In the past two weeks, the extensions have just kept on coming in Major League Baseball. We first heard about Jason Heyward‘s, two-year, $13.3 million extension with the Atlanta Braves to avoid arbitration, and that was downright ordinary. But the eight-year, $135 million extension given to his teammate Freddie Freeman was another story, creating waves throughout baseball because he has just one great season under his belt yet received that big of a deal. Freeman’s deal was followed by two smaller but still notable signings, the two-year, $22.75 million contract that Coco Crisp got from the Oakland Athletics and the four years and $25 million that the Cleveland Indians gave Michael Brantley. Then the Braves got back in the act, extending Julio Teheran for six years and $32 million before signing closer Craig Kimbrel to a four-year, $42 million deal. All told, there have been six major extensions in the last sixteen days, and none one of them came from the team best known for team-friendly extensions, the Tampa Bay Rays. Are the Rays about to get into the act?
The Rays have already extended two players this offseason, David DeJesus and Ryan Hanigan. However, they have quite a few young players with whom they could explore long-term deals in the weeks leading up to the season. Possible candidates are Wil Myers, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Desmond Jennings, and maybe even Jake Odorizzi. Which players make the most sense, and what would their extensions look like? We will discuss each player’s individual case in the next two days, but right now we will set some baselines.
Before we get into the Rays’ current extension candidates, let’s look at the Rays’ past extensions to get a feel for the types of moves the Rays like making. Here are the extensions the Rays have given out to players 28 or younger since the start of the Andrew Friedman era.
The only confusing column on the chart is “seasons in MLB” which refers to the number of full seasons in the major leagues each player had prior to the signing to the extension. The + connotes players who also received a September call-up or other limited time before establishing themselves as major league players. Looking at the column farthest to the right, the Rays gave most of their extensions to players with between zero and two years of service time, with only Scott Kazmir‘s extension and Evan Longoria‘s second six-year deal defying that rule. Of our extension candidates, each of them but Jennings is within that range and Jennings is just slightly above.
Another pattern we can discern is that the Rays like to extend players who have shown just enough to prove their worth but not enough to be certain that they will reach their potential. Moore’s extension and Longoria’s initial deal are obvious examples of that as both were high-profile prospects but Moore had logged just five major leagues games while Longoria had seen time in just six. (Longoria reportedly agreed to the deal even while he was still in the minor leagues.) James Shields, Ben Zobrist, and Wade Davis were all coming off their first strong years in the major leagues, but they had to be concerned whether they could continue to play at that level. Kazmir delivered his first truly great season in 2007, and he had a chance to receive real money for his arbitration years and one free agent year instead of gambling on whether he could stay healthy. Longoria’s second deal was the opposite case, with him coming off an injury-prone year and especially concerned about his financial security. Finally, Aybar is the outlier of the group, but he was coming off decent performances in the first two full seasons of his career and had his first chance to cash in. Both team and player saw an opportunity for a mutually beneficial arrangement, and they found a way to come to terms.
The Rays’ extension options for this offseason fit the same mold. Myers, Cobb, Archer all have the chance to capitalize on their big 2013 seasons to solidify their future earnings. Odorizzi may be the prospect Longoria or Moore was, and that may even more reason for him to agree to a team-friendly extension. Then Jennings is arguably in Aybar’s spot, showing good results in his first two full years but showing enough question marks in his game that getting what he can get for his past performance instead gambling year by year is worth a look. The Rays have several players worth talking to, and we will have to see who among them will be interested.
Yesterday was the anniversary of Aybar’s extension, and we can see that five of the eight previous extensions occurred between mid-February and mid-May. We are getting to time period where the Tampa Bay Rays usually announce an extension–and after extending at least one player under 28 years old each of the last five years, there could very well be another one coming in short order. Who is the most likely candidate? Check back at Rays Colored Glasses the next few days to find out.