Jan. 31: The Rays have formally announced their extension with Diaz. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tweets that Diaz will be paid $6MM in 2023, $8MM in 2024 and $10MM in 2025. There’s a $12MM option for a fourth season, which does not contain a buyout.
Jan. 28: The Rays and infielder Yandy Diaz are close to finalizing a contract extension, MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reports (Twitter link). The deal is a three-year, $24MM pact that contains a club option for the 2026, according to Feinsand and his MLB.com colleague Juan Toribio (via Twitter). Diaz is represented by ACES.
The extension would cover Diaz’s final two years of arbitration control and at least one of his free agent-eligible seasons. Diaz and the Rays were slated for an arbitration hearing to determine his 2023 salary after not reaching an agreement by the filing deadline — Diaz was looking for $6.3MM and the club countered with $5.5MM.
Instead, it now looks like Diaz will be the third hearing-bound Tampa Bay player to sign an extension this week. Jeffrey Springs signed a four-year, $31MM extension on Wednesday, while Pete Fairbanks agreed to a deal worth $12MM over three guaranteed years on Friday. An arb hearing is usually the result when the two sides don’t agree on a one-year salary prior to the figure-exchange deadline, yet clubs often try to pursue multi-year deals as something of a loophole around the self-imposed “file and trial” strategy deployed by most of the league.
Diaz, Springs, and Fairbanks were three of seven Rays players that didn’t agree to terms by the deadline, and even the remaining group of four (Harold Ramirez, Colin Poche, Ryan Thompson, Jason Adam) still represents an unusually large number of players to be headed for hearings. It certainly wouldn’t be surprising to see the Rays work out at least one more extension before hearings start taking place in the coming weeks.
For Diaz, the new contract locks in some long-term security and the first major payday for a player who turned 31 last August. Beginning his career in his native Cuba, Diaz was twice arrested before finally defecting on his third attempt, and then signed with Cleveland for a $300K bonus. Diaz didn’t make his MLB debut until 2017, when he was already 25 years old.
Back in December 2018, a headline-grabbing three-team trade between the Rays, Indians, and Mariners saw Diaz head from Cleveland to Tampa as part of the five-player swap. The Rays had interest in Diaz’s ability to make contact and draw walks, and those skills have certainly translated as Diaz’s career has progressed. Since the start of the 2020 season, Diaz ranks sixth among all qualified hitters in walk rate (13.7%) and ninth in strikeout rate (13.1%).
Diaz hit .266/.359/.418 over his first three seasons with the Rays, good for a solid 117 wRC+ over 1026 plate appearances. However, Diaz took the production up a level last season, posting a 146 wRC+ while hitting .296/.401/.423 with nine home runs over 558 PA, and finishing with elite percentiles in several major Statcast categories. For a right-handed batter, Diaz’s career numbers against left-handed pitchers had been relatively modest heading into 2022, but last year he crushed southpaws to the tune of an .892 OPS over 145 PA.
One flaw in Diaz’s performance was a lack of glovework, as public defensive metrics have indicated that he has been well below average over 1282 1/3 innings as a third baseman over the last two seasons. This stands out even more on a defense-conscious club like Tampa Bay, though the Rays might ideally look to use Diaz more often as a first baseman in 2023 or over the course of the longer-term deal.
In the big picture, locking up Diaz seems like a shrewd move for Tampa. While a 146 wRC+ is a high-water mark for Diaz, there wasn’t much (apart from a spike in hard-hit ball rate) to suggest that his 2022 numbers were a departure from his prior career numbers, so it’s reasonable for the Rays to expect roughly similar production going forward over the life of Diaz’s deal.
Perhaps the most intriguing element is that the Rays have now extended a 31-year-old player, as it is fairly common for the team to shop players as they get increasingly expensive. There hadn’t been any real trade buzz surrounding Diaz, however, and thus the Rays have now locked up three members of their infield (Diaz, Wander Franco, and Brandon Lowe) though possibly the 2026 season, depending on the status of club options for Diaz and Lowe. Of course, the Rays could still end up shopping Diaz, Lowe, or conceivably even Franco down the road, especially if the club continues to generate quality infield prospects from its minor league pipeline.
Between the yet-unknown specifics of Diaz’s contract numbers and the unresolved arbitration cases, the Rays are likely to match or exceed their previous franchise high for payroll, even if their overall spending is still quite modest by league-wide standards. Tampa Bay’s Opening Day payroll last season was approximately $83.86MM, and Roster Resource currently (without a Diaz extension involved) projects the Rays for around $76.86MM on the books in 2023.