Shortstop Wander Franco quickly emerged as one of MLB's best players this season and the Tampa Bay Rays wasted no time locking him up. The club has signed Franco to a record-setting 11-year contact extension that guarantees him at least $182 million. The team announced the signing Saturday.
"This is a great day for Wander and for the Rays and is evidence of the mutual trust between Wander and our organization. So many of our areas had a hand in this -- our scouting, development, health and wellness and coaching personnel plus many others," Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said in a statement. "We are committed to fielding competitive teams year in and year out, and we all expect that Wander's presence and contributions will play a large part in maintaining our standard of excellence."
The previous record contract for a player with less than one full year of service time was Ronald Acuña Jr.'s eight-year, $100 million contract with the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves, a record Franco smashed. Here are the largest contracts ever given to players with less than a full year of service time (not including players signed from Japan or Korea):
- Wander Franco, Rays: 11 years and $182 million
- Ronald Acuña Jr., Braves: 8 years and $100 million
- Luis Robert, White Sox: 6 years and $50 million (signed prior to MLB debut)
- Eloy Jiménez, White Sox: 6 years and $43 million (signed prior to MLB debut)
- Paul DeJong, Cardinals: 6 years and $26 million
- Chris Archer, Rays: 6 years and $25.5 million
The contract guarantees Franco $182 million across 11 years with a $25 million club option for a 12th season. There also salary escalators tied to finishes in the MVP voting beginning in 2028, and the contract can max out at $223 million. The deal does not include a no-trade clause (the Rays have never given out a no-trade clause), though Franco gets a $3 million bonus if traded.
The 11-year term covers Franco's remaining six years of team control (three pre-arbitration and three arbitration) plus five free agent years, with a club option for a sixth free agent year. It also covers his age 21-31 seasons, meaning Franco would still be in line for a large free agent contract once this deal expires. If the club option is picked up, Franco would become a free agent at the same age Starling Marte is right now, for reference. Marte agreed to a four-year, $78 million deal with the Mets on Friday.
Franco, 21 in March, was the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball going into each of the last two seasons. He was called up to make his MLB debut in June and became an impact player almost immediately, hitting .288/.347/.463 with seven home runs in 70 games. Franco struck out only five times in his final 31 games, and he went 7 for 19 (.368) in four postseason games. He also tied Hall of Famer Frank Robinson's record by reaching base in 43 straight games as a 20-year-old.
"The pace at which Wander has developed speaks to his potential," Rays president of baseball operations Erik Neander said in a statement. "We have seen him do special things on the field, particularly for a player that is only 20 years old. He's an exceptionally driven, budding superstar who can contribute to our success for a long time."
As much as any single player can be a centerpiece for the Rays, Franco is already the face of the franchise, and locking him up was the only way to keep him long-term, realistically. Tampa will never win a free agent bidding war for an elite player, and they have a long history of trading players when they start to get expensive through arbitration. Franco could have found himself on the trade block in 3-4 years if not for this contract.`
The Rays of course have a long history of locking up their best players early in their careers. They famously signed Evan Longoria to a six-year contract worth $17.5 million six days into his big league career, then the record for a player with less than one year of service time. Kevin Kiermaier, Brandon Lowe, Matt Moore, and Blake Snell are among the others to sign long-term with Tampa.
Franco's contract is far and away the largest in Rays history in terms of total guarantee, beating out Longoria's six-year, $100 million extension in 2012. Franco's reported $16.55 million average annual value is just under Longoria's $16.67 million, however. Kiermaier ($53.5 million) and Snell ($50 million) are the only others plays to sign deals worth at least $50 million with Tampa.
Over the last three seasons the Rays have won more games than any other American League team, and this past season they won the AL East with a 100-62 record. The franchise is still searching for its first ever World Series championship, but they have a very impressive young core even outside Franco, plus a top farm system. They are in position to contend for several more years.
It should be noted Franco's extension extends beyond 2027, when the team's Tropicana Field lease expires. The Rays continue to explore a two-city solution with Tampa and Montreal, which doesn't seem all that realistic. Wherever they're playing come 2028, the Rays know they will be able to open their new stadium will Franco as their cornerstone player.
The Padres signed Fernando Tatis Jr. Jr. to a 14-year, $341 million contract this February. He signed when he was four years away from free agency, not six like Franco, giving him more leverage and earning potential. Nationals wunderkind Juan Soto (three years from free agency) and Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Jr. (four years away) could be next in line to sign a huge extension.