The Rays have agreed to a two-year, $7.2MM contract with ace Shane McClanahan, reports Robert Murray of FanSided. It’ll buy out the left-hander’s first two seasons of arbitration. McClanahan, who underwent Tommy John surgery in August, will spend the bulk of the contract’s first year rehabbing. He’d been projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $3.6MM this coming season, based on the strength of his pre-arbitration platform. Murray adds that McClanahan’s 2025 salary will be boosted by $120K for every start he makes in 2024. The Rays can control the southpaw through the 2027 season.
McClanahan, 26, was the No. 31 overall draft pick in 2018 and has arguably surpassed even those lofty draft standards with his performance to date. Since making his MLB debut in the 2020 postseason, the southpaw has emerged as Tampa Bay’s clear top starter. From 2021-23, he logged 404 2/3 innings of 3.02 ERA ball with a 28% strikeout rate, 7.1% walk rate and 46.8% ground-ball rate.
McClanahan has averaged 97 mph on his heater in each of the past two seasons and was the sixth-place finisher in 2022 Cy Young voting in the American League. Were it not for a shoulder impingement that cost him three weeks late in the 2022 season, McClanahan might’ve had a legitimate chance at winning the award — or at least overtaking Dylan Cease as the runner-up. When he landed on the injured list, he’d pitched 147 1/3 innings with a dominant 2.20 earned run average, a massive 32.5% strikeout rate and a 5.4% walk rate. Upon returning, he stumbled with a 5.21 ERA in his final four starts, dropping him down the ballot that eventually saw Justin Verlander win the award in unanimous fashion.
In all likelihood, last August’s Tommy John surgery will keep McClanahan shelved into the 2024 season’s final month or perhaps wipe out his ’24 season entirely. He’s one of three key starters who suffered a major injury for Tampa Bay last year, joining Jeffrey Springs (Tommy John surgery) and Drew Rasmussen (internal brace surgery). That trio of injuries has depleted the Rays’ once-enviable pitching depth. Their current quintet of Zach Eflin, Aaron Civale, reliever-turned-starter Zack Littell and young righties Ryan Pepiot and Taj Bradley has plenty of upside but lacks stability (particularly when considering the injury histories of veterans Eflin and Civale). Former top prospect Shane Baz will return from his own Tommy John surgery at some point, but the Rays still seem likely to add some rotation help this winter.
As for McClanahan, he figures to be back at full strength for Opening Day 2025. In an ideal world, both he and Baz will recapture the form that made them elite pitching prospects (and, in McClanahan’s case, a two-time All-Star) and lead the starting staff for several years. McClanahan finished the 2023 season with 2.158 years of MLB service, making him a slam-dunk Super Two player and setting the stage for him to be arb-eligible four times. This two-year deal takes care of the first two of those arb years, but he’ll be eligible again both in 2026 and 2027.