It has become par for the course for the Rays. They find themselves with yet another promising young player and they proceed to sign him to a team-friendly extension keeping him in their uniform for the foreseeable future. There is always risk involved with committing money to an unproven player, but when they have lived up to the hype, the benefits to the Rays have been enormous. The deals they gave to Evan Longoria, Matt Moore, and Ben Zobrist just continue to pay off for the Rays–the trio will make $15.5 million combined next season to be three of the Rays’ cornerstones as they aim for the playoffs and beyond once again. One issue the extensions create, though, is an extreme dichtomy within the Rays–the promising young players are locked up while the players in their prime, no matter how talented and beloved, are let go via trades or free agency almost without exception. If the Rays don’t extend a player early in his career, then they let him leave. It has been that simple. Well, at least it was until now.
We have yet to hear about the terms, but the Rays have agreed with outfielder David DeJesus on a two-year extension with a team option for a third year. It wasn’t clear from the beginning that they would pick up his $6.5 million option, but they actually ended up not just exercising it, but also adding a year and an option as well. It isn’t quite the first deal of its kind in Rays history–that would be Joel Peralta‘s contract last offseason–but this time, there was no precursor that it would happen. It was clear as Peralta became a free agent, that Peralta wanted to stay in Tampa Bay and was willing to make sacrifices to do so (“I’m cheap, they can afford me”). For DeJesus, he may have liked his brief time with the Rays, but we had no idea he was willing to come back at any sort of bargain rate. Peralta’s contract seemed like an exception, not a rule. The extension DeJesus just signed could very well be the start of something.
IWith young players, the Rays take a moderate risk in exchange for the possibility of having a great player signed to a cheap deal for years to come. With veterans, the Rays certainly have to tweak the process. They will have to offer more money to get the player to agree and fewer years knowing that older players decline exponentially quicker than their younger counterparts. But the idea is the same: the Rays offer the player financial security in exchange for a slightly cheaper price and a team option at the end. With young players, the Rays are giving them so little money in the pre-option years that the contract will work out as long as they become even a fraction of the player they have the ability to be (take Wade Davis‘ deal, for instance). For experienced players, though, the money is higher so the risk is amplified as well, and the Rays have to be reasonably confident they will remain at their current level for the duration of the contract. The Rays are not about to sign most of their veterans to extentions because they so often have one great year and then fall apart. In DeJesus, however, the Rays see a player who has been solid for the better part of ten years and should remain productive for the next two and just maybe more. They certainly would not say the same about say Fernando Rodney and they will not bringing him back. When the right opportunity arises, though, everybody wins: the player gets financial security, the Rays get a productive player at a bargain rate, and the fans get to see one of their favorite players stay in town for awhile.
Looking at this David DeJesus deal, we have to wonder when the next extension will come. Could the Rays offer James Loney say a three-year deal worth $17 million with a team option? Kelly Johnson had a poor second half, but did the Rays see enough in his newfound versatility to offer him a two-year, $6 million contract with an option at the end? The chances are this DeJesus contract will be an isolated one this offseason for the Rays. But now that it has been completed, we have something to refer to when this situation comes up again. The next time a veteran has a great year for the Rays, Rays fans can dream of their team extending him and then point to DeJesus’ extension as the framework for how the deal would happen.