There’s obviously been a rush in the aftermath of the Tampa Bay Rays signing Wander Franco to a deal that could be worth as much as $223 million and keep him in Tampa for 12 years, according to reports. The 20-year-old star will get a serious upgrade on what he would have made the next three years when he wouldn’t have even been arbitration-eligible. He’ll probably make more money than he would have in the first year, maybe even in the second of arbitration, though who knows if that’s what the system will become under the new CBA. On the surface, and if you’re inclined to always huff what the Rays are selling as the MOST FORWARD-THINKING FRANCHISE in MLB, then it might seem like a win-win for everyone.
Pump the brakes, just a bit.
One, the Rays happen to be the team that kept Franco in the minors long enough to get his service time bumped back a year. It wasn’t as naked as other teams have done in the past, and they always had the shelter of Franco not being able to play in the minors in 2020 thanks to the pandemic. But given the way Franco laced Triple-A pitchers in his brief time there, it was pretty clear he was ready for the majors at the start of the year. Sure, 40 games doesn’t sound like a ton at Triple-A, and it’ll be impossible to argue that Franco should have been on the Rays after just 52 games at high-A in 2019. But you know exactly what would have happened if things had been running on a normal schedule.
Secondly, this is still the Rays. The Rays have cried poor and blamed their attendance for how they’ve had to do things. And there are complications with The Trop, no doubt. But how hard can Rays fans invest in the team knowing that every player they get attached to is likely going to move on quickly with the way the Rays do things? Even Evan Longoria was traded, the one guy they tried to make a foundational piece. Blake Snell another. Chris Archer in the past. The Archer deal obviously went great for the Rays, the Longoria deal didn’t, and we’ll see about the Snell one. The common theme was that all three were punted before they wanted what they were worth. Fans don’t buy tickets to dream about prospects they’ll get for the players they’re watching on the field. That doesn’t mean the Rays need to run on sentimentality, but you can see where fans might not be as connected to the team as they are in other places.
Most of all, the Rays are currently trying to hold two cities hostage over a new stadium. They have to sell something to fans in either Tampa or Montreal. There has to be a face to it. Snell is gone. Franco is the logical choice. While it’s refreshing on some level to see the Rays invest in someone, Franco’s deal is almost certainly as much of an investment in their stadium as it is in Franco. When pushing for a stadium and the public funds to get it, people need to know what they’ll be seeing when they get in it. Franco’s contract promises that much.
Had the Rays not been in the middle of this stadium debate at the moment, I have no doubts they would be happy to let Franco play for the pittance that players get before even hitting their arbitration years.
It’s nice that the Rays have an identifiable star for what seems like the foreseeable future. Save your kudos until we see how the stadium thing plays out. Know the source.