Shortstop Wander Franco quickly emerged as one of MLB‘s best players this season and the Tampa Bay Rays are wasting no time locking him up. The club is inching closer to signing Franco to a record-setting contact extension and Jim Bowden of CBS Sports HQ says the deal is expected to be in the 12-year, $225 million range. The team has not yet confirmed the news.
The current record contract for a player with less than one full year of service time is Ronald Acuña Jr.‘s eight-year, $100 million contract with the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves, a record Franco is poised to smash. Here are the largest ever contracts given to players with less than a full year of service time (not including players signed from Japan or Korea):
- Ronald Acuña Jr., Braves: 8 years and $100 million
- Luis Robert, White Sox: 6 years and $50 million (signed prior to MLB debut)
- Eloy Jiménez, White Sox: 6 years and $43 million (signed prior to MLB debut)
- Paul DeJong, Cardinals: 6 years and $26 million
- Chris Archer, Rays: 6 years and $25.5 million
The contract guarantees Franco $182 million across 11 years with a $25 million club option for a 12th season, reports ESPN’s Jeff Passan. There also salary escalators tied to finishes in the MVP voting beginning in 2028. The contract does not include a no-trade clause (the Rays have never given out a no-trade clause), though Franco will receive a $3 million bonus if traded.
The 11-year term would cover Franco’s remaining six years of team control (three pre-arbitration and three arbitration) plus five free agent years, with a club option for a sixth free agent year. It would also cover his age 21-31 seasons, meaning Franco would still be in line for a large free agent contract once this deal expires. If the club option is picked up, Franco would become a free agent at the same age Starling Marte is right now, for reference.
Franco, 21 in March, was the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball going into each of the last two seasons. He was called up to make his MLB debut in June and became an impact player almost immediately, hitting .288/.347/.463 with seven home runs in 70 games. Franco struck out only five times in his final 31 games, and he went 7 for 19 (.368) in four postseason games. He also tied Hall of Famer Frank Robinson’s record by reaching base in 43 straight games as a 20-year-old.
As much as any single player can be a centerpiece for the Rays, Franco is already the face of the franchise, and locking him up was the only way to keep him long-term, realistically. Tampa will never win a free agent bidding war for an elite player, and they have a long history of trading players when they start to get expensive through arbitration. Franco could have found himself on the trade block in 3-4 years if not for this contract.`
The Rays of course have a long history of locking up their best players early in their careers. They famously signed Evan Longoria to a six-year contract worth $17.5 million six days into his big league career, then the record for a player with less than one year of service time. Kevin Kiermaier, Brandon Lowe, Matt Moore, and Blake Snell are among the others to sign long-term with Tampa.
Franco’s contract is far and away the largest in Rays history in terms of total guarantee, beating out Longoria’s six-year, $100 million extension in 2012. Franco’s reported $16.55 million average annual value is just under Longoria’s $16.67 million, however. Kiermaier ($53.5 million) and Snell ($50 million) are the only others plays to sign deals worth at least $50 million with Tampa.
Over the last three seasons the Rays have won more games than any other American League team, and this past season they won the AL East with a 100-62 record. The franchise is still searching for its first ever World Series championship, but they have a very impressive young core even outside Franco, plus a top farm system. They are in position to contend for several more years.
It should be noted Franco’s extension extends beyond 2027, when the team’s Tropicana Field lease expires. The Rays continue to explore a two-city solution with Tampa and Montreal, which doesn’t seem all that realistic. Wherever they’re playing come 2028, the Rays know they will be able to open their new stadium will Franco as their cornerstone player.
The Padres signed Fernando Tatis Jr. Jr. to a 14-year, $341 million contract this February. He signed when he was four years away from free agency, not six like Franco, giving him more leverage and earning potential. Nationals wunderkind Juan Soto (three years from free agency) and Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Jr. (four years away) could be next in line to sign a huge extension.