be an amazing coup as well. The extensions to Carl Crawford in 2005 and James Shields made sure the Rays had two of their core players locked up just as they were getting ready to contend, and the long-term deal to Ben Zobrist in 2010 just keeps on giving. And then there’s the extension the Rays gave to Matt Moore, which has the potential to be the best yet if he keeps developing as expected. Those six extentions to five cornerstone players are right at the top of any discussion of Friedman’s astute moves as Rays general manager. But those may not even cover Friedman’s best extension of all.
Dan Wheeler was originally selected by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 34th round of their first ever draft in 1996. He would end up seeing time on the D-Rays’ big league roster in 1999, 2000, and 2001 before getting released in December of ’01 and signing with the New York Mets. Wheeler pitched decenly in long relief for the Mets in 2003 and 2004 before taking off when he was acquired by the Astros and moved to short relief, managing a 2.21 ERA in 2005 and a 2.52 mark in 2006. But 2007 saw Wheeler fall apart to the tune of a 5.07 ERA in 45 appearances, and he was traded back to the Devil Rays, where he actually upped his ERA to 5.76 in 24 appearances. Wheeler was one year from free agency, and despite his run of success in Houston, you had to wonder where his career was heading at 30 years old and coming off his worst season. But on April 1st, 2008, the Rays shocked everyone by signing Wheeler to a three-year extension worth $10.5 million. Why would you possibly sign a reliever coming off his worst season to that type of contract? The reason was that Andrew Friedman saw an opportunity to sign a great reliever at a discounted value and reap tremendous reward if he returned to form. As it turned out, it worked to perfection. Wheeler managed a 3.24 ERA for the Rays from 2008 and 2010, proving himself as a key setup reliever and occasional closer as he helped the Rays take the next step as a franchise. Could Friedman and the Rays try to get Jesse Crain to agree to a similar deal?
After managing a 3.04 ERA, an 8.2 K/9, a 3.6 BB/9, and a 0.7 HR/9 in 76 appearances his free agent season with the Minnesota Twins in 2010, Crain earned himself a three-year, $13 million deal with the Chicago White Sox. He was worth every penny in 2011 and 2012, managing a 2.54 ERA in 118 appearances with 10.3 strikeouts per 9 innings. And this season, the 30 year old right-hander was pitching better than ever before getting hurt, managing a 0.74 ERA, an 11.3 K/9, a 2.7 BB/9, and not a single home run allowed in 36.2 innings pitched. Crain was pitching like he was primed for a big free agent contract. But his shoulder strain changes everything. Who knows what he will get on the market now after missing at least a month from this injury? With that uncertainty on Crain’s mind, now is the perfect time for the Rays to go up to Crain and make him an offer for an extension. If the Rays offer him the security of a three-year deal at say the $13 million figure of his last contract, could Crain really turn it down?
If Jesse Crain turns out be a rental, he still might go down as one of the best deadline acquisitions in Rays history. The Rays got one of the best relievers in baseball at a bargain price, and he should be a big part of their bullpen over the last two months of the season and hopefully beyond. But if possible, the Rays should see if Crain has any interest at making his stay in Tampa Bay last a lot long than a couple months. They can’t offer him the big bucks, but they can offer him financial security and a key bullpen slot on one of the best teams in all of baseball. If he says no, he says no. But the question is worth asking, and if he says yes, he could wind up being right up there among the best extensions Andrew Friedman has ever made.