Rays, Wander Franco agree to a 11 year-$223 million deal: It secures generational wealth but he will be underpaid for the next decade.

Would you take immediate generational wealth, or wait to cash in on your true value?

Wander Franco faced that question this past week before agreeing to an 11 year-$223 million deal.

Franco chose the guaranteed generational wealth, while also accepting the fact he will be grossly underpaid by the age of 25. This left the industry wondering why Franco locked himself in on a decade long contract which he will out perform by year 4.

But the Rays also took a deep dive into unknown waters, locking into a decade long deal with a player who has under a year of MLB service time. It is viewed as a steal for the Rays, securing a potential face of baseball for well under the projected value. But the risk still remains.

So was this a good deal for both, a steal for the Rays, or a home run for Franco?

I always think of it like this: What if the player was my son? Would I tell him, “Sure, turn down $182 million because you stand a good chance of making at least twice that?” Not a chance, I would tell my son, Wander Franco or anyone because what if you blow out your knee, or take a fastball to the head and that deal once on the table that you passed up suddenly evaporates.

Now there are limits to such logic, particularly in a sport in which the earning potential is as high as it is in baseball. Ronald Acuña Jr. (eight years, $100 million) and Ozzie Albies (seven years, $35 million) remain examples of players who likely sold themselves short, particularly when each of their deals also includes two club options tacked on to the end. Acuña’s deal was a record for a player with less than one year of service, and Franco almost doubled it. But each player has his own reasons, his own thresholds, his own tolerance for risk. 

That risk is not always as great as it appears: Acuña, even after missing the second half of last season with a torn right ACL, would have had plenty of time to reach his peak value if he had gone year to year and become a free agent after the 2024 season, entering his age-27 campaign. Franco, 20, also could have been a free agent entering his age-27 season. But after playing only 70 games, he and his agent, Manny Paula, negotiated a higher guarantee than Mark Teixeira received as a free agent before the 2009 season. And if the club option on Franco’s 11-year deal is exercised, his potential earnings could rise to $223 million, including escalators.

The problem, yes very first world problem I know, is that Franco’s free agency will be delayed until his age-33 season, when his value on the open market presumably would be much lower. Considering how well he performed as a rookie, his combined salaries in arbitration might have ranged anywhere from $32.5 million, Manny Machado’s number, to $57.5 million, Mookie Betts’ total. Then, as a free agent, Franco might have secured a jackpot of possibly $400 million or more.

Who can say how high he might have gone? If anything, the game’s economic structure might only improve for players in the next collective-bargaining agreement if their union succeeds in reducing artificial restraints on compensation and getting them paid earlier in their careers. Franco could have waited for a clearer picture to emerge in a new CBA and almost certainly landed the same deal in spring training. Or maybe, in a new economic landscape, he would have decided to hold off entirely. His new deal, however, likely ensures he will be under contract through at least two CBAs.

Even under the current agreement, one can argue that Franco could have done more to protect his upside.

Again, how do you say no to $182 million? The odds of Franco outperforming his contract appear quite good, but we say that almost every time such a deal is reached, and they do not always work out. The Rays, in particular, are often accused of taking advantage of players by signing them to below-market extensions early in their careers. Sometimes it happens that way. Sometimes not.

Pitchers Matt Moore (five years, $14 million, three club options) and Chris Archer (six years, $25.5 million, two club options) both had their final option years declined after getting traded, which in Moore’s case happened twice. The Rays also traded third baseman Evan Longoria after the first year of his six-year, $100 million extension, in large part because they projected – correctly – that he would underperform the deal dramatically.

Left-hander Blake Snell, who signed a five-year, $50 million contract after winning the 2018 American League Cy Young Award, should prove more than worth the money, and the Rays traded him, anyway. Second baseman Brandon Lowe, whose six-year, $24 million contract can grow to eight years, $49 million, looks like he will be the biggest bargain by far.

Win some, lose some, but Franco is such a talent, the Rays were willing to sign him for almost double their previous franchise record, the $100 million guarantee to Longoria. Franco, like Fernando Tatis Jr., only would have grown more expensive as he moved closer to free agency; Tatis, as a player with two years of service, commanded $340 million. Now was the time for the Rays to strike. And if they would not commit to Franco, who was the game’s consensus No. 1 prospect before getting promoted to the majors in June, who would they ever commit to?

This way, the Rays should not even need to think about trading Franco until he grows more expensive in the latter years of his deal. By then, they figure to be generating higher revenues in a new ballpark and city, or maybe more than one ballpark and city. It’s a delightful notion, come to think of it: If the Rays execute their plan to build new open-air parks in both Tampa and Montreal by 2028, they could face revolts in two countries if they move Franco, who now is under club control through ’33.

Franco forever. The Rays can add it to their sales pitch. He could have earned tens of millions more, maybe hundreds of millions more, by going year to year. But he chose to stay. The Rays should do everything to ensure he remains a Ray for life, somebody has to.

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