Tampa Bay Rays (21 days until pitchers and catchers report)
Yesterday the Tampa Bay Rays announced that they had reached an agreement with James Shields on a contract that could be for as long as seven years and worth just under $38 million. With incentives the deal could reach as much as $44 million. The last three years of the deal are team options which gives the team a fair amount of insurance in case of an injury or an unexpected drop in performance.

This is a great deal for the Rays. They get a young proven pitcher for a below-market price and do not have to worry about going to arbitration with him in two years. But, despite what many are saying this is not a deal about retaining the young talent. Shields was going to be here for the next five years without a new deal. And projecting Shields and the team ahead to the 2013 and 2014 seasons is a crap-shoot at best. What kind of pitcher will he be six years from now? What will the team look like six years from now? Nobody knows the answers to those questions.

No. This is not about retaining the young talent. Marc Lancaster is the only writer, whether it be professional, blogger or message board specialist, we have seen yet that “gets it”.

The Rays didn’t have to do this deal, which guarantees Shields at least $11.25 million during the next four seasons and could max out at $44 million with options and incentives. Shields would have been under Tampa Bay’s control through 2012 anyway, and the cost to keep him wasn’t likely to reach outrageous levels even if he continued to improve once he entered his arbitration years.

But the Rays saw an opportunity to make a statement after Shields had his agent contact them last fall to gauge their interest in a long-term deal, even though he had just pitched his first full season in the majors. Here was the rare player with enough faith in the organization that he was willing to surrender his first two years of free agency.

Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said he liked the message that rewarding Shields with a long-term deal so early in his career would send to Tampa Bay’s young players. The Rays certainly wouldn’t mind if some of the team’s more established players, the rest of baseball and their fan base picked up on it, too.

This deal does send a message. Not a message to the fans that the Rays will do whatever it takes to keep the young talent. If that was the case why isn’t Scott Kazmir under a long-term contract yet? He is due to be a free agent before Shields. Or what about Carl Crawford, who is set to become a free agent in three years, two years sooner than Shields would have hit the market. No. The real message is about rewarding the younger players that perform well.

Yesterday in “The Hangover“, and the day before in the comments section, we speculated that the new contract would most likely only give Shields a slight bump in salary in 2008 and 2009, the two seasons prior to when he would be arbitration eligible. Teams do not have to open the wallets in a players first three seasons, no matter how well they perform on the field. The Rays showed they are willing to reward the younger players. A move that will be noticed by other players within the Rays organization and hopefully by players in other organizations. The Rays did not have to give Shields much more than $0.5-0.7 for the next two seasons. Players that sign long-term deals prior to their arbitration years almost never make more than that in those seasons. Shields, however, will make $2.5 million combined the next two years.

To us that is the biggest surprise of the contract. In the grand scheme of things, it does not seem like much to us, but to a player like Shields, who was not a “bonus baby” first-round draft pick, a raise of more than 150% is a big deal.

A big deal that the team hopes won’t go unnoticed by the other players. Perform well and we will reward you.

Shields’ deal could be worth $44 million. [TampaBay.com]
Shields deal sends message [TBO]

DEVIL RAYS WEBTOPIA

  • Gary Shelton calls Stuart Sternberg the “MVP of the most impressive offseason the Rays have had since, well, ever”. We are not sure why everybody is surprised by the moves made this off-season. The Rays are doing exactly what they have always said they would do. Last off-season, the Royals gave $55 million to Gil Meche. Many fans wondered why the Rays weren’t willing to go and sign a free agent pitcher like Meche. And while Meche did post a 3.67 ERA, he finished 9-13 for a team that won more games (69) than the Rays did (66), and finished in last place. Money well spent? Shields finished 12-8 and the Rays just rewarded him with a $38 million contract. In other words, a player like Meche would not have made a lick of difference on the 2007 Tampa Bay Rays, but the team would have wasted money. Would he make a difference on the 2008 Rays? Maybe. He has won more than 11 games only once in his career. But what about 2009 when players like David Price and Wade Davis and Jake McGee are ready? There is a good chance at least one if not two of those players will be better pitchers as rookies than Gil Meche will ever be. Singing Meche last year would have been a waste of money and a waste of a spot in the rotation. [St. Pete Times]
  • The Baseball Authority takes a look at the James Shields deal and believes that spending more than $40 million on a young player with promise is much smarter than spending $40 million on a free agent pitcher with limited upside such as Carlos Silva. We whole-heartedly agree. We have broken down the numbers before. Free agent pitchers rarely live up to their contracts. [The Baseball Authority]
  • Epic Carnival believes that the James Shields deal is yet another example of why the Rays are moving in the right direction. [Epic Carnival]
  • The final 2007 payrolls have been tabulated and yes, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays still had the lowest payroll in baseball at $31.8 million. That number is slightly higher than most figures that have been quoted for the D-Rays payroll, as it also includes signing bonuses, incentives, and extra money Jonny Gomes received dancing at Mons Venus. Ten teams were over $100 million including the Yankees ($218.3 million) and the Red Sox ($155.4 million). [SI.com]
  • Fake Teams takes a look at Carlos Pena and wonders what we can expect from him in 2008. The final verdict is about 37 home runs. Seems like a reasonable number. [Fake Teams]
  • USA Today compares the short histories of baseball’s last four expansion franchises. [USA Today]
  • Mad Friars also takes a look at the four most recent expansion franchises and the roads they have taken to success (or lack thereof). [Mad Friars]
  • DRays Bay takes a look back at how the Rays fared in the 2001-2005 drafts. [DRays Bay]
  • The Tampa Bay Rays 2008 FanFest will be held on Feb.23 at Tropicana Field. Regular season tickets will also go on sale that day. [DevilRays.com]
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5 Comments

  1. Robert Rittner says:

    I think your points about the Shields' contract are correct, but am not sure why you say only Lancaster seems to "get it". On other blogs a number of posters have pointed out that the Rays really did not risk much in terms of money or control. And in the Times, the heading under the headline reads "Without HAVING to do it...." and in the article, the point is made that "there was no rush" because Shields was "two seasons from arbitration and five from free agency, and the Rays could have set his salary next season and the next, then spent the next three in the arbitration process."

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  2. The Professor says:

    because most everybody else believe that the big message is to the fans that the Rays are "retaining the young talent". he wasn't going anywhere. and even the writers that acknowledge he wasnt going anywhere suggest that the team is sending a message to the fans about keeping players.

    I hate to pile on Topkin...really I do. but these are his words

    "Shields, 26, wanted to stay with the team he's convinced is headed for success, as well as the financial security of a guaranteed $11.25-million over the first four years. The Rays liked the idea of keeping him around, willing to reward him for what he has done and how he has done it, and considered him worthy of the investment, limiting their exposure with much of the money in three option years and incentives."

    while he ackowledges the "reward...for what he has done", that comes after "The Rays liked the idea of keeping him around". That suggests that at the very least, "keeping him around" was as important as the "reward", if not more so.

    and then go read Bill Chastain's story on the team page. the entire article focuses on how long the deal is.

    2013 and 2014 are so far away, that even if that is a part of it, it is only a very small part. and really has nothing to do with the team that we will be rooting for in the next few years.

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  3. Robert Rittner says:

    I would never critique Chastain's articles because his role and purpose is entirely different. I don't think there is anything wrong with him, just that he is catering to a different audience.

    But the Times article is perfectly legitimate, and you are not piling on Topkin. You are simply overanalyzing a simple article that is both accurate and establishes the point properly. They do like the idea of keeping him around and whether it is technically true or not the contract indicates precisely that. And not only does the point about rewarding what he has done follow immediately, but the closing lines point out the limits on the exposure.

    In fact, I agree it is worthwhile to point out that Shields was not going anywhere, as Topkin does, not just in the section you quoted but both in the sub-headline-in boldface-and in the first bullet point of the article. But that does not mean that the move does not represent a commitment by the Rays to keep the young talent. By rewarding them, by being very active this off-season, the message is clear they want to draw talent here. The players themselves read it that way even if the technicalities suggest that the commitment is not entirely what it seems.

    Again, the reality is worth noting, and was, but the reality is more than simply contract language and terms. It has to do with gestures and statements as well which influence how the players feel about being here. Both Pena's and Shields's own statements indicate the significance of those more intangible but nonetheless important factors.

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  4. Marc says:

    Why haven't you checked out 365 Days of Dough, Rays, and Me? We covered this pivotal story, too.

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