Rays fans need to pay attention to the sagas drawn out in Minnesota and Baltimore this off-season as the same situation is likely to unfold with the Rays next winter.

Last week the Minnesota Twins traded Johan Santana to the New York Mets. Santana and the Mets subsequently agreed to a $137.5 million contract extension. The contract given to Santana, as well as the deal signed by Barry Zito last season ($126 million), in all likelihood ended any hopes that the Rays had of ever signing Scott Kazmir to an extension.

Optimism for the future of the Tampa Bay Rays has been riding at an all-time high thanks to recent contract extensions signed by Carlos Pena and James Shields. After stockpiling an arsenal of young talent the team is now showing the players and the fans that they will not only develop the talent, but they are willing to spend money to retain those players. Unfortunately, that warm and fuzzy feeling should now be tempered by the Santana trade that on the surface appeared to have little effect on the Rays.

While Kazmir is not yet to the level of Santana and Zito, he is left-handed, he is a proven winner and he will be three years younger (27) than Santana would have been (30) in his first free agency season. And now word is coming down that $17 million per season may not be enough to keep C.C. Sabathia in Cleveland.

One does not need to stretch their imagination too far to think that Kazmir and his agent Brian Peters will seek a deal for at least seven years, worth $110 million or more, once Kazmir hits free agency. For a team that is likely to have a payroll in the $50-60 million range in three years, it is inconceivable that they would commit $15-17 million to one player.

In the past, it would be a little early to be concerned about the pending free agency for a player just entering his first arbitration-eligible season, but the times, they are a-changin’. In addition to the contracts signed by Santana and Zito, the Rays will also pay close attention to how the situation unfolds in Baltimore with Erik Bedard.

Bedard is another young lefty that figures to cash-in on a contract similar to those signed by Santana and Zito. Rather than wait until next year, when the Orioles negotiating leverage will be weaker, Baltimore has decided to trade Bedard this off-season, two years prior to free agency. In return, the Orioles are expected to land a young player with all-star potential (Adam Jones), a relief pitcher and three top pitching prospects. Most agree that the package the Orioles are expected to receive is much stronger than that which the Twins received for Santana.

Unless the Rays decide to move the team’s payroll into the $60-70 million range, a move that seems highly unlikely, or Kazmir is willing to give the Rays a hometown discount of historic proportions (something the players union will never let happen), the team will not be able to afford the services of Kazmir much longer. In addition, the Rays have the luxury of several top pitching prospects that could be ready to enter the rotation as early as next season, including Jake McGee, Wade Davis and last year’s #1 overall pick, David Price.

If trading the young ace is a foregone conclusion, then the time to do it will be following the 2008 season when his price will be at its peak. The Rays can expect to receive a package at least on par with what the Orioles received for Bedard, if not greater, as Bedard has a history of injuries and has never thrown 200 innings in a season.

Thanks to Johan Santana and Barry Zito, the 2008 season could very well be Kid K’s last in a Rays uniform.

Johan Santana Traded To The Mets; Rays Dodge Bullets [Rays Index]
Mets Finalize Deal With Johan Santana [MLB Trade Rumors]
Tampa Bay Rays Lock Up Carlos Pena For 3 Years [Rays Index]
Six Or Seven Years For James Shields Is A Risk Worth Taking [Rays Index]
Baseball Bogs Weigh In: Eric Bedard [MLB Trade Rumors]
Santana Contract Could Spell Sabathia Departure [MLB Trade Rumors]

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9 Comments

  1. Sean G says:

    makes sense, but i sure hope you are wrong. we have no idea if any of the prospects will be as good as Kaz

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  2. Anonymous says:

    Why trade away the best pitcher we have in 2009-2010, so we could compete in 2011? Pena and Crawford are probably gone after 2010, so why don't we trade them after the 2008 season.

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  3. The Professor says:

    the Rays would still conceivably have three experienced pitchers in Shields, Garza and Sonnanstine.

    Crawford is a possibility if the Rays think Rocco can stay healthy and/or Fernando Perez or Desmond Jennings are ready.

    This decision could very well hang on how well Garza and Sonnanstine perform this season. If both step-up this could be an easier decision.

    the Rays can't wait until after 2010 when they would only receive two first round picks.

    they could wait until after 2009, but if the kids are ready and the bounty is offered, i think the Rays will make the move.

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  4. Big Mike says:

    the most important point made here is the Bedard trade. the problem though is you need a team that is deep in prospects including one or two at or near the major league level.That eliminates the Mets who just gave the entire farm to the Mets. the team must be one that can conceivably afford a Kazmir. that eliminates another 10-12 teams. and you have to think that the Red Sox, Yankees, Baltimore and Toronto are already out of it, as i cant see the Rays sending their best player to a divisional rival.

    That leaves only a handful of teams but it might still work if somebody like the Angels or the Rangers or the Cubs get involved. I just dont know their systems well enough to know if they have the horses to get the deal done.

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  5. ben says:

    If the rays do decide to trade kaz after this year, do you think after the all star break ( even if we are in some sort of wild card race or close to.500 ) some of the younger guys, either mcgee or price or davis come up and pitch some games to see if we can still compete without kaz? With all the hype with our guys in AAA and AA i'd like to think that at least one of the pitchers can be a 1 or 2 spot guy.

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  6. The Professor says:

    that is really the bet argument for trading Kazmir. the Rays are not counting on just ONE prospect to be his replacement. There are 3-4 guys that could all potentially replace kazmir and the Rays really only need one to be that good. If two are even close that is just bonus. The Rays can win with Price, Shields, Garza, and either Davis or McGee at the #4. Sonnanstine is serviceable as a #5 and the Rays can expect one or two more top pitching prospects from AA or AAA to come back in the trade.

    AS for the youngins and this year? Niemann is a lock. Davis Mcgee or Price? I would be surprised if we see any of them, but maybe we get a look-see in September.

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  7. Robert Rittner says:

    I think it is very possible the Rays trade Kazmir, and while I would be disappointed, it would not necessarily be a bad thing. That would depend on the return we get and the situation the Rays are in at the time.

    But the reasoning that it is likely is not as strong as it appears at first reading. The answer to the question of how high the payroll will ever go is still undetermined. Few expected it to rise as high as it has this year. The Rays have asserted that their intention is to build a consistent contender, and if they have to pay to do so, I am not sure why we are so sure they won't.

    As for the examples of Santana & Bedard there is some relationship, but they are not identical situations. Certainly they set the salary bar very high, and possibly the prospects bar as well. But particularly in the case of Bedard, the Orioles are in full rebuilding mode. Essentially they are jettisoning whatever talent they have to build their system, and they know they are far from contention. The Rays should not be in that situation soon. Whereas Bedard was unlikely to contribute to a title in the next few years, Kazmir should be integral to that goal.

    The Santana comparison is closer, but again, there are variables in the two cases, particularly in the approaches of Pohlad and Sternberg, that do not make them identical.

    I do think that should enough prospects pan out and should Kazmir's demands become too high that the Rays will look for trading partners before he hits free agency. If the replacements are ready and the Rays can get a good haul, it will be a good thing, even if emotionally dissatisfying. But I also think that if the Rays begin winning, they will first attempt to sign him, and may be willing to increase payroll considerably to do so.

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  8. Anonymous says:

    The price tag and all the reasons you give make sense that they would look to trade him but the team's status does not. The Rays will be in drastically different scenarios than the Twins or the Orioles were this past offseason. We'll be a team just coming into their own with help on the way as well while the O's had virtually nothing in their farm system and the Twins needing to rebuild around Morneau and Mauer and Young.

    I sure hope they can ink Kazmir to an extension this year so we never have to worry about trading him.

    Remember we got that guy for Victor Zambrano.

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  9. The Professor says:

    I am not sure the Rays situation next year is much different than the Twins situation this year.

    The Twins are a legitimate contender if they keep Santana. Remember they still have Bonser and they are getting Liriano back.

    Believe me, I sure hope they can sign Kid K to an extension, I am just being realistic and I dont see a scenario in which it can get done.

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