The Rays have traditionally been pretty aggressive in locking up young players to early-career extensions, as evidenced by their recent deals with Blake Snell and Brandon Lowe. Beyond that duo, Willy Adames and Brent Honeywell told Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times that they had also been approached about long-term deals.
Adames has been a consensus top-25 prospect in baseball in each of the last two seasons, and he now projects as Tampa’s everyday shortstop after hitting .278/.348/.406 during 323 plate appearances in his 2018 rookie season. Adames didn’t specify when the Rays first brought up an extension, whether it was this offseason, during last season, or perhaps even before Adames made his big league debut altogether.
For speculation purposes, if a long-term deal was explored this past winter, recent extensions for Tim Anderson and Paul DeJong stand out as comparables for Adames. Both shortstops also had less than a year of service time, and each landed six-year pacts with two club option years, with Anderson getting a guaranteed $25MM and DeJong (signed a year later) $26MM in guaranteed money. It’s probably safe to assume Adames would’ve gotten a bit more, both due to his top-prospect status, and since those deals were almost topped in value by the extension Scott Kingery signed with the Phillies before he ever set foot on a Major League field. (This is also basically the deal Lowe signed, except with one fewer club option year.)
While Evan Longoria and Matt Moore each had just a small bit of MLB service time when they inked their extensions with the club, the Rays have never extended a player who has never appeared in the Major Leagues. A Honeywell extension would’ve therefore been a precedent-setting deal for both the team and for the league as a whole, as no pitcher has ever signed an extension before making his debut in the Show. Moore came closest, as he had just 17 days of regular-season service time when he inked his five-year, $14MM extension (with three club option years) back in December 2011.
It’s hard to use a contract that’s over seven years old as a comparable, plus Honeywell’s health situation also adds another unique wrinkle to his case. Honeywell said the Rays discussed the long-term deal after he underwent Tommy John surgery in February 2018. While we can assume that the team’s offer reflected that injury risk, it still represents some courage on Honeywell’s part in betting on himself to recovery from the surgery, rather than getting at least one multi-million dollar payday out of his professional career before even throwing a pitch in the majors.
It’s worth noting that Honeywell received an $800K bonus when drafted, so he has already obtained some financial security. Honeywell was a second-round pick (72nd overall) for the Rays in the 2014 draft, and he has been perhaps even more highly-touted than Adames, with three consecutive years as at least a top-30 prospect in the eyes of Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com and Baseball America. The three publications had Honeywell respectively ranked 11th, 12th, and 14th on their top-100 lists prior to the 2018 season. Honeywell has a 2.88 ERA, 9.9 K/9, and 4.92 K/BB rate over 416 professional innings, and he was expected to make an impact in Tampa’s rotation last season before injury struck.
Most teams, of course, probably at least float the idea of early-career extensions to much of their young talent. The Rays in particular have made a habit of this tactic, given the team’s financial limitations. Tyler Glasnow and Daniel Robertson didn’t want to comment to Topkin whether or not they had been offered long-term deals or not, while Jose Alvarado said he’s be open to discussions with the club (which could hint that the Rays haven’t yet talked to Alvarado).
The front office, for its part, seems to be open for business. GM Erik Neander said that the Rays “would love to keep the one-[extension]-a-day pace here if we could. We’re very high on the group of players that we have here. It’s a group we believe in. And when there are opportunities to find overlap between our players and our organization that increases the chances they can be here for a longer period of time, that’s something that we will continue to explore whenever those opportunities present themselves.”