The Tampa Bay Rays have a way of surprising, don’t they?

Wander Franco’s Long-Term Deal With Rays Is A Pleasantly Surprising Development

The Tampa Bay Rays have a way of surprising, don’t they?

Whether it is going against the grain to piece together 90-plus win seasons or trading players thought to be pillars in the lineup or rotation from some years to come, they have a habit of raising eyebrows.

Montreal? That definitely raised eyebrows, but let’s not go there. (Frankly, it would be nice if we did not have to go that route at all.)

Rather, we will go directly to the dotted line where Wander Franco lent his penmanship to sign a contract that calls for 11 years and $182 million. When considering an option year and incentives, the potential is 12 years and $223 million.

It is easily the largest deal in team history, topping the six-year, $100-million extension given to Evan Longoria nine years ago almost to the day.

Sure, the deal, which dominated hot stove chatter over Thanksgiving before being made official by the club Saturday, comes with risks for both sides. Franco, a 20-year-old shortstop with all of 70 games of big-league experience, could suffer a severe injury and not come close to fulfilling his potential, let alone that of the contract.

When viewing it from the other side, Franco could blossom into a perennial MVP contender and do so at a bargain rate. The terms of the deal are such that his first five years (and possibly six) of free agency are owned by the team. Instead of potentially hitting the market and offering his services to the highest bidder, Franco will be under team control.

The Tampa Bay Rays have a way of surprising, don’t they?
Wander Franco Photo Credit: Tyler Schank/Tampa Bay Rays

But isn’t it refreshing that it is the Rays who are the ones dishing out the big numbers to a young star? A pact with one of their own, a player they initially signed as a 17-year-old?

“I am really happy for this opportunity and the one thing I really want to do is bring a championship to the organization,” said Franco during a press conference Monday, with Latin America Cultural Coordinator Jairo De La Rosa serving as interpreter. “With this, I can help my family and have nothing on my mind when I am playing in the field.”

Franco made his MLB debut June 22 at Tropicana Field against Boston. He promptly homered, doubled and drove in three runs. He caught fire after the all-star break, hitting .314 and strung together a 43-game on-base streak that tied Frank Robinson (1956 Reds) for the longest in MLB history by a player 20 years of age or younger.

After striking out twice against visiting Seattle on August 3, Franco fanned only nine more times over his final 173 plate appearances. He was third in American League Rookie of the Year voting after hitting .288 with seven homers, 39 RBIs and an .810 OPS. He was 7-for-19 (.368) with a pair of homers in the Rays’ four-game ALDS loss to the Red Sox.

“It’s a great day for our organization, for our staff, for Wander, for his family….and really for baseball,” said Erik Neander, the Rays’ president of baseball operations. “The chance for a homegrown star to be with the club for the foreseeable future, that in and of itself is a real big deal. Last but not least, to our fans, this is a special day.”

The Franco deal has not gotten in the way of the Rays’ usual off-season tinkering, accelerated by the fact the current labor agreement is set to expire Wednesday night.

Multiple outlets reported deals were struck for right-handed starter Corey Kluber (one year, up to $13) and lefty reliever Brooks Raley (two years, $10 million with an option). The signings were pending physical exams.

Kluber was a two-time (2014, 2017) Cy Young Award winner with the Indians before injuries hindered him for much of the past three seasons. However, he finished 2021 healthy with the Yankees and went 5-3 with a 3.83 ERA in 16 starts. The Alabama native turns 36 in April.

With Michael Wacha having signed with Boston over the holiday weekend, Kluber would be the veteran in a rotation that could include the under-25 quartet of Shane McClanahan, Luis Patino, Drew Rasmussen and Shane Baz.

The 33-year-old Raley posted a 4.78 ERA (2-3, two saves) in 58 appearances for the Astros last season. He debuted with the Cubs in 2012 and played in Korea for five seasons before returning to the majors. The Texan has 93 career MLB appearances.

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