Wander Franco shocked the baseball world on Tuesday when it was revealed he and the Tampa Bay Rays had come to agreement on a 12-year contract that guarantees him $185 million and could be worth as much as $223 million. The deal locks Franco in with the Rays through the 2033 season. Franco sacrificed a ton of potential financial upside to secure the long-term deal, becoming the latest in a string of young MLB stars to do so.
Long a top prospect, Franco made his big league debut in 2021. Over the course of 70 games he slashed .288/.347/.463, with seven home runs, 38 RBI and 24 walks against only 37 strikeouts. He finished the season with an fWAR of 2.5. At one point, the 20-year-old reached base in 43 consecutive games, a record for a player 20 years and younger. Mickey Mantle held the previous mark at 36 games.
Throughout his minor league career, Franco was an on-base machine who rarely struck out and consistently made hard contact. He lived up to that billing as a rookie, which is likely why the Rays felt so comfortable handing him a huge, long-term deal.
It's the second consecutive offseason where a young shortstop inked a massive, long-term deal. Last February, Fernando Tatis Jr. inked a 14-year, $330 million deal with the San Diego Padres. In 2019 just before his second year in the big leagues, Ronald Acuña Jr. singed an eight-year, $100 million deal with the Atlanta Braves that could be a 10-year, $124 million contract if the Braves exercise two option years.
In each of these cases, the young star has opted for long-term security over the ability to get max value year-in and year-out. By the time Tatis finishes his contract in 2034, his $36 million salary might not be that much by the MLB standards at the time. Rather than sign, say, a five-year deal and hit the open market, he valued having the deal in hand.
Similarly, Franco's contract will pay him an average of $16.8 million over the first 11 years. By the time he's in his mid-20s, he could be worth twice that amount. Still, like Tatis and Acuña, he opted to have the financial security a long-term deal will afford him.
This is a sign of the times in baseball. Over the last few offseasons, few players have gotten mega-contracts. In fact, in most cases, free agents are being disappointed by the offers they're getting. Sure there's usually one or two big deals handed out, but since the winter of 2019 when Manny Machado and Bryce Harper both inked deals worth more than $300 million, those types of deals haven't been plentiful. In fact, both Machado and Harper had limited options when they signed their deals.
Top free agents aren't guaranteed big, splashy contracts anymore. The game has moved towards efficiency, with franchises valuing younger, cheaper players and versatility is prized. There are no sure things, even for the top talent available.
This offseason guys like Carlos Correa, Corey Seager and more will search for that elusive $300-plus million deal. There's no guarantee they'll get it. Especially with an impending lockout. MLB's financial landscape could be forever changed in the next few months and mega-contract could permanently be a thing of the past. The young guys who locked themselves in for the long-term could look incredibly smart in a year.
Baseball and its finances have completely shifted over the past decade. Long-term stability -- not maximized financial value -- is what young stars appear to be the most concerned with. It's a stunning change to business as usual.