The Tampa Bay Rays are the latest team to lock up one of their young core players to a long-term contract extension.
Wednesday morning the Rays announced they have signed superutility man Brandon Lowe to a six-year contract extension. The deal guarantees him $24 million and includes two club options. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times says the contract can max out at $49 million through the options and various incentives.
"We believe Brandon has the potential to make a longstanding impact at the major league level," Rays senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager Erik Neander said in a statement. "He's shown both an advanced feel for hitting and the ability to drive the ball to all fields, and he's quickly becoming a versatile defender who can help us in many ways. Brandon's development, both offensively and defensively, is a testament to his commitment to his craft, and a credit to all of our staff who have scouted, coached and worked with him. With this agreement, we're excited to cement his place in our young core for years to come."
The six-year contract buys out Lowe's six years of team control with the two club options covering potential free agent years. The Rays now control him through his age 31 season.
Lowe, 24, appeared in 43 games last season, hitting .233/.324/.450 with six home runs in 148 plate appearances. The 2016 13th-round pick had a monster minor league season, authoring a .297/.391/.558 batting line with 31 doubles and 22 homers in 100 games split between Double-A and Triple-A.
A natural second baseman, Lowe has played some corner outfield throughout his career, and the Rays do love versatile players. His lefty bat and positional flexibility fits nicely into their roster scheme. Lowe is a consensus back-half of the top 100 prospect. Here is a snippet of MLB.com's free scouting report:
Lowe has long stood out for his pure hitting ability and on-base skills from the left side of the plate, and he showed in 2018 that he could apply his raw power in games, as he finished the season with 28 home runs and 37 doubles between the Minors and Tampa Bay. He can punish a fastball and produced slightly above-average exit velocities in his first taste of the Majors. He has a good feel for the strike zone, doesn't chase and consistently capitalizes on pitchers' mistakes. Lowe is an average runner but doesn't steal many bases. His average arm plays well at second base, where he's a solid but unspectacular defender, and he held his own at both outfield corners last season even though he was new to both positions.
The improved defensive versatility adds even more value to Lowe's bat-first profile and should give him the chance to start on a near everyday basis in the big leagues.
Lowe did not have a guaranteed big league roster spot going into spring training, though the extension and Matt Duffy's lingering hamstring issue mean he's all but certain to be on the Opening Day roster. He figures to share second base time with Joey Wendle and also see spot starts in left and right fields.
The Rays signed both Evan Longoria (six years, $17.5 million in 2008) and Matt Moore (five years, $14 million in 2011) to long-term contract extensions before they had established themselves at the big league level. Lowe's deal is right in line with other recent extensions for middle infielders with less than one full year of service time:
- Scott Kingery, Phillies: Six years, $24 million with three club options
- Paul DeJong, Cardinals: Six years, $26 million with two club options
- Tim Anderson, White Sox: Six years, $25 million with two club options
Those extensions represent all sorts of different scenarios. Kingery signed his deal before playing in a single MLB game and had a disappointing rookie year in 2018, hitting .226/.267/.338 (61 OPS+). DeJong signed his deal following a strong partial rookie season in 2017 and built on it in 2018. Anderson has backtracked a bit since signing his extension after his rookie year in 2016.
The Rays surprisingly won 90 games last season and they boast one of the game's best farm systems. Lowe may only the first member of their young core to sign a long-term deal. Others like outfielder Austin Meadows, shortstop Willy Adames, righty Tyler Glasnow, catcher Mike Zunino, and reigning Cy Young winner Blake Snell are likely next on the team's extension priority list.
In recent weeks Alex Bregman, Max Kepler, Jose Leclerc, Jorge Polanco, Aaron Nola, Luis Severino, and of course the great Mike Trout all signed long-term extensions multiple years prior to reaching free agency.