It’s been a busy week in Central Florida, as the Tampa Bay Rays have handed out three extensions over the past few days to the team’s arbitration-eligible players. Earlier this week, left-hander Jeffrey Springs received a four-year, $31 million extension to stick with the Rays through 2026. A few days later, fireballer Pete Fairbanks received a three-year, $12 million extension. Tampa didn’t stop there, as the team is also close to terms with another arbitration-eligible players in Yandy Díaz. Díaz will reportedly receive (per MLB.com) a three-year, $24 million extension with the Rays, a deal that will come with a club option for 2026.
These three multi-year deals could be moves that could work out to benefit the Rays in the near future, especially given what Fairbanks and Díaz have been able to do in Tampa thus far.
A Look at Fairbanks
Acquired from the Texas Rangers in 2019, Pete Fairbanks‘ run in Tampa has been rocky at times. The University of Missouri product did struggle upon coming over from the Rangers in 2019, but has been relatively solid from an ERA perspective over the last three seasons. From 2020-22, The 29-year-old recorded a 2.70 ERA and 2.33 FIP over 93.1 innings.
Walks have been a prior problem for Fairbanks. The right-hander posted BB/9 rates north of 4.0 in 2020 & 2021, but did post a strong Edge% in the latter campaign. This past season, Fairbanks’ walk rate dipped to a tidy 1.1 BB/9, along with above-average Chase% (37.1%), Edge% (43.8%), and Whiff% (35.3%). The 29-year-old, in total, struck out 38 batters over 24 innings.
Those whiff and strikeout numbers can be attributed to a powerful arsenal. The righty can blow hitters away with a hard fastball that regularly hits 100 MPH, and also possesses a mid-80’s slider that’s difficult to pick up and acts as a true change-of-pace pitch.
Fairbanks’ career arc has been similar to fellow Rays LHP Jeffrey Springs, who just re-signed with Tampa earlier this week. But if there’s one warning sign attached to Fairbanks, it’s health. The fireballer battled a right rotator cuff strain and right shoulder inflammation in 2021, and a lat strain last season. We’ll see if the 29-year-old can string together a full season in 2023.
A Look at Diaz
Much like Fairbanks. third baseman Yandy Díaz went from unheralded ballplayer to one of the game’s most underrated talents. Acquired by the Rays in a three-team deal in 2018 that involved Carlos Santana and Edwin Encarnacion, Díaz has been nothing short of an on-base machine since his arrival in Florida. Since the start of the 2019 campaign, the 31-year-old has recorded a gaudy .377 OBP in Tampa. That figure is good for the 15th-best among all 185 hitters with at least 1,250 PA in that span. Díaz possesses plus plate discipline, hence his Whiff% and BB% rates that regularly rank among the best in the league on a yearly basis.
The Rays third baseman possesses good bat speed and strength, but doesn’t have much to show for it in his career. Díaz has recorded just two seasons in which the 31-year-old eclipsed the double digit marker in home runs. One negative in Díaz’s game is that while he can pound on baseballs, the infielder often gets on top of the ball too much.
The Rays have slotted Díaz in a number of different spots in the lineup over the past few seasons, but he found a home in the leadoff spot in 2022. Given his ability to get on base, it’s more than likely that the Rays run Díaz in that position on a regular basis in 2023.
What it Means
These deals may look like a departure from norms for Tampa, at least on the surface. The Rays have been a team well-known for dealing stars like Blake Snell and Tommy Pham as players age and get closer to free agency. But in both of these deals, Tampa only bought out the remaining years of arbitration for Fairbanks and Díaz, plus will receive at least another year of control for the third baseman. Rather than go year-by-year with each individual, the Rays are banking that the two will continue to provide steady contributions for a small-market contender.
Both Fairbanks and Díaz have displayed unique skillsets that are hard to find. The right-hander has shown incredible stuff in recent years and can be a key piece in the Rays bullpen for years to come. Díaz, meanwhile, should continue to be an asset for Tampa thanks to his skillset. If anything, these deals could very well become bargains should both continue to perform like they have throughout the next three seasons.
It’s also important to keep in mind that neither of the two, as well as Jeffrey Springs, were given deals of at least four years or more. The Rays still retain long-term flexibility towards its payroll, and should also be able to move either of the three if needed given the contract lengths and and salaries owed. Give credit to the Rays — the organization knows how to maximize value on a small budget.