Wade Davis Rumors

Rays Borrow Indians’ Model For Extensions

If you find it hard to imagine the Rays without the long-term extensions they’ve handed out to players like James Shields (pictured) and Evan Longoria, you’re not alone. Andrew Friedman, Tampa Bay’s executive vice president of baseball operations, says extensions for key players are necessary for the Rays. 

“They are because for us we want to be able to extend our competitive window by as many years as we can,” Friedman told MLBTR. “And to have a chance to keep our nucleus together for an extra year, an extra two years is critical for us.”

James Shields

It’s so important because the Rays play in the American League East against two of baseball’s best and richest teams: the Yankees and Red Sox. Boston, for example, committed $154MM to Adrian Gonzalez on his recent extension and while the deal couldn’t be going better for the Red Sox, it’s not a realistic model for the Rays. $154MM is three times Tampa Bay’s annual payroll, so Friedman has to look elsewhere for solutions.

One of the places Friedman looked was Cleveland. In the early 1990’s, Indians general manager John Hart had a roster full of talented players, but this was before the Indians reached two World Series and won six division titles in seven years. Hart didn’t have the financial leeway to consider the mega-extensions that players can command as they approach free agency. 

“We were running an entire crop through that were all going to hit arbitration within one or two years of each other and we never could have afforded it,” he said.

Simply put, the Indians couldn’t wait for players like Carlos Baerga, Sandy Alomar Jr., and Charles Nagy to advance too close to free agency, when their asking prices would skyrocket and the Indians’ chances of controlling their core long-term would plummet. So Hart signed the trio to multiyear extensions early on in their careers, gambling that the relatively unproven group would develop into stars and contribute to Indians teams for years to come. 

The system worked. Baerga blossomed into one of the best second basemen in baseball, Alomar made six All-Star teams and Nagy posted a 3.86 ERA (115 ERA+) in 1100 innings through his arbitration years without earning more than $3.5MM in a season. It’s been a while since those Indians teams took the field, but Friedman hasn’t forgotten them. Though each era and division brings different challenges, the Rays used the Indians’ approach as a loose model for their recent extensions.

“They vary from market to market and you can learn and you should learn from what other teams do,” Friedman said, “but you have to mold that into a specific strategy for your market.”

In Tampa Bay’s case, the market is small. The Rays cut payroll by $30MM last offseason after having $72MM to work with a year ago. They have never spent over $72MM on payroll under Friedman, who was promoted to his current role in 2005. 

That means the Rays are willing to commit tens of millions to players with limited MLB experience, but it doesn’t mean they’ll gamble on anyone with talent and a willingness to sign on the dotted line. The Rays look for maturity and work habits in extension candidates, not simply on-field results and potential.

"We’re all kind of elbow to elbow for six weeks of Spring Training and at least six months of the season, and so you get a chance to see a guy and assess how they go about their work,” Friedman said. “That being said, it’s far from an exact science and if it was I think the success rate for teams would be much higher.”

The Rays have completed some deals that appear shrewd now, though they were risky at the time. No team succeeds with every extension (the Angels are paying former Rays starter Scott Kazmir $12MM this year on a deal Friedman signed), but Tampa Bay has more successes than failures under Friedman’s front office (see table of extensions for current homegrown Rays). 

Current Rays Extensions

As Hart points out, players need to keep working after signing extensions and “you’ve got to get a little bit lucky that you don’t have an injury.” Now a special assistant in the Rangers’ front office, Hart says the Rays have succeeded in committing to players who are talented and dedicated.

“They’ve had outstanding players with quality makeup,” he told MLBTR. “Longoria? I love this guy. Wade Davis, you know, it’s risky yet as a GM and as baseball people, you have to know your guys and you cross your fingers you don’t have injury, but at the end of it, if these guys stay healthy, you’ve made a good baseball decision.”

After a few years it’s easy to distinguish good baseball decisions from bad ones. Part of the challenge for the Rays is determining which relatively inexperienced players will respond well to extensions – without the benefit of hindsight.

"So many of these deals for young players, especially zero-plus, one-plus and even two-plus players, odds are they aren’t going to work out,” Friedman said. “You have to get to know the player as well as you can, get to know their makeup and make the best decision you can knowing that they’re not all going to work out.”

The goal, Hart says, is to find players who can “bite down” and perform even after the life-changing experience of signing for millions. The teams, meanwhile, do some biting down of their own. There are always concerns about signing unproven players to generous extensions, but it’s one way for small market franchises to extend their competitive window on budget.

Photo courtesy Icon SMI.


Eight-Player Deal Sending Rasmus To Jays For Jackson Imminent

12:08pm: The Cardinals will send Rasmus, Trever Miller, Brian Tallet, and P.J. Walters to the Blue Jays for Jackson, Rzepczynski, Dotel, and Corey Patterson, tweets ESPN's Buster Olney.  Olney adds that Miller is then expected to be traded to the White Sox.

12:01pm: This trade is not yet official because of the money involved, tweets Danny Knobler of CBS Sports.  He says that aspect may need to be reworked before it's approved.

11:35am: A trade of Rasmus to the Blue Jays for Jackson, Dotel, and Rzepczynski is imminent, reports Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  He says an announcement could come early this afternoon.

11:22am: Edwin Jackson is definitely going to be traded by the Blue Jays, tweets SI's Jon Heyman.  Heyman heard it's going to be for Cardinals outfielder Colby Rasmus.  Rasmus being under team control through 2014 and still highly-regarded, the Cards will require more than just two months of Jackson.  The two teams have talked about Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel, notes Olney, and Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports tweets that the Cards asked about outfielder Eric Thames.

Rasmus is a popular trade target.  ESPN's Buster Olney tweets that the Rays offered one of Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, and Alex Cobb, and the young center fielder is very much available.  The Indians have interest as well.


AL East Notes: Niemann, Davis, Orioles

We’ve already checked in on the AL East and taken detailed looks at its two biggest spenders, the Yankees and Red Sox. Here are some new notes from around the division, with an emphasis on teams that could be sellers:



Extension Candidates: Sophomore Starters

Wade Davis signed a multiyear extension with the Rays last week, though he's just one season into his MLB career. The deal is not without risk for Davis, since he could pitch like Ubaldo Jimenez and become a bargain for Tampa Bay, or for the Rays since Davis could get hurt, depriving them of a pitcher they need.

Here's a list of pitchers who could sign deals like the four-year, $12.6MM contract Tampa Bay completed with Davis. Like the Rays righty, these pitchers are on track to hit arbitration after 2012 and free agency after 2015 unless otherwise noted (age in parentheses):

  • Mat Latos, Padres (23) – Latos was flat-out phenomenal last year and would be positioned to ask for more than Davis obtained with his record deal. The skill is there, so if the Padres believe in his health (he's now on the DL) and maturity, Latos would be an extension candidate.
  • Wade LeBlanc, Padres (26) – LeBlanc, now in the minor leagues, is older than Latos and without the same front-of-the-rotation potential. His numbers, though comparable to the ones Davis has, don't scream 'lock me up,' so a deal seems unlikely.
  • Jhoulys Chacin, Rockies (23) – The Rockies were aggressive with extensions this offseason, locking up Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, and others. Chacin, who struck out a batter per inning in 2010, wouldn't cost nearly as much as his more experienced teammates.
  • Mike Leake, Reds (23) – If one organization was as extension happy as the Rockies this offseason it was the Reds. Leake struggled down the stretch last year and just barely made Cincinnati's rotation. They'll likely let the 2009 first rounder prove himself before committing eight figures to him.
  • Jon Niese, Mets (24) – Niese has comparable numbers to Davis, with slightly more strikeouts per inning (7.4 K/9) and a higher ERA (4.33).
  • Brian Matusz, Orioles (24) – Matusz compares to Davis statistically, but he could establish himself as a front-of-the-rotation starter with a breakout 2011 season, so he may be reluctant to lock himself in to pre-set salaries.
  • Mitch Talbot, Indians (27) - Talbot has poor walk (4.3 BB/9) and strikeout (5.0 K/9) numbers so far in his career, so he doesn't seem like a likely extension candidate. The Indians did extend Fausto Carmona, who doesn't get many strikeouts, but they may prefer to let Talbot prove himself further before committing to him.
  • Brett Cecil, Blue Jays (24) and Madison Bumgarner, Giants (21) both impressed in 2010. They're possible super two players, which means they may go to arbitration four times, once more than the starters above. If either Cecil or Bumgarner signed an extension, it wouldn't be completely parallel to the Davis deal.

It's possible that none of these pitchers will sign extensions, since long-term contracts for starters with fewer than two years of service time are uncommon. Some players don't mind going year to year in anticipation of big arbitration paydays and many teams prefer not to commit eight-figure deals to relatively unproven pitchers.

But some small market clubs, like the Athletics, Indians and Rays, have successfully completed a number of multiyear contracts for emerging pitchers. Teams looking to spend now and save later could take note and approach their best sophomore arms about long-term deals.


Wade Davis, Agent Take Calculated Risk

The Rays acknowledge that they took a significant risk when they invested $12.6MM in a pitcher who has appeared in just 35 big league games. Wade Davis signed for more guaranteed money than any pitcher in his service class (one-plus years), but he took on a different kind of risk.

Davis’ agent, B.B. Abbott, acknowledges that there’s a chance his client will earn millions less than he would have obtained by going year to year and hitting free agency after 2015. It could amount to a $6-8MM discount for the Rays, but Abbott says it's a worthwhile tradeoff for Davis, who gets guaranteed money and security.

"I don't think anyone can definitively tell you that it's the wrong deal or a bad deal or a good deal," Abbott told MLBTR. "It was just the right deal for Wade and the right deal for the team."

It's a contract that will allow Davis to enter free agency in time for a major free agent payday. Even if the Rays exercise their three team options, Davis will hit the open market as a 32-year-old with $35.1MM in his bank account. He was flattered that the Rays considered him worthy of such substantial investment after just one full season.

"It doesn’t seem to happen a whole lot in baseball, so it’s a huge compliment and something that I’m looking forward to," Davis said on a conference call earlier today.

The Rays made a similar investment in James Shields after the 2007 season and though 2010 was disappointing, he has put together three consecutive 200-inning seasons under his current contract. Shields was one of the main points of reference for the Davis deal, along with Brett Anderson, who had the record for one-plus pitchers ($12.5MM guarantee) until Davis signed. Chad Billingsley, who just signed an extension of his own, and Matt Garza were other comparable pitchers relevant to the negotiations between Davis, Abbott and the Rays. 


Friedman, Rays Take Calculated Risk With Deal

Wade Davis has appeared in 35 big league games and today the Rays signed him to a deal that could pay him over $35MM. Davis gets a $12.6MM guarantee from an organization that will spend just $41MM on its entire roster this year, so Rays executive VP of baseball operations Andrew Friedman fully acknowledges he's taking a risk. But the Rays didn't want to pass up the opportunity to sign a core player long-term.

"I think the one thing that we’ve really demonstrated over the years is how important these investments are for our organization," Friedman said via conference call. "We’ve been aggressive at that core that we can keep in place for a number of years and hopefully sustain success in this division."

Friedman locked up current Rays Evan Longoria, James Shields and Ben Zobrist to similar club option-heavy deals to provide the team with flexibility. The since-departed Carlos Pena and Scott Kazmir also signed extensions with the Rays since Friedman took over baseball operations in 2006.

The Rays wanted to add Davis to the list of players they've signed long-term, partly because they like his ability and his character. However, talent and dedication don't eliminate the risk inherent in signing a rookie pitcher to a multiyear deal.

"There’s no question that the injury rate is much higher with a pitcher than a position players and that fairly intuitive," Friedman said. "That’s why it’s so important for us in the sense of how well we know our guys – what their makeup is, the work ethic, how driven they are and it’s something that Wade fits into very, very well on all those fronts."

There’s another reason the Rays signed Davis long-term, though it’s impossible to quantify. Friedman says multiyear deals allow players to focus entirely on baseball and not on the money they may or may not make through arbitration or free agency. Davis, who considered the deal carefully before signing, agrees.

"The biggest thing for me is to be able to relax and I think it’s like that with anybody when they’re able to relax on the baseball field and just go all out out there," Davis said.

 


Rays Extend Wade Davis

The Rays announced that they agreed to a four-year extension with Wade Davis that's worth at least $12.6MM and could be worth up to $35.1MM. Jet Sports Management represents the right-hander.

The 2011-14 seasons are guaranteed and the Rays hold options for the 2015, 2016 and 2017 seasons. The options span Davis’ final arbitration year and his first two years of free agency while the guaranteed years span Davis' final two pre-arbitration seasons and his first two seasons of arbitration eligibility. 

Agent B.B. Abbott told MLBTR that Davis earns $1MM in 2011, $1.5MM in 2012, $2.8MM in 2013 and $4.8MM in 2014. The Rays then have options worth $7MM (2015), $8MM (2016) and $10MM (2017) or a buyout worth $2.5MM.

Davis, 25, posted a 4.07 ERA with a 39.2% ground ball rate, 6.1 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 168 innings last year, finishing fourth in the AL Rookie of the Year balloting.

The option-heavy extension mirrors those signed by Ben Zobrist (2 club options), James Shields (3 club options) and Evan Longoria (3 club options). Rays executive VP of baseball operations Andrew Friedman clearly likes the flexibility that multiple club options provide and so far he has been willing to commit to certain players early to obtain it.


Odds & Ends: Mets, Collins, Minaya, Pirates, Rays

Some links on a Sunday evening:


Rays Prefer To Use Prospects For Trades

Rays big leaguers B.J. Upton, Sean Rodriguez, Reid Brignac, and Wade Davis are drawing heavy interest, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, but the team's "preference is to use their prospect depth to land a hitter."  The Rays specifically feel that they can't match Upton's defensive skills with internal options.

The Rays' farm system is among the best in the game, so they can easily make prospect-only deals.  Even if you take Desmond Jennings and Jeremy Hellickson out of the mix, Tim Beckham, Matt Moore, Alex Colome, and Matt Sweeney were considered top 100 prospects heading into the season.  It's quite possible the Rays go even further down their prospect list.  Look at the Angels – they just acquired Dan Haren without surrendering any top 100 guys. 

As usual, the Rays have kept their targets close to the vest.  Few players have been connected to them in recent weeks aside from Jayson Werth, and Yahoo's Tim Brown tweeted three days ago that a Rays source seriously doubts they get the Phillies outfielder.


Oswalt’s Demands Slowing Trade Talks

Roy Oswalt is making the most of his no-trade clause and it's slowing the Phillies down as they attempt to acquire him. Two people familiar with the discussions tell ESPN.com's Jayson Stark that Oswalt is asking that his 2012 option be picked up by any team that trades for him. The Phillies don't mind the idea of paying Oswalt $6MM this year and $16MM next year, but they are not comfortable guaranteeing the right-hander $16MM in 2012.

J.A. Happ would likely head to Houston in an Oswalt trade, probably along with some prospects from the lower minors. For now, the Phillies are pursuing Dan Haren and Ben Sheets, but are not actively pursuing Jeremy Guthrie, Fausto Carmona or Ricky Nolasco.

The Phillies are talking to a number of teams about Jayson Werth, but are demanding a lot in return. They asked the Rays for B.J. Upton or Wade Davis, and GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is not willing to take on any of the $2.8MM remaining on Werth's deal.