First Pitch: Reactions to the Wander Franco Extension

The Wander Franco deal is incomparable.

There’s not really precedent for a 20-year-old player with less than a year of service time getting an extension that covers more than a decade, while guaranteeing $182 million. According to MLBTR’s extension tracker, it’s the 13th biggest extension in the game. It’s the biggest extension, by far, by a player with less than two years of service time.

Considering that Fernando Tatis just received a 14-year, $340 million deal with two years of service time, the Rays were probably smart to move so aggressively on a talented young player. Franco, meanwhile, has nothing to worry about now other than baseball, and can still hit free agency again in his early-30s, already as one of the highest paid players in the game.

The reaction in Pittsburgh to these moves is always “When will we see that from the Pirates?” I’m sure that’s the reaction from certain other MLB cities as well.

It’s a fair question. The biggest deal the Pirates have is still Jason Kendall’s $60 million deal. They’ve had extensions that have been worth more after all options have been picked up.

This isn’t new territory for the Rays. They’ve aggressively spent for franchise-level players before, shattering the perception of what you’d expect from a small-market team. That’s the sense of frustration I get from Pirates fans. It never feels like they’re shattering small-market perceptions.

Who would they sign right now? A Bryan Reynolds extension would be very expensive, with the risk that he wouldn’t repeat his 2021 season. A Ke’Bryan Hayes extension would be less expensive, with the risk that he won’t improve on his offense. An Oneil Cruz extension would be highly aggressive with all sorts of risks.

Then there’s the age factor. Franco is 20 years old. Cruz is 23. Hayes and Reynolds will be 25 and 27 by the start of the 2022 season. Who do the Pirates have who could be that decade-long extension?

That’s the issue that draws my interest. When was the last time the Pirates had someone in the majors before their 22nd birthday? What needs to change in the player development system to even have a chance at a 20-year-old in Pittsburgh?

The Pirates did have some of the youngest teams in the lower levels this year, to their credit. But it would take that, plus an aggressive promoting schedule that we haven’t fully seen, to get a player that young in Pittsburgh.

As usual, when the Rays do something like this, it makes me think of what trends we’re going to see from the game. With the rumblings of team control possibly extending to age 29.5, this type of deal seems more likely. I don’t know if the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will make that type of drastic change to free agency. If it does, then this deal for Franco would give the Rays cost-certainty and one or two extra years of Franco under a new type of system. That’s much different from the current breakdown of the deal, which buys out six of Franco’s free agent years.

Under either system, the Rays win by getting Franco under control for the next decade. Franco wins by setting himself and his future generations up for life.

Leave your thoughts on the deal in the comments below.

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