Tampa Bay Rays (26 days until pitchers and catchers report)
The most important news to come out amongst all the moves the Rays have made in the past week is a move they haven’t made…yet. It is being reported that the Tampa Bay Rays are trying to sign James Shields to a long-term contract. While it should come as no surprise that the Rays would want to lock in their young pitcher, what is surprising is the timing (to a lesser extent) and the potential length of the deal (to a greater extent).
James the Greater is still a year away from arbitration, and while it is not unheard of that a team would sign a player to an extension after only two seasons (ie. Jeff Francis), it is rare. In this case the move is even more surprising because of all the money that has all ready been tossed around by the Rays this off-season. With new multi-million dollar deals in place already for Scott Kazmir, Carlos Pena, Cliff Floyd, Dan Wheeler and Troy Percival we would have assumed the team would have liked to keep Shields on the cheap for one more season.
The bigger surprise is that the Rays are reportedly seeking a 6 or 7 year deal. A 7-year deal would effectively lock up Shields for the first three free agency years. When young players in the midst of the arbitration years sign an extension is usually only extends into the first year of free agency, and rarely into the second. It is even more surprising because Shields is a pitcher. Most teams prefer not to sign pitchers for more than four seasons, due to the fragile nature of their arm. A 6 or 7 year deal for Shields shows that the Rays have an immense amount of confidence in the young hurler’s mechanics.
The threat of an arm injury is a huge risk in seeking a deal of this length, but the upside for the Rays is too great to ignore. By locking Shields up this early, they will be able to retain his services well-below market-value for the life of the contract. Shields was a 16th round selection by the Rays, which means he probably blew his entire signing bonus on a used Ford Explorer. Unlike first round picks that enjoy multi-million dollar signing bonuses, Shields may be ready to cash-in. Add to that the financial security that comes with a 6 or 7-year deal, knowing that as a pitcher, he is at a risk every time he takes the mound.
If the Rays are willing to add $2-3 million more to the 2008 payroll…and all indications say that they are…this is a smart move by the ball club. There is a great deal of risk involved but the chance to lock up James the Greater at below market-value for 6 or 7 years is a risk worth taking.
Rays opening the bank [TBO]
DEVIL RAYS WEBTOPIA…
- Rays Anatomy takes up a debate with a Mariners blogger over who is the better young pitcher, Scott Kazmir or Felix Hernandez. Our only beef is the title “King Felix vs. Scott Kazmir“. One nickname and one real name? How about “King Felix vs. Kid K”. Nice ring to it, don’t you think? As for the debate, we will agree with Bryan Osborn when he says “Comparing Scott Kazmir and King Felix and then choosing one over the other is like comparing who was the better left-handed bat, Ted Williams or Babe Ruth”. In the end does it matter? I would take either on my team. [Rays Anatomy]
- MLB Trade Rumors thinks the Rays got a steal with the Carlos Pena signing. [MLB Trade Rumors]
- Both Carlos Pena and Scott Kazmir expressed excitement at not only their new contracts but also with all of the off-season moves made by the Rays that are a strong indication to the players that the team is committed to keeping their young talent and building a winner. [TBO]
“We’ve made some huge steps,” Kazmir said. “I’m so excited to go to spring training and get the season going with the group of guys we have.”
“We have an incredible amount of talent in our team right now as we speak,” Pena said. “It is in our best interests to try to maintain these outstanding young players here in Tampa – it’s extremely important. I think when we do reach our goal of getting into the playoffs, it’s going to be a very special feeling because we know it’s homegrown – we are truly Rays.”
- Nobody should be surprised by the Rays flurry of recent moves and all of the money being thrown around. This off-season has been just the next step in the plan that the Rays front office has been working with and is exactly what they have always said they would do. That is, the plan was to build the depth of the organization and develop the young talent and when the talent was in place, they would spend money to fill the holes and keep the talent in place when the team was ready to move forward. While Stuart Sternberg didn’t anticipate that spending to happen this soon, he did know it would happen. [TBO]
“We didn’t expect to be where we’re going to be this year [payroll-wise], but as we’ve said in the past, we’re going to be opportunistic,” said Sternberg. “If an opportunity presents itself, we can go outside of where we are.”
Sternberg acknowledged that laying out more money this year than expected will have an impact on financial decisions going forward, but he emphasized the Rays wouldn’t dismiss an opportunity to add more payroll—say, at midseason—out of hand.