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]