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Widely considered as the game’s top prospect for many years, Wander Franco finally broke through to the big leagues at the ripe old age of 20 during the 2021 season. The phenom went on to slash a mighty impressive .288/.347/.463 with seven homers, 39 RBI, two stolen bases and a 37/24 K/BB ratio in 308 plate appearances over 70 games in his first exposure to big league pitching. He finished third in the voting for American League Rookie of the Year despite playing less than half the season.
It’s easy to see a path to super-stardom in his immediate future. The Rays weren’t going to wait for it to happen before locking him up long term.
While things have yet to be officially finalized, Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported on Tuesday that the two sides were in agreement on an 11-year contract extension that includes a club option for a 12th season as well. Mark Feinsand of MLB.com added that the deal is for $182 million guaranteed and that with the option and escalators it could go as high as $223 million. That makes it the largest contract ever given to a player with less than one year of big league service time. The previous record was the eight-year, $100 million extension that the Braves gave to Ronald Acuna Jr. in 2019. It’s also the largest contract in Rays franchise history.
The deal is still pending a physical, which means that it likely won’t be finalized until after Thanksgiving, though it appears that both sides want to get it done before the potential lockout on December 2. The deal will cover his three pre-arbitration years, all three arbitration seasons as well as his first five -- or potentially six -- seasons of free agency. Rays fans have to be psyched to see it.
Some will argue that Franco may have cost himself money down the road by signing such a long-term deal now -- there’s something to be said about a 20-year-old locking in multi-generational wealth for himself and his family and knowing where he’s going to be setting down roots for the next decade. Even after that, he’ll still be ready to hit the free agent market in his early 30’s where he’ll surely land another massive payday.
As far as his fantasy prospects go, while Franco has elite bat-to-ball skills, he has yet to show the elite tools in power and speed that would make him a fantasy superstar. In 110 games between the Rays and Triple-A Durham in 2021, Franco slugged 14 homers and swiped seven bases in 12 attempts. While he’ll surely grow into more power, just how much he’ll run at the big league level remains to be seen. Fantasy managers appear to be bullish on him in early drafts though, as Franco sports an ADP of 45 -- putting him already in the third round of 15-team leagues.
Cardinals win Steven Matz Sweepstakes
For several days now we have heard that Steven Matz was being courted by several teams and that he was getting close to making a decision -- with the expectation that he wanted everything to be wrapped up before Thanksgiving. Jon Heyman noted on Tuesday that Matz had offers from eight different teams -- the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Tigers, Cubs, Cardinals, Giants, Angels and Mets.
Late Tuesday evening, Jeff Passan of ESPN reported that the Cardinals were the winners in the Matz sweepstakes, agreeing to a four-year, $44 million pact with the 30-year-old southpaw. It’s a bit surprising to see Matz wind up with a four-year deal without having much history of consistency, but given the number of teams that were interested that’s what was necessary to get the deal done.
Matz posted a 3.82 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 144/43 K/BB ratio in 150 2/3 innings over 29 starts with the Blue Jays in 2021. He got better as the season went along as well, going 7-3 with a 2.91 ERA after the All-Star break. The movement away from the Rogers Centre and out of the American League East -- and into Busch Stadium and the National League Central -- should pay tremendous dividends for Matz and for his fantasy value heading into 2022.
Thus far in early NFBC drafts, Matz sports an average draft position outside the top 340 players overall. My guess is that this signing will bump him up a couple of rounds, probably closer to -- if not just inside -- the top 300.
White Sox add Graveman
What do you get for the bullpen that already has everything? The White Sox entered the day on Tuesday with Liam Hendriks locked into the ninth inning role and with Craig Kimbrel entrenched as one of the most expensive setup men in the league. They complement that group with a pair of dominant left-handers in Aaron Bummer and Garrett Crochet.
There have been some rumblings that Kimbrel could be on the move, as he prefers to work in the closer’s role and won’t have that chance in Chicago. Whether or not that’s the case, the White Sox made a move to strengthen an already deep bullpen by signing Kendall Graveman to a three-year, $24 million contract.
Graveman is coming off of a monster 2021 season in which he posted a 1.77 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 61/20 K/BB ratio across 56 innings between the Mariners and Astros. He gives White Sox manager Tony La Russa yet another weapon to deploy in the late innings. Should the team hang on to Kimbrel as well, good luck to opposing teams who trail heading into the seventh inning next season.
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MLB Quick Hits: Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that Major League Baseball and the Player’s Association have agreed to move the non-tender deadline from December 2 to November 30. In doing so, now arbitration-eligible players won't be in a state of contractual limbo in the event of the impending lockout. Now, players who are non-tendered will at least have a couple of days to sign on elsewhere before the lockout if they choose to do so. … Rangers manager Chris Woodward noted that he and the Rangers have spoken to free agent left-hander Clayton Kershaw, who has previously expressed interest in pitching closer to his Dallas home. … The Rockies signed former top prospect D.J. Peterson to a minor league contract. … The White Sox inked Luis Alexander Basabe to a minor league deal. … The Yankees officially released Clint Frazier and Rougned Odor. … Andy Martino of SNY reported that the Mets “remain involved” on free agent infielder Javier Baez and that he could sign before the CBA expires on December 2. … According to Buster Olney of ESPN, the Reds are open to dealing right-hander Sonny Gray. … Olney also hears that the Orioles have been shopping ace left-hander John Means. … Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic notes that the Diamondbacks are among the teams that have expressed interest in Kirby Yates. … The Red Sox have shown interest in free agent hurler Jeurys Familia according to Rob Bradford of WEEI.